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Missouri fights lawmaker-lobbyist axis

A new Missouri law intended to keep lawmakers in office until their terms end has had the opposite effect for one area. Constituents in an area east of Springfield, will be without representation for the next four months after Missouri Rep. Tony Dugger resigned on Aug. 19.

Dugger, a Republican, cited the Missouri Legislature’s new time-out period of six months before lawmakers may become lobbyists. House Bill 1979, which goes into effect Aug. 28, imposes the six-month rule for lobbying by former members of the general assembly, former statewide elected officials and former holders of an office that requires Senate confirmation. 
The bill passed 131-19 in the House and 31-1 in the Senate. Ed Emery, a Republican senator who represents southwest Missouri, said he voted against the measure because it constitutes a reduction in freedom for individuals to find jobs after leaving office.
“We’re basically telling someone they can’t take a job when they leave office,” Emery said. “I do support the idea that you cannot leave the legislature during the time of your term. We have an obligation to our constituents to serve them and I don’t believe you can quit the legislature and go to work until you have completely filled out your term. It’s improper to take and start a (lobbying) job if you are offered it while you are still a legislator.”
Emery said he understands the perception that legislators are being processed through the legislature to become lobbyists. However, he said he has no objection to a lawmaker taking a lobbying job after fulfilling the elected term.
“It’s hard to say no when you’re being offered a good-paying job and deciding what’s best for your family,” Emery said. “But I think if someone offers a legislator a job, that legislator has committed to serving their two years or four years and they have to serve out their entire time. The person offering the job has to acknowledge that they can’t work until they have fulfilled their obligation. It’s almost a contractual agreement with our constituents. But what someone does after they leave office is not my business anymore.”
But Ryan Johnson, president of the nonprofit Missouri Alliance for Freedom, on Aug. 22 renewed his call from earlier this year to ban state policymakers from lobbying for at least two years. Prior to the legislation passed in the 2016 session, Missouri had no policy about the issue. Lawmakers did not support the idea to extend the time-out period to two years.
In a statement, Johnson said House Bill 1979 only “slows down” the so-called “revolving door” of lawmaker-to-lobbyist syndrome in Missouri. He said Missouri Alliance for Freedom believes policymakers should have to sit out a longer time “prior to monetizing their public service in pursuit of potentially lucrative lobbying careers.”
Johnson said Dugger’s resignation highlights the need for stronger reform. “A public office is a public trust. Once elected, an official has a responsibility to his or her constituents. Dugger’s quitting leaves his constituents without services and leaves them without a vote during the upcoming veto session on critical issues like voter identification, which Tony championed.”
He said six months is a good start but proposed forcing lawmakers to sit out one year for each year of service. “At a minimum, we should attempt to pass a two-year moratorium on becoming a registered lobbyist or some other type of government affairs professional or consultant.  There will be a natural temptation within the Legislature to say that the revolving door has been dealt with, claim victory, and move on. Instead, the Missouri Legislature should continue fighting to strengthen the revolving door law while pursuing its other ethics reform priorities.”
The Missouri Legislature’s next regular session begins Jan. 4, 2017, and ends in mid-May. If Dugger had finished his term, he would not have been eligible to lobby until July 1, 2017. He now will be eligible in mid-February.
Missouri’s term limits allow representatives to serve up to four two-year terms and senators up to two four-year terms.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), eight states – Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana and New York – ban former lawmakers from lobbying for two years.
Also according to NCSL, 33 states had an enacted similar “cooling-off” periods prior to Missouri’s action in 2016. NCSL has compiled a complete list of so-called “revolving door” laws for each state. The information is updated as of October 2015: http://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/50-state-table-revolving-door-prohibitions.aspx.
Dugger, who did not return calls to AMI, is not the first Missouri lawmaker to resign before his term expired to work for lobbying firms, political consulting firms or other government agencies. In the past 10 years, House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, Senate President Tom Dempsey and  Sen. Chuck Gross all resigned early.