Missouri lawmaker proposes restrictions on lobbyists

Friday, February 5, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 8:56 a.m. CST, Friday, February 5, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Frustrated by transportation officials who last year urged lawmakers to change Missouri's seat belt laws, a Republican state House member urged colleagues Thursday to silence lobbying efforts in the Capitol by state agencies, local governments and public schools.

Legislation sponsored by southwest Missouri Rep. Shane Schoeller would bar governmental agencies from using public money to hire lobbyists that urge lawmakers to support or oppose bills. Lobbyists for public groups still could be hired with public funds to track the Legislature, speak with lawmakers and provide information.

"You can monitor, you can educate, but you can't advocate," said Schoeller, R-Willard, who said the restrictions were needed to protect tax dollars.

But numerous lawmakers on a special House ethics panel — which this year has debated a variety of other restrictions on lobbyists — expressed doubts about Schoeller's legislation, with some defending lobbyists' jobs as necessary to the process.

Rep. David Day said he agrees public funds should not be used to sway the Legislature but questioned what the bill would accomplish.

The impetus for Schoeller's bill was an attempt last year by the Department of Transportation to get lawmakers to approve a bill allowing police officers to stop motorists solely for not wearing a seat belt. Department employees, while still on the clock, came to the Capitol and urged lawmakers to approve the bill.

Critics of the lobbyist restrictions warned Thursday the proposed restrictions could have far-reaching consequences that cause problems outside the Capitol by barring governmental entities from joining groups that employ a lobbyist.

Mike Reid, a lobbyist for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said another possible problem is limiting the information lawmakers receive. He said school leaders frequently hear directly from parents in their communities and that the lobbyist restriction could make it harder for state officials' to hear those views.

"This broad brush is way too broad," Reid said.

Supporters of the lobbyist restrictions said many taxpayers oppose the stances taken by the public agencies and questioned whether Missourians' own tax money should be used for causes they oppose.

The Missouri Sunshine Coalition, a freedom of information group of which The Associated Press is a member, backed the bill because some government entities have joined associations that urge the Legislature to restrict access to public records. That has included details about the execution of prison inmates, police misconduct records and hospital financial records.

"Public funds should not be used to lobby against the public," said coalition president Jim Robertson, who is the managing editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

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