Nixon, Ethics Commission seek redo after court tosses ethics law
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the Missouri Ethics Commission are calling for swift action by the General Assembly in the wake of the state Supreme Court's decision tossing out a wide-ranging ethics bill that legislators passed two years ago.
The state's highest court ruled Tuesday that the measure was too wide-ranging, violating the state constitution's restrictions against a measure covering too many different topics.
The court's decision wasn't unexpected, since a lower-court judge had reached the same conclusion last year. But a re-do this session could be a challenge.
The bill's chief advocate -- then-Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph -- is no longer in the General Assembly. State House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, was around then, and had supported the measure -- although House Republicans added provisions that some contend may have contributed to its legal demise.
(Others blame such unrelated provisions as the one inserted at the behest of state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, that gives legislators keys to access the Capitol dome for visitors.)
But Tilley also is leaving office after this session, and may have neither the desire nor the clout to press for replacement legislation.
Tilley issued a statement lamenting the bill's death, but he didn't mention what might happen next.
"There were some provisions in there that we were proud of," Tilley said. "First, giving some teeth to the Missouri Ethics Commission, making it a crime to mislead the Ethics Commission in an investigation, eliminating committee-to-committee transfers so there’s more transparency in the process."
Nixon, a Democrat, had been a big booster of the measure, and underscored that stance with his call for a do-over.
"Senate Bill 844 cleaned up Missouri’s political party committees, expanded contribution reporting requirements, and took numerous other steps to make government operate in a more open and accountable way," the governor said. "Today’s ruling leaves a significant hole in Missouri’s ethics laws, and the General Assembly must move quickly to get a strong ethics bill on my desk.
"In the coming days, I will communicate with the General Assembly about the key components that should be in a strong ethics bill, and we must come together to get these vital laws back on the books," Nixon added.
The Ethics Commission, which is state government's chief overseer of campaign-finance laws and their compliance, also issued a rare public statement calling for action.
"The law contained certain items important to the Commission’s daily operations and enforcement," the panel said. "The result of the decision deals a blow to the Commission’s ability to enforce and administer the law. The Commission will continue working with the Legislature to pass these key provisions and improve Missouri’s ethics laws."