Tighter ethics restrictions and disclosure requirements would be imposed on public officials under a package of four bills passed by Missouri's House Thursday, Jan. 14.
The measures would require a "cooling off" period before a Missouri elected official could become a lobbyist, restrict working as paid political consultants while in office, shorten the deadline for reporting when someone paid for out-of-state travel and require biannual rather than annual financial disclosure reports by public officials.
The ethics package was made a top priority for legislative leaders in the aftermath of resignations of two lawmakers after reports of inappropriate conduct involving female college interns.
The measures cleared the House after just six legislative days.
Democrats, however, argued the measures were not strong enough.
One complaint was that the requirement for a delay to become a lobbyist would not apply to legislators in their current term in office, instead only for those elected or re-elected in November.
"This is a disappointingly small step. People are tired of politicians proposing changes that don't apply to themselves. This should apply to us," said Rep. Steve Webber, D-Columbia, during the initial House debate on the proposals.
Democrats also argued that the restriction on working as campaign consultants should apply to legislative staff as well as legislators.
But Republicans argued that some of the broader provisions Democrats sought would trigger court challenges and would raise the possibility of a repeat of legislative gridlock that has derailed ethics issues for the past several years.
"Our goal is not to have a conversation about ethics reform; our goal is to actually get something done," said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Popular Bluff. "I'm tired of us talking about these things and never getting them done."
Richardson argued that keeping the bills narrowly defined made passage more likely.
The cooling-off period would prohibit legislators and statewide elected officials from registering as lobbyists until they had been out of office for one year after the term in which the person had been elected had expired.
The cooling off period also would be applied to officials appointed by the governor to positions that require Senate confirmation.
In addition, a legislator would be prohibited from soliciting a lobbyist for a paid position that would begin after the lawmaker leaves office.
However, the cooling-off requirement would not apply for during the current term of a legislator, only after re-election.
The restriction on working as a paid political consultant would cover both legislators and statewide elected officials, but not their staffers. The chair of the committee that approved the bill said that including staffers might cause the entire bill to be struck down by the courts.
The out-of-state travel reporting bill would impose a 30-day deadline for a public official to report when a third party had covered out-of-state travel or lodging expenses.
A number of other ethics measures are awaiting committee review. One would impose a total ban on accepting anything of value from lobbyists.
Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, has called for reinstating limits on how much any one person or organization can contribute to a candidate's campaign. But that proposal has met with stiff resistance by Republicans.
Legislation to reimpose the requirement for a government-issued ID to vote was sent to the full House Thursday by the House Select Committee on State and Local Government.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he expected the House quickly take up the measures.
One of the measures would place on the statewide ballot an amendment to the Missouri constitution that would authorize the legislature to require a photo ID.
The other measure would impose the requirement that a voter present a government-issued ID that included a photograph. That bill would take effect only if Missouri voters approve the constitutional amendment.
The measure would allow a voter without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. It also would require that a person without a government-issued photo ID could get cost-free ID from the state.
Missouri initially imposed the photo ID requirement in 2006. But the legislative effort was struck down later that year by the Missouri Supreme Court which held the legislature did not have the constitutional power to require a photo ID.
Republicans have argued that requiring an ID with a photo would help prevent election fraud.
Democrats argue the requirement would impose an unnecessary barrier to voting and adversely effect elderly, the lower income, and others who are less likely to have photo IDs.
The photo ID requirements likely would not take effect until after then 2016 elections.
The constitutional amendment is slated for the November ballot unless the Democratic governor put it on the August primary ballot.
An earlier effort by the legislature that would have taken effect for this year's elections was struck down by a Democratic circuit judge who held the ballot description included in the measure was inaccurate.
Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce's decision was issue early enough in 2012 that the legislature could have revised the ballot description. Lawmakers, however, took no action.
Missouri lawmakers are proposing the state modify its law prohibiting compliance with the federal REAL ID requirements for acceptance of driving licenses as IDs.
