JEFFERSON CITY _ The just-say-no-to-lobbyists bill was cleared by the House Judiciary Committee _ but late enough that lawmakers don't have to worry too much that they really will be asked to say "no" to lobbyists' food and drink.
The bill forbidding legislators to take gifts from registered lobbyists was approved by the committee Tuesday (March 28) with less than seven weeks before the end of the legislative session and a long list of other bills already awaiting action by the full House.
While no legislator has come out against the final version of the measure, the bill has been far more popular among the public than at the Capitol.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Greg Canuteson, D-Liberty, said legislators have ribbed him good-naturedly about trying to pass a measure that would eliminate junkets and green fees from the list of gifts state legislators can receive from registered lobbyists. The bill, however, does not raise the per diem stipend of $35 legislators currently receive to cover their daily living expenses, one of the lowest in the country.
When the original version of the bill was presented to the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 7, it met heated opposition from members. But seven weeks later, the committee voted to pass the substitute version 10-0.
The major difference is that the new version defines a lobbyist and specifies which gifts would be forbidden and exceptions to the rule. Under the bill, legislators could not receive gifts worth more than ten dollars from any registered lobbyist.
But the bill has some exemptions. For example, lobbyists could purchase meals for legislators if all legislators are invited. The result penalizes the small lobbyist much more than one like Philip Morris which invites all legislators to dinners routinely.
"The bill is going in the right direction," said Canuteson. "We're not there yet but we're moving."
"Before this gets to the House floor we need to tie down loose ends," Canuteson said.
Co-sponsor Steve McLuckie, D-Kansas City, said that the main constraint on the bill was time. "We were in a hurry. Gary (Witt, House Judiciary Committee chairman) wanted this today," McLuckie said.
"Eventually we need to go towards banning all gifts, but at this point the bill reflects what we can pass towards that end," Canuteson said.
"But it's still a good bill with real reforms because it bans the worst practices," McLuckie said. "It is more insidious to pay for some guys than the whole legislature."
"With this bill lobbyists couldn't target powerful representatives or concentrate on their allies. We have negated that favoritism," McLuckie said.
The question now is whether the House floor will have time to vote on the bill this session. There are more than 30 bills already on the House calendar for chamber debate plus others not yet on the printed calendar.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Witt, D-Platte City, said he will report the bill out of committee by the end of this week.
Canuteson and McLuckie said they did not think the bill took unusually long in committee. "This amount of time is common for bills to take in committee," McLuckie said. "I don't think this will have much opposition once it gets to the floor. Time is this bill's worst enemy right now."
House Speaker Bob Griffin, D-Cameron, said he supported the bill. "My preference would be to eliminate all gifts. I think these activities and receptions are a terrible waste of money," Griffin said.