House leadership has now jumped on the ethics bandwagon. The number three person in the House has proposed new rules for lawmaker conduct saying he wants to bring about structural change to the legislature.

House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, a Perryville Republican, proposes many changes, focusing on conduct during legislative sessions rather than campaigns as some ethics bills do. Tilley would ban the common practice of lobbyists picking up the tab for dinner with an individual lawmaker. Lobbyists would no longer be allowed to buy a committee or caucus dinner and would only be allowed to buy a meal if everyone in the House is welcome, under the plan.

State legislators would be prohibited from becoming legislative lobbyist after leaving the General Assembly for a 180-day period. The governor’s office would not be allowed to appoint members of the General Assembly to positions in the executive branch until 180 days after they leave office.

“We have an opportunity here to increase accountability, responsibility and to improve the perception from the citizens of this great state on what goes on in Jefferson City,” Tilley says

The new campaign restrictions in Tilley’s proposal again target conduct during a legislative session, not campaign contributions. The measure would require full disclosure of the political employment not just of legislators, but of their staff. The financial interests of any officeholder and staff as well as contract agents would have to be disclosed.

A prohibition on lawmakers serving as political consultants seems aimed directly at former House Speaker Rod Jetton, who ran a controversial political consulting business even as serving as Speaker.

“I mean, I’d say that’s what most people think, but actually there have been Democrats who have served in the General Assembly who have been consultants as well at the same time that they were critical of the Speaker,” Tilley says.

Tilley’s proposal received faint praise from House Democratic leader Paul LeVota of Independence, who issued a written statement.

“A key omission from his plan, however, is the restoration of campaign contribution limits, which were repealed in 2008 despite being first imposed by nearly three-quarters of Missouri voters. Prohibiting lawmakers from accepting a plate of chicken wings or a slice of pizza from a lobbyist is admirable but does little to negate the perception of a legislature for sale if lobbyists and other wealthy donors can still give massive amounts of money – such as the $100,000 donation the majority leader received from a single contributor earlier this year – to candidates for elected office.”

The proposal by Tilley is important, because of Tilley’s current and future position in the Missouri House. Tilley, at present, is the Republican Caucus’ choice to become the next Speaker of the House, should Republicans retain control. Two other representatives unveiled a bi-partisan bill earlier. The leader of the Senate, Charlie Shileds of St. Joseph, also proposes ethics reform.

Governor Nixon has declined to comment on the recent spate of ethics bill.

“I prefer to keep any comments or analysis of any of those individual pieces until we lay forth what we will do in just a few short weeks,” the governor told reporters at a recent event.

The rise in priority of ethics legislation coincides with the fall of several legislators. Most recently, former Speaker Jetton, a Republican from Marble Hill,  has been charged with assault by a woman stemming from an episode of rough sex in Sikeston. The highest profile lapse in judgment came earlier this year when Sen. Jeff Smith, a Democrat from St. Louis, was sentenced to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to election charges stemming from his 2004 Congressional campaign. Rep. Steve Brown, a Democrat from Clayton, also pleaded guilty to election violations in that case.

Former Rep. Talibdin El-Amin, a Democrat from St. Louis, will be sentenced next month on bribery charges.

In 2008, Rep. Scott Muschany, a Republican from Frontenac, resigned after being charged with the deviate sexual assault of a 14-year-old daughter of a state employee.  A year earlier, Rep. Nathan Cooper, a Republican from Cape Girardeau, resigned from the legislature after pleading guilty to immigration fraud.

A reporter asked Nixon if he thought the legislature was ethically challenged.

Nixon declined to bite, simply stating, “There are a lot of good folks there, a lot of good folks there.”

Brent Martin reports (1:30 MP3) 

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