Missouri legislative attention to the issue was triggered by a warning from the federal Homeland Security Department that the state's current driving license will not be accepted as identification required to enter some government facilities such as military bases.
The department also warned that eventually, Missouri licenses would not be accepted to board an airplane.
In 2009, Missouri's legislature passed a law prohibiting the state Revenue Department from complying with the federal requirements for storage of personal information about persons with driving licenses.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, filed legislation that would give Missouri drivers the option to pick whether to have federally compliant license or one that requires collection of less information.
"I think that this is a solution that provides freedom for everyone to decide for themselves what level of participation they want to have with their government," Silvey said to his Senate colleagues when he introduced the bill.
In the House, one measure has been introduced to authorize a non-driving identification card that would comply with the federal REAL ID requirements. Another bill simply would repeal the prohibition on the Revenue Department from complying with the federal law.
Thousands of unemployed Missourians would see their unemployment benefits cut under a case heard by the Missouri Supreme Court Wednesday, Jan. 13.
At issue is the constitutionality of the Senate's vote to override the governor's veto of a bill that reduces the number of weeks of benefits during periods of low unemployment.
The legislature passed the bill in 2015 early enough that the governor had to act on the measure before the session had adjourned.
The House promptly overrode the governor's veto. But the Senate did not take up the override motion until the fall veto session.
A filibuster by Senate Democrats in the legislature's final week on an unrelated issue had stalled action on any legislative issues, including the unemployment compensation veto. Republican leaders chose not to force any votes and effectively did nothing of substance in the final days of the session.
The cased filed by two unemployed workers argues that Missouri's Constitution limits an override vote to the regular session if the governor issued his veto before the final five days of the legislative session, which was the case with the unemployment benefits bill.
However, the attorney general's office argues the Senate does have power to take up the measure during either the regular session or the veto session.
If the Supreme Court invalidates the veto override, an unemployed worker could collect benefits for up to 20 weeks.
But with Missouri's current low unemployment rate, those benefits would be cut to 13 weeks.
The state Labor Department a 4.7 percent unemployment rate for November, the last period for which unemployment figures are available.
The benefit reductions take effect the first of this year. The department reports more than 15,000 workers filed unemployment claims in the first full week of January.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, called the House Committee on Children and Families' hearing about Planned Parenthood a farce.
The acting director of the Department of Health and Senior Services -- Peter Lyskowski -- spoke at the hearing to discuss licensing of abortion clinics.
Members of the committee questioned Lyskowski on the accountability process behind the transfer of fetal tissue.
The issue surfaced last year over an edited video purporting to show the discussion about the sale of fetal tissue featuring a senior director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Since then, the video has been discounted by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who found no evidence that Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic mishandled fetal tissue.
Newman said the hearing was held because it is an election year and there is no fault in the department's current accountability process.
"Tell me why we're spending more taxpayer time and money to address things that have already been debunked."
Newman also took issue with the non-medical terminology being used throughout the hearing, calling it inappropriate.
She said there is no reason that her committee should be using such casual language in a professional environment.
"We're talking about medical procedures which basically are human lives, and were talking about pathology, again they're all expected to use medical terminology."
Newman compared the language used by the committee to the non-medical terminology used to inflame the abortion issue and incite violence.
"There is no reason, even after I asked point blank, my own committee today to use accurate medical terminology, they refused, as you saw. Again, they are more interested in inciting than they are responsible."
Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said that the process used by the Dept. of Health and Senior Services in accounting for fetal tissue needs some work.
"How can we make sure there is not black market of human remains?"
Committee chair Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, said that they will have to check in with the Health Department over the summer to see if the process in place for reporting abortions is yielding the reports they would expect.
Several bills have been introduced this session that would change the procedures when it comes to handling fetal tissue in abortion clinics.
