By Kurt Erickson
Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Thursday barring statewide elected officials and lawmakers from serving as paid political consultants.
The law is part of a package of legislation moving through the General Assembly designed to bolster public trust in state government, which has seen numerous scandals in recent years, including the resignation of two lawmakers last year amid allegations they had inappropriate dealings with college interns.
The new law, which goes into effect Aug. 28, prevents elected officials from profiting from their positions by getting paid by other lawmakers for their political advice. It is the first ethics-related bill to become law this session.
"Members of the General Assembly are here to represent their taxpaying constituents, not cash in on their political connections," Nixon told reporters during a signing ceremony in his Capitol office.
He was flanked by the sponsors of House Bill 1983, Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, and Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown.
Nixon warned that the new measure was just a first step in addressing the ethical shortcomings of Missouri government, where the cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists includes members of the House and Senate renting rooms from the people who are attempting to influence public policy. Missouri is the only state in the nation with no campaign contribution limits, no limits on lobbyists' gifts to lawmakers and no waiting period before a legislator can become a lobbyist.
"Missouri's ethics laws remain the weakest in the nation," Nixon said. "There is more work to do, and I have been very clear about the measures that are necessary to restore the public's trust."
Nixon wants lawmakers to impose limits on campaign contributions, ban gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists and impose a cooling off period for lawmakers wanting to become lobbyists.
Republicans who control the Legislature are not actively considering capping campaign contributions, but a ban on gifts is still alive as the House and Senate enter the final month of the legislative session.
The House also has signed off on a six-month cooling off period for lawmakers looking to cash in as lobbyists.
The proposal would bar a lawmaker from becoming a lobbyist for six months after he or she leaves office.
Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said House Bill 1979 is designed to give lawmakers an incentive to stay in office through the end of their terms.
Shortening the waiting period to six months from a year was key to winning support. It passed the House on a 131-19 vote and moves to the Senate for final approval.
"That was something we felt like we had to do to be able to get it through the Senate," Rowden said.
Nixon and Democrats said they had hoped for a longer waiting period.
"I think at the end of the day we all said we'd rather get something done than nothing done, so we kind of agreed to the six months and are hopeful that that would get through the Senate," said Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City.
Nixon said six months is "better than zero."
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