An ethics bill returning to the Senate is difficult to recognize after the House loaded it down with numerous provisions unrelated to ethics. Still, the Senate sponsor sees something to work with in the much changed bill.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, a Republican from St. Joseph, isn’t ready to declare ethics reform dead this session, despite the controversy surrounding how the House forced through a loaded down bill last week.

“Not at this point,” Shields tells the Missourinet. “They’ve sent the bill over. We’ll send it to conference. Depending on what comes out of conference, we’ll decide whether that bill is alive or dead. But at this point it really wouldn’t have made a lot of difference what action took place in the House, how big or how small, that bill was probably headed to conference no matter what.”

HCS#2 SB 844 changed greatly in the House. House Democrats tried to force the issue of ethics reform with a discharge petition that strips a special ethics committee of two bills and placed them on the House calendar. Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley of Perryville refused to bring either bill to the House floor for debate. Instead, House Republicans rushed a greatly changed SB 844 through the Special House Committee on General Laws and onto the floor on Thursday. Republicans added several provisions unrelated to ethics, highly charged partisan provisions Democrats strongly oppose. The bill passed on a party-line vote.

Shields understands the issue lawmakers have been working hard on all session has now become extremely political.

“Clearly, it is very political in the House,” says Shields, “although I don’t think that is the case in the Senate. I think we’re focused on doing a good ethics bill. It’s a bi-partisan issue in the Senate. My hope is that some of those discussions that we have in the Senate can transpire in the House and we end up with a good bill before six o’clock on Friday.”

Shields says the issue will be settled in a conference committee between the Senate and the House this final week of the legislative session. The senator says any ethics bill needs to contain language giving the Ethics Commission authority to conduct investigations as well as rid the political system of money laundering, such as making contribution transfers from one committee to another in an effort to hide who is contributing to whom. The bill doesn’t seem unredeemable in his present form to Shields.

“I’ve seen bills that have been in far worse shape than this come back out through the process,” Shields says.

Legislators have four days to come to an agreement on ethics.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:15 MP3]