WHAT OTHERS SAY: Sense of entitlement continues to define Legislature

Monday, March 3, 2014 | 12:15 p.m. CST

It’s an unfortunate reality that all too often, Missouri lawmakers don’t find the courage to address the failures of state government until they’re on their way out.

Such is the case with eight bills or joint resolutions filed by state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, last week.

Mr. Lamping isn’t running for re-election. Like others before him, he thus feels free to tell the truth about the Missouri legislature. In Missouri, you don’t write your profile in courage until you’re on your way out the door.

The system is broken. Until it’s fixed, Missourians will see more bad bills filed by lawmakers corrupted by that broken system.

Understand, Mr. Lamping is a very conservative senator, much more doctrinaire than we realized when we endorsed him in 2010. Since that endorsement we’ve disagreed with him on most things. He’s wrong on taxes, wrong on Medicaid expansion, wrong on guns, wrong on contraception.

But he’s right on ethics, and to his credit, he has been most of his tenure.

A careful look at Mr. Lamping’s bills, what he’s calling a “better government package,” finds many ideas we’ve advocated for on these pages. Among them: Reducing the size of the House; reducing the influence of lobbyists’ gifts; and following the federal model of requiring a cooling-off period before elected officials become lobbyists.

Mr. Lamping’s proposals, many of which would have to be approved by voters, would also do some other interesting things: Require the governor and lieutenant governor to run together on a ticket; allow a member of the House or Senate to serve longer in one chamber or the other; reduce the length of the legislative session; get rid of lawmaker pensions; and require more financial disclosure from the paid political consultants who often double up as lobbyists.

Many of these ideas were featured in our 2011 editorial series Fix the Legislature in which we advocated for three basic fixes to return the legislature to a more productive body of the people:

  • End term limits;
  • Reform redistricting;
  • Reduce the influence of money.

The good news is that the last idea is featured in many bipartisan pieces of legislation this year, not just from Mr. Lamping, but many other representatives and senators, including state Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia.

The bad news is that when Mr. Jones’ committee presented some of those ideas during a committee hearing last week, many lawmakers in both parties turned their pampered noses up at the very idea that anybody was going to tell them what to do.

We’ll let state Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, who is in favor of ethics reform, describe the embarrassing conduct of his colleagues:

“I am taken aback by the attitude of some elected officials who seem to think that public service shouldn’t require any sacrifice, and whatever sacrifice we make is too onerous a burden,” Mr. Webber said.

“We get paid for a part-time job what the median wage is for full-time workers in my county. I am just astonished that we as elected officials have been able to paint ourselves as the victims over the last hour.”

Those words resonate even more in the context of the ethics fine leveled at former St. Louis Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett last week. Jefferson City politicians aren’t the only ones with a sense of entitlement.

Lawmakers who remember why they were sent to Jefferson City (or City Hall), who want to see a legislative body that can work for the benefit of the entire state, will read the ethics bills carefully.

They’ll find that Democrats such as Mr. Webber and Republicans like Mr. Lamping can come to thoughtful agreement on making the Capitol a better, and less corrupt, place.

They shouldn’t have to pack their bags to do the right thing.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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