Ethics legislation teeters on the brink of failure after House Democrats moved to strip an ethics bill from a committee and force it on the calendar. The procedural move has angered House leaders who threaten to kill the bill.
Fifty-six House Democrats and three Republicans signed a discharge petition to take the bill out of the House Special Committee on Government Accountability and Ethics Reform and force it on the House calendar. Democrat John Burnett of Kansas City says the House Rules Committee left them no choice after demanding campaign contribution limits be stripped from the bill.
“Ethics bill without the campaign finance limits is toothless,” Burnett tells reporters.
The Rules Committee voted 7-4 on Monday to send the bill back to the Governmental Accountability and Ethics Reform Committee which Speaker Ron Richard (R-Joplin) established this session to handle ethics legislation. Bills must clear the Rules Committee to be placed on the House calendar and prepared for floor debate. The discharge petition pushed by Democrats circumvents the process.
Chairman of the Ethics Reform Committee, Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho), says he was prepared to bring a re-shaped ethics bill to the floor for a vote. He adds that Democrats could have offered an amendment to reinstate campaign contribution limits.
“We were going to move forward with a bill and, I think, their action has put the bill in jeopardy,” Wilson says.
Severe jeopardy, according to statements made by the House Speaker and Majority Floor Leader who both suggest the discharge petition could kill the bill. Speaker Richard issued a terse written statement.
“House Democrats have effectively killed the ethics bill in attempt to gain political headlines. I will leave political stunts out of the process and we will continue to work to pass meaningful ethics legislation this session,” according to Richard.
Democrats, though, say they had no choice. They argue that Republicans are making a maneuver of their own. Democrats fear that not only will the campaign contribution limits language be stripped from the bill, but once stripped, Republican leadership will rule out of order any amendment proposed during floor debate to add them, declaring them beyond the scope of the legislation. The discharge petition moved both SB 577 and HB 2300 out of committee and onto the House calendar.
The effectiveness of the Democrats move is debatable itself. A discharge petition is an option provided for by the Missouri Constitution. It can remove a bill from a committee and force it on the House calendar. It cannot, however, force the bill to the floor for debate. That is up to the House Majority Floor Leader, Rep. Steven Tilley. Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, issued his own written statement.
“The Representatives who signed the discharge petitions today essentially killed any effort those ethics bills had to pass this legislative session,” stated Tilley.
As the bill swirls in turmoil in the House, the sponsor of SB 577, Senate leader Charlie Shields (R- St. Joseph) waits patiently for the House to act so the two chambers can reach agreement on a compromise. Shields doesn’t believe his bill is dead.
“I believe in the end that we will have an ethics bill,” Shields says.