The House Government Oversight Committee pass and sent to the full House a measure that would require a legislator wait at least six months after leaving office before the lawmaker could become a lobbyist.
The bill had been fast-tracked by legislative leaders.
The committee chair -- Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City -- said a full House vote could come later in the week.
But one Democrat on the committee said the bill did not go far enough.
Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis County, said the bill should require a full year cooling off period.
Instead, the bill requires that there be one regular session of the legislature before a former state lawmaker could register as a lobbyist in the state.
For a legislator who served out his term of office, that would mean the lawmaker could register as a lobbyist at the end of May after the legislative term had ended at the start of January.
"It is the tiniest of possible steps that the majority party could take on this issue," Mitten said. "It is incomplete and it is being sold as a bill of goods that is not correct."
Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, have called on the legislature to re-impose voter-approved limits on campaign contributions. But Barnes said he did not know when that bill would come before his committee.
Barnes noted his committee had taken up the first round of ethics bills on the earliest day possible for committee hearings.
"On the very first day we can hear bills, we passed four substantive ethics bills," Barnes said.
Other measures approved by the committee would require bi-annual rather than annual financial disclosure reports by public officials, shorten the deadline for reporting legislative trips financed by special interests and prohibit legislators working as paid political consultants for other candidates.
Lobbyists could be required to report their sexual relations with legislators and legislative staff under a bill filed on the opening day of the Missouri legislative session for 2017.
The bill would define sex between by a lobbyist with a legislator or legislative staff as a "gift" that is required to be included in the public reports lobbyists must report to the state.
However, the bill would exempt the lobbyist from having to attach a monetary value to the sexual relations -- essentially declaring sex to be of no value.
The measure, sponsor by Rep. Bart Korman, R-High Hill, would exempt sexual relations by a lobbyist with a spouse or that had begun prior to the legislator's election to office.
The bill follows a police report last year in which a lobbyist who had worked for Missouri's governor reported she had sexual relations with former House Speaker John Diehl.
By an overwhelming vote, Missouri's Senate approved a rule change that will move reporters from the Senate floor to an upstairs gallery overlooking the Senate.
The proposal's sponsor -- Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin -- said he was motivated by a couple of times a reporter had tweeted conversations that Senators had expected to be private.
"Some in the press violated the code of ethics by tweeting out discussions between senators and I will not stand for that, so they will not be on the floor of the Senate any more," Richard said when asked during the short Senate debate why he was seeking to remove a Senate press table of more than four decades.
One of the two conversations involved a relatively loud reprimand by a former Senate president pro tem who criticized a senator for failing to maintain decorum in the Senate when he was serving as the temporary presiding officer.
Four Democrats voted against the rule change that passed 26-4.
One of the opponents said banishing reporters to an upstairs gallery would harm the ability of journalists to obtain information for the general public as to what the Senate was doing.
"It makes it easier for them to take the short walk to the side gallery to kind of explain some of the background on the complications that may not come across in debate," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.
But at a news conference with reporters, Richard argued that it was the fault of reporters themselves for not respecting confidentiality of private conversations overheard from a press table close to where senators talk with staff.
"When the press violating the trust of tweeting information of senators on the floor in discussion and negotiation and sent that out, I thought that was a breach of irresponsibility," Richardson said.
The press-table eviction follows Senate action last fall that ousted the news media from their traditional offices to a smaller complex of offices in what amounts to a Capitol attic. The new offices are not accessible to the physically disabled and do not provide room for space for visiting reporters.
In an address to the opening session of the Missouri House, House Speaker Todd Richardson promised fast action on bills to impose restrictions on special interest influence.
"Tomorrow on the first day that bills can be referred, I will refer every ethics bill that has been filed to the Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability," the Poplar Bluff Republican told his colleagues Wednesday, Jan. 6.
Later at a news conference, Richardson said hearings on the bills could be scheduled just days later.
