Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bill to Ban Lobbyists' Gifts Clears Missouri House Panel

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bill to Ban Lobbyists' Gifts Clears Missouri House Panel

Article excerpt

In a surprise move Tuesday, a House committee narrowly approved a bill that would bar lobbyists from providing legislators with free meals, trips, gifts and tickets to sports events.

The House Judiciary and Ethics Committee endorsed the bill on a 7-6 vote. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Greg Canuteson, D-Liberty, called the development "unbelievable. It's good news for people who want to substantively reform the way government is run."

Across the Rotunda, the Senate briefly debated a similar ban on freeb ies. After laying the matter aside, senators adjourned for lunch: lobster and steak at the Jefferson City Country Club, courtesy of Philip Morris USA, the tobacco unit of Philip Morris Cos.

"We just had a nice, sit-down meal and nothing was discussed," said Sen. Mike Lybyer, D-Huggins, one of 17 senators who attended the luncheon. "I would hate to think a meal would determine someone's vote."

The House committee's move means that the freebie ban will be debated on the House floor for the first time. Last year, then-Speaker Bob F. Griffin forwarded it too late for consideration. The new speaker, Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, said Tuesday that he wants the bill to be debated soon.

"I believe we need to do some lobbyist reform," Gaw said. "I've been encouraging this legislation to be moved. It's going to continue to come forward."

The bill's supporters say the public is tired of hearing about legislators being wined and dined, given luxury suites at hockey and baseball games, and treated to golf trips and deep-sea fishing outings. They say the freebies erode public confidence in government.

Opponents say the bill outlaws harmless traditions, such as receptions given by constituent groups that visit the Capitol. They say legislators are not influenced by the freebies. Some add that the freebies are needed because legislators' expense allowance - $35 a day - is too low. …

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