Legislative ethics reform has been one of the Senate’s and House’s primary points of focus during the Second Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly. Obviously, any plan of attack that aims to improve Missouri’s ethical standards is going to be vast, nuanced and thorough. The General Assembly has been utilizing a targeted plan of attack to address this issue by introducing what are known as single-subject bills — specific, targeted legislation that can be combined with other pieces to address a problem as a whole.
The alternative to this type of plan is to pass omnibus legislation, which is a type of broad-sweeping bill that covers multiple issues. However, omnibus legislation is also more difficult to pass since there are so many different facets within it that could be disagreed upon.
So far this session, the Senate has passed three ethics reform bills that had been perfected and sent over by the House. The first ethics bill passed was House Bill 1979, which prevents statewide elected officials and lawmakers from becoming lobbyists before their term is complete. This bill would make it so that no lawmaker can leave office mid-term and become a registered lobbyist the next day.
The second House bill relating to ethics that has been passed from House to Senate is House Bill 1983. This bill has a similar goal to HB 1979, except that it seeks to ban statewide elected officials from hiring one another as paid political consultants. Money has an ability to influence the political process, and this bill would help block any conflicts of interest that might arise between two General Assembly members or elected officials before they could ever happen. House members disagreed with some of the changes we made to the bill in the Senate, and both chambers are now working together to agree on the legislation’s final language.
The third ethics bill the Senate has passed is House Bill 2203, which deals with regulating campaign fund investments. The original bill language required any money held by former lawmakers be held in readily-available bank accounts. While my fellow senators and I debated the legislation on the Senate floor, we added more aspects to the bill such as requiring campaign money to be divested by lawmakers looking to become lobbyists, and having nonprofit organizations disclose donor identities when they receive money. The point of this legislation is to ensure that money donated to political campaigns are used for that purpose, and not for furthering former legislators’ dreams of entering the lobbying business. This bill has been sent back to the House for review, and the Senate will continue working alongside them to get a finalized version to the governor’s desk.
Passing successful legislation is a difficult process, as is any endeavor that requires large amounts of people to agree on a single thing. The General Assembly is going to continue working very hard together until adjournment in May, and we will get comprehensive and responsible ethics reform to the governor’s desk this year.
Sen. Mike Cunningham represents the 33rd Senatorial District in the Missouri State Senate. The 33rd District includes all of Webster County, as well as six additional counties to the east.