Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Adopts Rule Restricting Freebies from Interest Groups

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Adopts Rule Restricting Freebies from Interest Groups

Article excerpt

State senators adopted a code of conduct Thursday that limits the free meals, tickets, gifts and trips they can accept from special-interest groups.

Lobbyists can provide meals only if they invite the full Senate, a committee or a group of legislators organized as a caucus.

Favors bestowed on individual legislators can cost no more than $50 - for an annual maximum of $100 from each lobbyist.

Some senators called the plan meaningless. As an internal Senate rule, the code has no force of law and no penalties for violations.

"We are playing to the press," said Sen. William "Lacy" Clay, D-St. Louis. He said later that he would disregard the rule. "I'm not going to worry about it," he said.

Some lobbyists said they would take the rule seriously. Bill Gamble, who represents the Missouri Soft Drink Association, said he'd quit stocking senators' office refrigerators.

"Diet soda is gone," said Gamble. "We want to end it. They want to end it."

The new code of conduct, adopted on a vote of 27-6, takes effect March 18, the day legislators return from their spring break.

It does not need House approval or the governor's signature.

Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, sponsored the proposal. He initially proposed a total freebie ban, but other senators fought for the various exemptions.

Singleton said the scaled-back plan "is a step forward for good government. We're trying to address the excesses.

"I'm concerned about the $200 in athletic tickets, the $300 greens fees, golf carts and dinners" that some legislators enjoy on a regular basis, he said.

Complaints could be registered with the Senate Ethics Committee, which could reprimand an offender. Singleton said he expected senators to comply.

"It's not intended to be punitive," Singleton said. "We assume that all senators and staff will abide by the rules."

Clay tried to tie the freebie limits to an increase in legislators' daily expense allowance, now set at $35 a day. …

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