Fifty-six Democrats and three Republicans moved ethics legislation back to the House floor today, thwarting the efforts of House GOP leaders to kill any bill that would restore campaign contribution limits. From a Democratic party news release:
One day after Republicans on the House Rules Committee on a straight party-line vote sent an important bipartisan ethics reform bill back to another committee to be gutted of meaningful provisions, 59 state representatives exercised their constitutional authority to move the bill to the House debate calendar.
Fifty-six Democrats and three Republicans signed a petition to strip the House Special Committee on Government Accountability and Ethics Reform of further consideration of Senate Bill 577, which the committee previously approved on a 12-0 vote on April 13. The Senate unanimously approved its version of the bill, which is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, on March 4.
“With less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, this bill should move forward in the process, not backward,” said state Rep. Terry Witte, D-Vandalia and author of the petition. “The government accountability committee spent weeks crafting a strong bill that members of both parties agreed to. It is well past time for this bill to move forward.”
The Rules Committee voted 7-4 on Monday to remand the bill to the original committee. Republicans Rules Committee members said they wanted provisions reinstating campaign contribution limits stripped from the bill. Missouri voters overwhelmingly imposed contribution limits in 1994, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly repealed them in 2008.
“For Republicans on the Rules Committee to send the bill back is a blatant subversion of the committee process,” said House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence. “As House Speaker Ron Richard said in a recent interview with the Missourinet: ‘There is a right way and wrong way to do things around here.’ Stalling meaningful ethics reform is the wrong way to do things. Preventing the full House from considering contributions limits and other reforms Missourians want is the wrong way to do things.”
Article III, Section 22 of the Missouri Constitution allows 55 House members to remove a bill from committee and place it on the House debate calendar. The provision exists to enable lawmakers to overcome obstruction or stalling of legislation at the committee level. Although lawmakers have the constitutional power to advance bills to the House calendar, under chamber rules House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, determines what bills are actually debated.
“This bill has been thoroughly vetted and unanimously approved by a House committee. If certain members want provisions added or removed, the best way to do that is on the House floor with all members involved,” said House Minority Whip Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart. “The ball is now in the majority leader’s court: He can either allow the House to debate and pass a strong bill or he can do the bidding of wealthy donors who oppose reform. If he chooses the latter, the failure of ethics reform this year will be squarely on his shoulders.”
House members also discharged House Bill 2300, another ethics reform measure, from the House Rules Committee, where it has languished without action since March 25.
When asked at a news conference on the first day of the 2010 session what provisions of an ethics reform bill he would support, House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said: “I will support whatever comes out of our bipartisan committee – whatever comes out.”
“Speaker Richard, without reservation or limitation, said he would support whatever bill came out of the government accountability committee,” said Assistant House Minority Leader J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence. “It is time for the speaker to keep his word and support this bill.”
Added state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City: “I support moving ethics reform forward despite obstacles erected to prevent progress by those who thrive under the current system.”