March 15, 2017

Ban on lobbyist gifts would extend to local officials

JEFFERSON CITY -- The state House is close to passing another ethics reform proposal this one aimed at the influence lobbyists have on local elected officials.

House Bill 229 would bar gifts from lobbyists to local government officials, superintendents, school board members, members of charter school boards, and the staff and family members of such people.

The proposal is described as extending to local elected officials the same ethical reforms the House has proposed for members of the legislature and statewide elected officials, most recently in House Bill 60 which was sent to the Senate in January.

"It would simply bring local elected and appointed officials into the same standards that weve set for ourselves in terms of banning lobbyists gifts for them," said the bills sponsor, Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin).

"It clears up the definition of local government lobbyists, which is somewhat murky right now. Not everyone who gives gifts to local government officials right now is required to register as a local government lobbyist, so this requires them to do that," said Dogan.

The bill originally extended its prohibitions only to governments and school districts with annual operating budgets of more than $10-million. It was amended to remove that cap.

That amendment was offered by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender.

"I think you can make a case the smaller you are county, city, town or village operating with a budget of $10-million or under that, you might actually be more apt to consider taking a gift or have your vote influenced," said Lavender.

Odessa Republican Glen Kolkmeyer said he is glad the proposal would extend to superintendents, after an incident he said happened in the Wellington-Napoleon School District.

"The superintendent lobbied hard to put in a computerized climate control system in the school. It was a quarter of a million dollars. By the time they paid interest, because they had to finance it, it was a third of a million dollars, for them to use it for two or three years and for the next superintendent to walk in the door and scrap it," said Kolkmeyer. "Im glad that this includes school superintendents because I think some of our superintendents are living pretty high on the hog by some of the perks that are given them."

Dogan said hes seen similar situations unfold in St. Louis-area school districts.

Dogan has also cited, in promoting his bill, an experience he had while a Ballwin Alderman. He learned the city administrator had accepted World Series tickets from a trash company that had a no-bid contract up for approval with the city.

Just as HB 60 would allow lobbyists to contribute money to events to which all state elected officials and legislators are invited, HB 229 would allow lobbyists to pay for events to which all members of a political subdivision or all members of the General Assembly are invited.

HB 229 has broad bipartisan support. One more favorable vote will send it to the Senate.