Washington Missourian: General Assembly Seeks Ethics Reform in 2016

General Assembly Seeks Ethics Reform in 2016

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Posted: Saturday, February 6, 2016 5:32 pm

By Joe Barker
Missourian Staff Writer

Ethics reform was a major topic of discussion at the State Capitol Thursday.

House Rep. Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) and Sens. Jill Schupp (D-St. Louis) and Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) addressed the need for ethics reform for the General Assembly. The panel was speaking to reporters at the 26th annual Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press Day at the Capitol.

Barnes talked about the early work done this session to address ethics after a tumultuous 2015 that saw members of the General Assembly due to ethics in controversies.

“Power is the ultimate test of character and responsibility,” he said.

Barnes said the reforms are intended to keep good people from going bad.

“Your representatives and senators, as a general rule, are good people,” Barnes said. “They come here for the right reasons. Yes, there are some less than reputable folks in the General Assembly, but the far vast majority of people are here for the right reason. But when you get elected, something happens.”

Barnes said the goal of the reforms is to simply eliminate the complications that come from becoming a powerful person overnight.

“Your IQ grows by 40 points and all of your jokes get funnier,” he said. “All of the sudden, people act like you’re the most important person in most rooms that you enter. That can do something to a person. There are plenty of members of the General Assembly who have come here to Jefferson City and left two, four, six, eight years later with their life in tatters.”

Barnes pointed out three bills in the House to reform ethics. The first, sponsored by Justin Alferman (R-Hermann), eliminates gifts from lobbyists.

Another bill is intended to close the “revolving door” between lobbyists and legislators. Barnes said the state has had an issue with legislators leaving office and moving right into lobbying and proposed a one-year period legislators must wait before registering as a lobbyist or soliciting lobbying clients.

The third bill would apply the Missouri Sunshine Law to task forces appointed by the governor’s office.

Sen. Schupp said she would like to see more done.

“Most of the bills we see are tinkering around the edges of ethics, as opposed to really getting into the heart of what creates public trust beholden to certain groups or individuals,” she said.

Schupp said she would like more campaign finance reform. She said she favored limits on campaign contributions.

“When they can receive a million dollar check from one person, if you don’t think there’s some sort of undue influence in that — I think there is,” she said.

At a luncheon following the panel, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin) vehemently opposed the idea.

“I know you all are going to have a question on campaign limits,” Richard said. “You all want it, we don’t, so it’s not going to happen.”

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