The committee is chaired by one of the legislature's leading proponents of tougher restrictions on special interest money in government and politics -- Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.
In his speech, Richardson made reference to the scandals with interns that drove two legislators out of office last year including the previous speaker, Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.
"This institution should not and will not be defined by the actions of a few. Together we will work to make this place where all of you are proud to do the people's work and are proud of our accomplishments when you go home on Thursdays. That task starts immediately," Richardson said.
A wide variety of "ethics" proposals have been filed or suggested including:
In past years, differences in what to include in an "ethics" package has gridlocked the legislature.
The Senate's Democratic leader -- Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis -- voiced concern about getting a comprehensive package passed.
"I am a little bit concerned that we are not going to pass everything that we should pass," Keaveny told reporters at a news conference following the House session.
Campaign contribution limits have caused the deepest division within the legislature in the past.
Democrats have made a top priority to reinstate limits on how much any one person or organization can contribute to a political candidate.
The Republican-controlled legislature repealed those limits more than a decade after Missouri voters approved the limits by 74 percent.
At a Republican leadership news conference after the session, Richardson suggested one approach to avoiding the gridlocks of past years would be to split each ethics proposal into a separate bill so that opposition to any one idea, such as contribution limits, would not sink an entire ethics package.
Legislative leaders also cited as top issues transportation, education funding and dealing with the aftermath of the recent floods.
Missouri legislative leaders cited the Transportation Department's funding crisis as a major priority for the General Assembly.
But some top leaders expressed skepticism that a total solution could win legislative approval.
"I doubt it," Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, responded when asked if he thought the legislature would approve a major gasoline tax increase or toll roads.
A similar prediction was voiced from the other side of the aisle.
"Quite frankly, I don't see a whole lot of relief. I haven't heard any relief of increasing any taxes in order to fund the infrastructure," said Senate Democratic Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis.
But Richard said the problems were serious enough that the legislature needed to continue its discussions on the highway funding problems.
"It's an asset and we'll have to decide how we're going to protect the asset," Richard said.
He suggested highways that were closed by the recent floods helped highlight the issue.
"Based on the flooding, it's even more important now. Everyone knows how important it is, especially in a flooded area. You can't get to work. You can't get home."
In last year's legislative session, a modest increase in the fuel tax died in House and Senate committees.
Senate GOP Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, predicted an "historic" level of cooperation would emerge between the House and Senate in the 2017 legislative session.
"The speaker and the majority leader and I have talked many, many times over the last couple of months. I think the communication between the House and Senate is going to be historic, in a good way," Kehoe said.
One indication of the level of collaboration between the two chambers was that the Republican leadership of the House and Senate held a joint news conference after the opening day's session rather than separately.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, described the significance that House leaders went to the Senate side of the building for their joint meeting with reporters.
"It's symbolic that the House leadership group to be down here, but I think it's important symbolism and that is we intend to have a better working relationship with the House and Senate than we've ever had before," Richardson said.
One factor is the personal relationship between House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin.
Richard said that would be an asset.
"A lot of times, the hallways chatter, the bureaucrats, the lobbyists try to pull the two sides apart to try to leverage their priorities or their issues and we're not going to let that happen. We know each other pretty well," Richard said.
House and Senate leaders already have worked out plans to fast-track "ethics" measures to reduce the influence of special interests.
Another indication of greater harmony was Richardson's promise not to block a House vote on any Senate-passed measure to prohibit bonds for a new NFL football stadium that had not gotten legislative or voter approval. Last year, the Senate-passed bill was blocked from even being debated in the House.
Traditionally, battles between the two chambers have been dominate factors in the legislative process -- even when the same party controls both the House and Senate.
Occasionally in past decades, the divisions were more heated than between the two political parties.
Missouri's state budget office reported Missouri finished the first-half of the year with tax collections falling slightly below the projections upon which the state's budget was based.
