JEFFERSON CITY — The Republican-dominated Missouri House on Wednesday voted to censure a St. Louis Democrat who refused to resign in response to allegations he had sex with a House intern and tried to cover it up.
Rep. Wiley Price, representing the 84th House District, faced the official discipline after his former legislative aide reported that Price informed her last January of his relationship with the intern.
The House Ethics Committee last month unanimously recommended censure for Price, but Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, moved Wednesday to expel Price instead.
“We shouldn’t stand by and let the gentleman from the 84th get away with this,” Taylor said.
Rep. J. Eggleston, a Maysville Republican who had chaired the Ethics Committee while it was weighing the complaint against Price, said the House had never before censured a member, and only once — more than a century ago — had it expelled a lawmaker.
“This is the issue that we agonized over, deliberated over,” Eggleston said. “Does what the (representative) of the 84th did get to censure, or does it actually exceed that?”
Democrats argued the chamber should reject the move to expel Price because the Ethics Committee, made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, had already debated the issue and had recommended censure.
Republicans spoke in favor of the expulsion, but with numerous defections, the amendment to expel Price only garnered 91 votes and Taylor withdrew it; it would have taken 109 votes (a two-thirds majority) to expel Price.
The vote to censure him received overwhelming bipartisan support and was approved on a 140-3 vote, with eight lawmakers voting “present.”
Price declined to comment after the vote.
The action was based on an eight-page report the Ethics Committee published in December, the culmination of a monthslong investigation.
The House implemented policies following the 2015 resignation of then-House Speaker John Diehl forbidding lawmakers from engaging in amorous relationships with House staff and interns.
Price said on the House floor that the report left out important details, including that he had discussed firing his assistant the week before she made the report regarding his alleged sexual encounter with the intern.
The report does say that Price said he gave notice to the aide, but it also says Price’s statement contradicted testimony from the aide and Price’s prior statements, when he said he had no issues with her.
Price, on the House floor, said he panicked when an investigator met with him and “denied everything,” including that he had the intern’s phone number. He said he was “wrong” for lying about that.
“Obviously I’m frustrated by these proceedings, but I apologize to my friends and my colleagues for even putting us in this position,” he said.
The report says on Jan. 23, the day after Price, his legislative aide, the intern and others went out drinking at a local bar and grill, Price pulled his legislative aide into his office, closed the door and told her that he had had sex with the intern, the aide told investigators.
The report found Price threatened and intimidated the aide after she reported the alleged sexual encounter. She reported Price told her he and the intern would lie and say they never had sex.
Price and the intern individually told an investigator they didn’t have sex.
Though Price and the intern denied ever contacting each other or having each other’s phone numbers, the House Speaker subpoenaed phone records from Jan. 22 to Jan. 27, 2020.
The records revealed seven phone calls and 26 text messages between Price and the intern, with both the intern and Price initiating exchanges. The final communication uncovered was a 42-minute phone call by Price during the evening on Jan. 26.
The records contradicted Price’s and the intern’s accounts, and indicated the two had communicated, the report said.
The report found Price committed perjury by denying he had claimed an “inappropriate” relationship with the intern, and by denying that he had contacted the intern by phone.
The terms of the censure stipulate Price be removed from committees, that he won’t be able to serve in leadership or have an intern. The censure fines him $22,500 to cover investigative costs.