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Shields Proposes Legislation to Improve Ethics

After three state legislators resigned this year because of federal ethics violations, Missouri State Senate President Pro Tem, Charlie Shields, has proposed new legislation that he says will improve ethics in the statehouse. KSMU’s Adam Murphy reports.

The legislation introduced by Shields includes three main suggestions for improving ethics: first is the creation of the Office of Independent Investigation within the Ethics Commission. This office would investigate potential ethics violations rather than waiting for members of the public to file complaints as they do under the current system. Shields says the new office he's proposing would be above partisanship.

“Most folks look at the Ethics Commission and believe that they stand above partisanship and are an independent body, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that an investigator working for that commission would probably have the same realistic belief that they’re above partisanship,” he said.

The bill also would require all legislative staff, not just legislators, to file yearly financial interest statements, which would include information on their other forms of income.

Additionally, lobbyists would no longer be allowed to contribute to any incumbent’s campaign while the General Assembly is in session. This includes the campaigns of both incumbent legislators and governors.

Shields hopes that these steps will improve ethics within state government and change the perception some Missourians have of their lawmakers right now.

“It continues the effort to improve transparency and I think it gives us the opportunity to remove sort of a cloud that’s over the head of the legislature because of the action of three individuals. So I think the opportunity is there and I think we’ll be successful in passing it this year,” said Shields.

The 2010 legislative session begins on Wednesday, January 6th. For the full text of Shields' legislation, you can visit www.senate.mo.gov . For KSMU News, I’m Adam Murphy.