Legislation passed by the Missouri House last month banning most gifts from lobbyists has been altered by a Senate committee.
The original version would ban all gifts except plants, flowers, and catered events in which all state lawmakers and elected officials are invited. Now, the bill would allow officeholders to accept no more than $40 worth of gifts per day, and would require them to reimburse the lobbyist for anything above $40.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is sponsoring the alternate measure. He said lawmakers also won’t be allowed to accept gifts to an event unless the lobbyist is present.
“They give you free tickets to a concert or a baseball game or something like that, and the lobbyist does not go with you, or you get a trip and the lobbyist does not go with you, it strictly prohibits any of those types of gifts,” he said.
It would also allow lobbyists to cover a lawmaker’s “constituent expenditures,” Kehoe said.
“If an elected official wants to have a school group (visit the Capitol), and some lobbyist or organization wants to buy pizza for that school group,” Kehoe said, “it allows a member of the House or Senate to entertain a group in their office and have a lobbyist pay for it.”
State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, sponsors the original version.
“Obviously I’m going to have to re-evaluate their version of the bill with House leadership, but it is a sign that they are serious about meaningful ethics reform going forward,” he said. “Clearly the House wanted a zero, kind of a no-tolerance policy for lobbyists gifts, but even at $40 (a day), it is still a lot better than the current system that we have.”
The current system allows unlimited gifts worth any amount of money, but requires elected officials to report all gifts they receive to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
The revised bill next goes before the full Senate for debate, though a date hasn’t been set. If it passes there, it would then go back to the House for more debate.
Similar gift ban proposals have passed the House and died in the Senate for two years in a row. Opponents in the upper chamber have complained that those bills would have made it possible for elected officials to break the law without knowing they were doing anything illegal – that they would have criminalized accepting such things as a pen or a piece of gum from a lobbyist.
“This bill makes sure we don’t have a ‘gotcha,’” Kehoe said.
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