JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday signed the first ethics bill to reach his desk since sexually-charged scandals last year led two members of the Legislature to leave office and spurred a drive to tighten the state's loose laws on the conduct of lawmakers.
Nixon said the measure is a step in the right direction to strengthen ethics laws he called the "weakest in the nation." The Democratic governor in the last year of his second term, has pushed for reforms since he took office in 2009.
The new law bars members of the Legislature from being paid as political consultants by their colleagues or candidates for legislative offices. It also applies to statewide elected officials and takes effect at the end of August.
Nixon called the practice of paying fellow lawmakers for political consulting a "clear, unacceptable conflict of interest that compromises the integrity of the entire legislative process."
The measure is one of several aimed at cleaning up the Capitol's image and culture after the last legislative session ended in embarrassment.
John Diehl, the last GOP House speaker, stepped down on the final day of session last year and admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with an intern. Months later, former state senator Paul LeVota resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed interns. LeVota, a Democrat, has denied the claims.
None of the bills moving forward in the Legislature would address the personal conduct issues that plagued the Legislature last year. But the departure of Diehl and LeVota in disgrace spurred momentum to make changes to ethics laws that had failed in the past.
"Everybody will have some complaints about this," GOP Speaker Todd Richardson said Thursday. He added that lawmakers should not allow the "perfect to be the enemy of the good." That approach had led to the downfall of ethics bills for years, he said.
Nixon touted the newly signed measure as "substantive, important legislation that will make a difference both in the short run and in the long run, both in the perception and in the reality of how business is done in this state and in this building."
The legislation signed Thursday also doesn't do anything to remedy Missouri's status as the only state with the trio of no cap on campaign contributions, unlimited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and no cooling-off period to stop lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists after they leave office.
Hours before Nixon announced on Thursday that he would sign the ban on paid political consulting, the Missouri House passed a six-month ban on current and future lawmakers and statewide elected officials lobbying after their terms end. That heads to the Senate.
Other ethics-related legislation this year includes a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, which is stalled in the Senate. Proposals to set limits on campaign contributions have been nonstarters.
Missouri political consulting ban is HB 1983.
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