JEFFERSON CITY • A plan to limit how quickly Missouri lawmakers can leap into the lobbying world won’t immediately affect current members of the House and Senate.
Under Republican-sponsored legislation unanimously endorsed by a House panel Monday, a cooling off period for legislators would only affect members elected in 2016 and thereafter.
That, said state Rep. Gina Mitten, is just one example of how a GOP-backed package of ethics changes falls short of tackling the major image problems facing elected officials heading into the 2016 election season.
But, the St. Louis Democrat said, “It is still a tiny step in the right direction.”
State Rep. Caleb Rowden’s proposal — sent to the full House Monday by the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee — would require lawmakers to wait for one full session of the House or Senate before they become lobbyists.
The so-called “cooling off” period outlined under House Bill 1979, attempts to address situations where lawmakers are writing legislation one day and then lobbying on behalf of clients the next.
Missouri is among at least 17 states without a revolving door ban. A Post-Dispatch tally last year found at least 50 former lawmakers in the lobbying ranks.
Rowden said the proposal was drafted to exempt current members of the Legislature in order to avoid a court challenge. Plus, he said, any current member re-elected after 2016, would be affected by the cooling off period.
“There is a very thin line between what’s constitutional and what’s not,” Rowden said.
Said Mitten, “It should apply to everybody, not just the newbies.”
Mitten also complained that Rowden was characterizing the cooling off period as one year, when it could be as short as the legislative session, which typically lasts from January to mid-May.
“Calling it a year is a misrepresentation,” she said.
State Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican who chairs the panel, said he will support an amendment changing the length of time to a full year.
The proposed change is among seven ethics-related measures backed by Republicans as part of a fast-moving effort to show Missouri voters that legislators are attempting to address the battered culture of the capital city after the resignations in 2015 of two former lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior toward interns.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said some of the legislation could be voted on in the full House by week's end.
"(O)ur goal is to improve the environment in Jefferson City, and begin the process of restoring the public’s confidence in this institution," Richardson said in a prepared statement.
Missing from the package is a proposal to place limits on campaign contributions. While Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has called that a key element of an ethics overhaul, Republican leaders signaled last week that it is not going to be on the table this year.
On an 8-0 vote, the committee also signed off on a plan banning lawmakers and statewide elected officials from serving as paid political consultants.
“I think this a great step toward clearing up some of the ethical dilemmas we face,” said Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan of Ballwin, who sponsored the plan.
Mitten said legislative staff members should have been included in House Bill 1983, but Dogan said an elected official still could implement a policy barring his or her employees from serving in that capacity.
The panel also voted unanimously in support of a plan to require House and Senate members to file financial disclosure reports twice a year, rather than just once. The proposal, sponsored by state Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, could help voters determine whether members have conflicts of interest with their government duties and their private business matters.
“I think as far as openness and transparency, this is a better way to do this,” Hoskins said.
The panel also voted to boost reporting requirements for officials who receive hotels and other travel expenses.
Barnes said he expects an initial debate of the package to come as early as Wednesday as Republicans attempt to show they are serious about addressing the Legislature’s woes.