Acting State Budget Director Dan Haug announced Tuesday, Jan. 5, that total revenue collections had grown 2.6 percent for the six months ending December 31.
The revenue estimate of the governor's office and the legislature upon which the state's budget was based was for a 2.8 percent growth in General Revenue.
While there were increases in income and sale tax collections, corporate income and franchise tax collections fell 9.1 percent for the first six months of the fiscal year.
In total, the state has collected $100 million more than it did in the same period last year.
If the current revenue growth rate continues for the next six months, total collections would fall about $500 million short of the state spending plan.
However, the state does have reserve funds and other sources that could be used to cover the shortfall.
In addition, about $200 million in spending is curtailed until the administration determines the state will have sufficient revenues to cover the entire budget.
Gov. Jay Nixon again called on lawmakers to pass a package of measures to toughen restrictions on special interest money in politics and government.
"No more symbolic gestures or half-hearted attempts. These problems are real and they're undermining the confidence in the public in the very government it relies on," Nixon said at a news conference one day before the start of the 2017 legislative session.
Nixon called for reinstatement of voter-approved limits on campaign contributions, banning gifts by lobbyists to legislators, banning public officials from working as campaign consultants, a cooling off period after leaving office before an elected official could work as lobbyist and a shorter legislative session.
"The solutions are clear and I'm challenging the legislature to get meaningful ethics to my desk this session."
The governor, who is finishing his last year as governor, said he hoped his legacy could be capped with ethics reform.
In past years, however, Nixon's calls for restrictions special interest influence have died in the legislature from disagreement over details and opposition to some of the provisions.
Gov. Jay Nixon expressed support when asked his reaction to Republican legislative calls for dismissal of of a University of Missouri faculty member who called on students to physically block a person seeking to photograph protesters.
"I've got to tell you, anybody who saw the video of that professor Click...I can understand how why that's completely unacceptable behavior on part of a faculty member," Nixon said.
However the governor did not explicitly endorse the letter signed by a majority of the legislature's GOP lawmakers that called on the University of Missouri Board of Curators to fire Prof. Melissa Click.
But did not criticize the legislative effort.
"Somebody that's a professor of journalism and communications at a university saying go bring in the muscle, so we don't have to use the First Amendment...quite frankly, if people are upset, I'm OK with that."
Click resigned her faculty position with the School of Journalism at the Columbia campus just before a journalism faculty committee was about to vote to strip her of her relationship with the school.
However, Click remains an assistant professor at Communication Department. She had issued a statement of apology shortly after the incident with the protesters, but has refused further comment.
An overwhelming majority of House and Senate Republicans issued a statement Monday, Jan. 4, calling for the dismissal of the University of Missouri professor who sought to block coverage of the protests against the MU president last fall.
The letter to the University of Missouri Board of Curators called for the immediate dismissal of Communication Assistant Professor Melissa Click.
The letter was signed by 100 of the 116 House Republicans and by 18 of the Senate's 24 Republicans.
Click along with MU Greek Life Director Janna Basler sought to block two reporters from photographing protesters on the day that MU President Tim Wolfe met their demands to resign.
The Nov. 9 incident began when Basler told a student journalist working for ESPN that he could not take photographs of several dozen protesters who had occupied a public area on the university's Columbia campus.
Later, Click called on the protesters to physically block the another student who was video recording the incident.
"Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here," she said to a group of protesters while pointing at the video photographer.
In their letter demanding Click's removal, the Republican lawmakers charged "Professor Click's comments served to inflame an already caustic situation that was clearly out of line."
There was no immediate comment from the university on the legislators' demand for Click's dismissal.
Because she is not tenured, her contract with the university normally would expire in the summer unless extended.
Shortly after the incident, Click resigned a "courtesy" appointment with the School of Journalism. She tendered the resignation just before a faculty committee of the school was preparing to terminate her relationship with the school.
However, she retained her faculty appointment with the Communications Department of the Arts and Science School.