Missouri lawmakers need better guidelines on what their relationships with lobbyists can be, state Sen. Brad Lager told the Senate's Rules, Joint Ruled and Elections Committee Tuesday afternoon.
"Missouri has some of the loosest ethics laws," Lager, R-Savannah, told the committee, as he explained his proposal to fix problems he's seen in his last 12 years in the Legislature.
Lager's bill would make six changes to existing state law.
"It closes the revolving door from elected officials to become lobbyists," he sai. "Just like in Washington - it sets up a two-year cooling-off period.
"So, you can become a lobbyist - you just have to wait two years."
He reminded colleagues that they all have seen "sitting members who were term-limited, on their way out the door, build their client lists."
He added: "We all know it's wrong - and it's time we stopped it."
Lager's bill also "clearly bars any member of the General Assembly, and candidates for the General Assembly, to be paid political consultants," he said.
In recent years, there have been several complaints about lawmakers, including House speakers, being paid to consult on fellow lawmakers' future campaigns, raising questions about possible conflicts of interest involving legislation and other issues.
As written, Lager's bill would impose that ban on current lawmakers.
But, he said, some have complained that was not the rule when they ran for office.
"The reality is, if we all understand the rules going forward, that's fair," Lager said. "I think it's a legitimate concern.
"I would leave that to the will of the committee of how we deal with that going forward."
His bill would change how lobbyists report their work and contributions in a couple of ways.
Under current law, he explained, a company could hire a lobbyist, whose reports would show the direct connection.
But if the lobbyist decided more people were needed in the effort of contacting and meeting with lawmakers, the additional lobbyists would report they work for the first lobbyist, even though the original client is paying the additional bills.
"What this bill says is, as the lobbyist, you have to publicly disclose on your reports who the principal funder is," Lager said.
He also would cut the number of times a lobbyist can report providing meals to committees or groups of lawmakers rather than to individuals.
If his bill clears the Legislature and wins the governor's approval, lobbyists also no longer would be able to pay for lawmakers' out-of-state travel.
"If a member of the Legislature wants to travel and do those trips, we have no issue with that," Lager told the committee, "but we believe that they should pay for that either out of their campaign funds" or be paid by the House or Senate Administration Committee.
There were no witnesses testifying for or against the bill.
But Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, told Lager: "I don't think we have real ethics reform until we have campaign finance limits," which are not part of Lager's bill.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, countered: "I think it's a good strategy to look at them as two separate issues."