The only thing bi-partisan about an ethics bill passing the House and returning to the Senate was the finger-pointing. Raw politics took over the debate on ethics reform as House Republicans used their majority numbers to muscle through an ethics bill that contained numerous provisions Democrats oppose.
House Democrats object to the additions, which are numerous. HCS#2 SB 844 leaves no doubt that it is the Special Committee on General Laws substitute for the ethics bill that came to the House from the Senate. The bill does contain numerous provisions on ethics, but it is what the committee added that stands out.
Under provisions of the bill, voters would be required to display photo identification to vote, union elections would have to be conducted by secret ballot and only county collectors and city treasurers could be fee office agents. It would remove the responsibility to write ballot language for initiative petitions from the Secretary of State, a Democrat, and hand that responsibility to a newly created Joint Committee on Ballot Statements. It would require special elections to fill vacancies for statewide office holders, rather than allow the governor, currently a Democrat, to fill the vacancy until the next election.
Democrats grumbled about the bill and failed in an attempt to reject consideration of it in favor of going back to ethics legislation approved by a special House committee appointed by the Speaker to approve comprehensive ethics reform this session. Republican Tim Jones, who handled the revamped and expanded measure on the floor, turned the tables on the Democrats and blamed them
“Mr. Speaker, this vehicle could have come to us in many different ways,” Jones said during his opening on the bill. “Unfortunately, all of those other ways were derailed by political parlor tricks and gamesmanship.”
Jones was referring to the use of a discharge petition by House Democrats to take two ethics bills from the Special Standing Committee on Governmental Accountability and Ethics Reform and force them on the House calendar. Democrats declared they had no recourse after the House Rules Committee returned the bill to the committee, requiring campaign contribution limits be stripped from the bill. Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, vowed never to go to the bills and let them languish on the informal calendar.
House Speaker Ron Richard (R-Joplin) refused to recognize any Democrat during the hour-and-a-half long debate Thursday, effectively blocking Democrats from offering amendments. It was a tactic not lost on House Minority Leader Paul LeVota (D-Independence) when a Republican inquired of him.
“You’re giving me an opportunity (to talk on the bill), because I don’t think the Speaker will give me an opportunity. That’s fine. I wish you can give me an opportunity to raise my amendment and talk through that. So, would you support the fact, ask the Speaker to go to me and I’ll do my amendment and we’ll vote up and down on it,” LeVota said.
The only time Democrats were allowed to speak during debate was when a Republican inquired of them.
The bill would prohibit legislators from serving as consultants or lobbyists and would prevent a former lawmaker from becoming a lobbyist for two years after serving in the General Assembly. The governor would be prevented from appointing a lawmaker to a position until that lawmaker had been out of office for a year. Lobbyist gifts to legislators would be capped at $2,500. The bill would prohibit committee-to-committee transfer of campaign contributions. It would set campaign contribution limits at $20,000, much higher than Democrats had suggested.
The measure might have been weighed down by many measures unrelated to ethics, still Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, a Republican from Blue Springs, heaped praise on it.
“We’re going to take a vote today on the most comprehensive and sweeping ethics reform bill in the universe,” Pratt said.
The House approved the measure on a party-line vote 88-71.
Whether the Senate thinks as highly of the bill should be answered next week, the final week of the session.