A state representative who spent the session working on a comprehensive ethics bill says the measure that passed the legislature falls far short of true ethics reform.
Rep. Kevin Wilson, a Republican from Neosho, chaired the Special Standing Committee on Government Accountability and Ethics Reform, which worked throughout the session. Wilson guided the committee to unanimous approval of a comprehensive ethics bill.
“Then, about two weeks ago the wheels came off that bus in a violent manner,” Wilson tells colleagues during House floor debate. “And here we are two weeks later with a bill which some people characterized as ‘ethics light’ and I think I have to agree with them.”
The wheels came off in a series of events, triggered initially the decision of the House Rules Committee to return HCS SS#2 SCS SB 577 back to the special ethics committee even though the committee had approved the measure by a unanimous vote. Legislation must pass the House Rules Committee to make it on the calendar, then to the floor for debate. House Democrats, sensing that the Rules Committee wanted campaign contribution limits stripped from the bill, decided to act. They circulated a discharge petition and with the help of three Republicans seized the bill from the ethics committee and forced it onto the calendar. House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, refused to bring that bill and another one, also named in the discharge petition, to the floor. Instead, House Republicans drafted alternative ethics provisions and slapped other politically-charged provisions onto SB 844. That bill hit the floor amid cries of foul by Democrats who weren’t allowed to offer any amendments. It passed on a party-line vote.
Negotiations with the Senate stripped the bill of the partisan provisions. Critics charged that it also weakened the ethics provisions left.
Wilson watched the events unfold on the sideline. The representative charged with crafting a comprehensive ethics bill at the beginning of the session no longer played a role. The discharge petition took the bill from his committee, then the House Speaker appointed Rep. Tim Jones to carry the newly created ethics bill, CCS#3 HCS#2 SB 844, its bill number indicative of the many turns and twists it made before winning approval.
Wilson regrets the opportunity lost.
“We had the opportunity,” Wilson tells colleagues. “We had it in our grasp and we let it slip through our fingers.”
The “ethics light” bill passes the House 153-to-5 and goes to the governor.