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Ban on Wining and Dining Sidetracked

February 22, 1996
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A proposed ban on lobbyists wining and dining senators was sidetracked by the Missouri Senate Thursday.

Before the Senate was a proposed rule change that would prohibit senators from accepting gifts, food or drinks from lobbyists.

After more than two hours of heated debate, the Senate decided - by a one vote margin - to toss the issue to its Rules Committee.

The lengthy debate stopped a speed limit bill that had been scheduled for Senate action.

The gift-ban rule's sponsor said he thought this was the kind of legislation the constituents wanted to see.

"I don't think we need to have booze in our office, we don't have to have cokes in our office to exchange ideas with our constituents," said Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca and sponsor of the proposed rule change. "I don't have to have dinner to sit down and exchange an idea with a lobbyist."

Senators finally voted 16-15 to move the issue to the Rules Committee, putting the rule change off for at least a week.

Some senators maintain it is difficult to keep track of "goodies" that are delivered to their offices.

"I'm supposed to be on a diet, but sometimes I see a good cinnamon roll or a piece of pie," said Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler.

Other Senators contended how much a lobbyist could give to legislators was important.

Sen. Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County, said he thought the changes for lobbying gifts were "reasonably balanced rules" and would take some of the pressure off legislators to accept these gifts.

But Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, argued the debate was frivolous. He said he thought it was this sort of legislation that made the public have a poor perception of legislators.

"That which would suggest that we are just holier than thou because we wouldn't have somebody getting us coffee is ridiculous," Schneider said.

Schneider and Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, contended legislators could simply "Just Say No" to lobbyists who offer them dinner or drinks.

Senate Pro Tem Jim Mathewson complained in a prepared statement issued later in the day that any kind of lobbyist spending ban should be done by law - not by a change in Senate rules which he said cannot be enforced.

"I will not allow the legitimate legislative process to be subverted by cheap political trickery. We will not and shall not rewrite 200 years of legislative practice for the sake of newspaper headlines," Mathewson said.

The Sedalia Democrat said he would call for quick committee action to amendment a pending bill concerning lobbyists to include restrictions on lobbyist spending.

The morning-long lobbyist debate blocked Senate action on the bill to hold down speeds on Missouri highways.

Staples, the bill's sponsor, angrily charged the extended lobbyist debate was a deliberate effort to kill the speed limit bill.

Staples left the debate early because he said the legislation was a "frivolous rule change offered in the Senate. There's no point to take up a bill that's going to save tens of thousands of lives in the next decade," he added sarcastically.