This week we passed measures out of the House that was aimed at protecting Missourians by extending Clean Missouri to all elected officials. HB 445 will prohibit lobbyist gifts to local government officials, superintendents, school board members, members of governing bodies of charter schools, and their staff; prevent a revolving door by applying a two-year waiting period before an elected official can become a lobbyist; and adds a new exemption to the Sunshine Law to protect constituent information.
Also, the General Assembly Truly Agreed and Finally Passed (TAFP’d) its first bill of the 100th General Assembly. HB 448 and 206 passed through the Senate with a 33-0 vote. The bill is now on its way to the governor’s desk for signature. Representative Brown died last year.
Finally, I am sad to report that Mike Hughes passed away this week. Those of you who knew him understand his heart was in public service, and he will be missed. Mike had been employed with the Sweet Springs Police Department.
More detailed information of the week follows below.
House Approves Good Government Bill (HB 445)
The Missouri House of Representatives gave approval this week to legislation that is meant to make elected officials at the local government level more transparent and accountable. The bill would require local government officials to abide by many of the same ethical standards that apply to lawmakers and statewide officials.
The sponsor of the bill told his colleagues that recent reforms in Missouri have improved accountability for government officials on the state level, but local officials continue to operate with few restrictions in place. State officials have a $5 limit on lobbyist gifts, a two-year waiting period before they can become lobbyists, and limits on the campaign donations they can receive. Local officials currently do not have similar requirements in place in state law.
The sponsor said, “When I talk to my constituents about what’s allowed at the local level, they’re surprised and they’re outraged, just like they were surprised and they were outraged when we could take unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited gifts.”
The bill approved by the House would apply the same standards that apply to state officials to elected officials. It would limit political donations to local candidates to $2,000. It would also implement a gift limit of $5 per lobbyist per day, and it would prohibit local officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office.
Referring to the provisions in the measure, the sponsor said, “I think this is a good standard of transparency and accountability for us to set for local elected officials.”
During discussion on the floor, lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill that is meant to protect the private information of constituents. The sponsor noted that constituents often share personal, private information in emails or other correspondence, and it’s important to protect the confidentiality of this information to ensure constituents are comfortable with reaching out to their legislators for assistance. The amendment added to the bill would protect information provided by constituents such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers, home addresses, and other private information that pertains to a constituent’s request for information or assistance.
Another amendment added to the bill would prohibit all elected officials from using software that sends encrypted messages that automatically self-destruct on any device purchased with taxpayer dollars.
House Approves Court Reform Bill (HB 67)
Legislation to implement important reforms for Missouri’s municipal courts is now on its way to the Senate. House members this week approved a bill that would allow a court to order credit for time served when an individual is held in custody because of a minor traffic violation.
Dean Plocher, the bill sponsor, noted that Senate Bill 5 passed in 2015 was meant to ensure that minor traffic violations would not result in jail time. Despite the change, the sponsor noted that people who don’t show up for a court date or don’t pay a fine can still end up serving time in jail. The legislation approved this week is meant to supplement Senate Bill 5 by allowing the court to order credit for time served.
The intent of the bill is to help reduce court dockets and note that it is fair to waive fines and costs for defendants who must stay in jail for minor traffic offenses because they lack funds.
Speaker Haahr Announces Creation of the Special Committee on Government Oversight
House Speaker Elijah Haahr this week announced the creation of the Special Committee on Government Oversight. The new committee is charged with the reviewing and monitoring of policy implementation by the executive branch and its departments.
Speaker Haahr said, “We have a deep commitment to ensuring the government is a good steward of taxpayers’ money and is transparent in its actions.”
The Speaker appointed state Rep. Robert Ross to chair the committee. Ross is in his fourth term in the House and serves on the Budget Committee and as Chairman of the Professional Registration and Licensing Committee. Outside of his duties of a representative, he is small business owner.