JEFFERSON CITY -- For two straight legislative sessions Rep. Greg Canuteson has been thwarted in his attempt to ban all gifts from lobbyists to state legislators. But with the recent election of the reformist-backed Steve Gaw to the House speakership, Canuteson says he hopes it will be different this time.
"There's an atmosphere of change in Jefferson City these days," Canuteson, D-Liberty, told the House Judiciary and Ethics Committee during a public hearing on Tuesday. "The atmosphere is right for substantive change."
But his proposal lobbyist-wining-and-dining bill met stiff opposition from several committee members.
The bill Canuteson is sponsoring this year is more restrictive than the bills of the previous years. New is the provision that would ban a lawmaker from working as a lobbyist until a year after leaving office. Also, this year's bill offers few exceptions to the gift-ban that would make certain types of gift giving allowable.
This was the point of emphasis as Committee Chairman Gary Witt, who said he supported the idea of lobbying reform, peppered Canuteson with examples of activity that Witt called innocent but would be made illegal with the bill's passage.
Witt, D-Platt City, said that many legislators have friends, made long before coming to Jefferson City, who are lobbyists. But under the bill, those legislators would not be able to eat dinner at the home of their lobbyist-friends.
Witt also said that he has given motivational speeches to groups who employed a lobbyist. Along with those speeches, he has received a dinner, which in no way has influenced him, Witt said. Banning these types of dinners is unnecessary, Witt said.
"If were talking about public perception," Witt said, "I think this bill goes way to far."
In response, Canuteson said that legislators might have to make some sacrifices to change the perception that lobbyists have more influence over legislators than individual constituents.
"They're (constituents) tired of reading about how legislators have been wined and dinned," Canuteson said.
But Canuteson found little support from other committee members, who continued to aggressively question the bill. Some attacked the bill as being more cosmetic than substantive.
Rep. Paula Carter called the notion that gifts from lobbyists buy votes a myth. The St. Louis Democrat said she didn't think it was a concern of her constituents, but rather an issue that has been blown by the news media.
"If you want to go home and campaign on that, go ahead," an exasperated Canuteson told Carter. "I think that's nuts."