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Lobbyist Gift Ban Legislation Proceeds — With a Twist

Senate floor at the Missouri Capitol
The floor of the Missouri Senate, where Democrats filibustered a workplace discrimination reform bill into the evening hours Wednesday.

Current lawmakers win some and lose some under a proposal that would allow them to serve much longer in the legislature but prohibit them from taking lobbyists' gifts.

The legislation, which has already passed the Senate and was approved by a House committee Tuesday, includes a complete ban on all meals, tickets and other perks from lobbyists. It also includes a new form of term limits, but with a twist: Any lawmaker who was elected before Dec. 6, 2018 would be allowed to return to the Capitol for an additional 16 years.

If passed, Missourians would vote on amending the Constitution to include the proposal in the November general election.

The change would allow legislators to serve 16 total years in the General Assembly, when currently they can serve in the House and Senate for eight years each. But the proposal includes a reset button that allows all current and past elected officials to start counting their service time all over again.

"What I’ve seen is that good members of this House who have been here for eight years will essentially be forced out," bill sponsor Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said. "And you have five House members all running for the one Senate seat, and then four of those good lawmakers don’t get a chance to continue on with their service."

Some of the representatives on the committee echoed Holsman’s statement that with the current term limits in place, the General Assembly loses institutional knowledge that people acquire during their time in the legislature.

"When we lose all of that institutional knowledge, from people who had only been there eight years, it suddenly made the representatives more responsive to bureaucrats because that’s where there’s so much institutional knowledge” (is found), Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Washington, said.

The proposal moving forward would also prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers, their staff or their family members entirely. In the past, other lawmakers have tried to pass legislation that would ban lobbyists from giving gifts above certain limits.

Holsman said, "If you’re going to increase the knowledge of legislators and decrease the influence of lobbyists, then you’re going to make better public policy for our citizens."

Banning gifts from lobbyists was a primary tenant of Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign platform. There have been efforts to ban gifts from lobbyists in both the House and Senate this legislative session and in prior sessions. One bill in the House made it through to the Senate at the beginning of this session, but has not been discussed again since.

No one came to testify against the proposal when it was being heard by the committee. Rep. Bill Kidd, R- Independence, voted against the proposal, but would not comment on why he did so. When the proposal was voted on in the Senate almost three weeks ago, 12 senators also voted against it.

A staff member from the office of Sen. Dan Hegeman, R- Cosby, said the senator did not vote for the proposal because he thought the gift ban had too many loopholes and it wasn’t right to reset term limits on all elected officials. Hegeman thought people might be confused that the gift ban was a reason to vote for resetting term limits, and didn’t think it was right to ask the question together.

Lobbyist Michael Reid expressed concerns regarding the gift ban, as he said members of the lobbying core have family members who work in the Capitol who they may want to give gifts to at some point, such as during Christmas.

"There are several lobbyists who have family who work in the General Assembly, and so therefore the question is whether or not the lobbyist would be banned from giving a gift to the family member," Reid said.

Curtman said he has faith that judges can use their discretion to determine the intent of a gift from a lobbyist. Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, said the same issue came up in the city of St. Louis, and she was told the gift ban would only apply to someone in their role as a lobbyist versus their role as a relative.

This will be the first gift ban to make it out of the Senate this session and over to the House. It was passed by the committee without any changes and will next be heard on the House floor.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.

Sarah Kellogg is a first year graduate student at the University of Missouri studying public affairs reporting. She spent her undergraduate days as a radio/television major and reported for KBIA. In addition to reporting shifts, Sarah also hosted KBIA’s weekly education show Exam, was an afternoon newscaster and worked on the True/False podcast. Growing up, Sarah listened to episodes of Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me! with her parents during long car rides. It’s safe to say she was destined to end up in public radio.