JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri House on Wednesday again advanced a proposal to ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers with some exceptions, despite some skepticism from representatives and potentially bleak prospects if the bill makes it to the Senate.
Lobbyists could no longer give lawmakers expensive meals, golf outings or St. Louis Blues tickets under the proposal, but there are exceptions. Lobbyists could still host catered events with free food if all lawmakers and statewide officials are invited at least three days in advance. Awards could still be accepted, and flowers sent for a funeral, celebration or other event would also be allowed.
Republican sponsor Rep. Justin Alferman during debate on the House floor said the goal is to limit lobbyists' influence on lawmakers through expensive gifts and improve the Legislature's public image.
House members gave the bill initial approval in a voice vote, potentially setting the bill up to be one of the first proposals to make it out of the House in the legislative session that started last week.
It needs another vote, which could happen as early as Thursday, to move to the Senate. The proposal's prospects there are less promising.
While the House in 2016 and 2017 passed bills on lobbyist gifts within the first month of session, the measures languished in the Senate. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard has said the bill will get a Senate hearing, but it's unclear if enough senators have warmed to the proposal for it to become law.
There was some pushback in the House, too.
Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth said the St. Louis voters he represents want a full gift ban without exceptions for group meals. He also expressed concern about a potential loophole for free tickets to sports games and other events if lawmakers claim those are for official business.
Republican Rep. Rocky Miller said a perception that lawmakers are unduly influenced by lobbyist gifts is "insulting" and questioned whether changing the law would inspire more faith in government. Another Republican, Rep. Rick Brattin, said banning some gifts could drive it underground and mean less public scrutiny.
Alferman said the proposal gets at what he said is the heart of the issue: lobbyist gifts to individual lawmakers. He also said he's trying to ensure the bill has a chance at passing both chambers.