KANSAS CITY - The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee testified before a federal grand jury in Kansas City Tuesday on his anti-porn legislation that effectively had been killed by a former speaker of the Missouri House.
The focus of the FBI investigation, which has reportedly been developing over the past year, is how a 2005 bill that would have put a host of regulations on strip clubs and porn shops wound up dying in the House.
Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, who introduced the bill, said he spoke to the grand jury about "the troubling circumstances" that led to the defeat of the legislation in 2005 that would have imposed restrictions on porn shops. Bartle, however, declined to say specifically what he was asked.
He did say, however, that he thought a $35,000 donation was at the center of the inquiry and had something to do with the bill never reaching the House floor.
"I think there's a link between that money and my bill dying," Bartle said. "The appearance is absolutely horrid."
When asked if he was a focus of the investigation, Bartle said, "most certainly not."
Around the time that then-House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, was supposed to assign the bill, a campaign committee connected to Jetton received a $35,000 donation from the adult entertainment industry.
The committee was run by the House general counsel, Don Lograsso. Lograsso was put on unpaid leave of absence last week about the same time reports were published that the federal inquiry was focusing on the fate of the porn shop bill.
That billl had passed the state Senate 23 to 7, but never made it out of the GOP-controlled House after being referred to what Bartle called an "unfriendly committee," the Local Government Committee, chaired by former Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit.
Johnson had said before the bill passed the Senate that he had reservations about it, and Bartle said Jetton knew that. Bartle said he had hoped it would be referred to the Children and Families committee headed by former Rep. Susan Phillips, R-Kansas City.
Bartle said that assigning it to Johnson's committee was not a coincidence, and that the bill would have had wide support if it had gotten to the House floor, since every Senate Republican supported it. As speaker, Jetton had wide discretion in assigning Senate bills to House committees to be heard and potentially passed for a full House vote.
"Passing this bill should have been a no-brainer in the House," Bartle said, noting the chamber was, and still is, controlled by Republicans. "There's no good reason why a Republican in the House of Representatives would be against this."
Bartle said he first heard that the FBI was doing a pay-for-play investigation "three or four years ago," and he got a subpoena in the middle of last month.
The legislation that passed the Senate would have enacted admission fees and unique use taxes on adult businesses, banned full nudity in strip clubs and made them close by 10 p.m. The bill would have banned tipping the semi-nude dancers and required them to be at least 10 feet apart at all times.
Some of its provisions were put on another bill and passed, but they were ruled unconstitutional because the amendment was attached to an unrelated bill.
Jetton has denied any wrongdoing, and Bartle declined to say who specifically was the focus of the grand jury. But Johnson previously told the Kansas City Star that Jetton is at the center of the investigation.
"No question there's interest in Rod Jetton," Johnson said last month. "That's all they wanted to talk about."
The grand jury is expected to reconvene Wednesday.