JEFFERSON CITY - In the wake of the legislature's rejection of a pay raise, lawmakers were asked to give up the lobbyist meal tab that some use to help cover their expenses.
Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, urged Tuesday that the Senate Ethics Committee approve his proposal to impose legal limits on how much legislators can accept from lobbyists.
Maxwell's proposal would impose a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts per year with no single gifts exceeding $50 in value.
The bill he is sponsoring is identical to a rule the Senate passed in 1996 and readopted this year.
But the House does not have such restrictions in its rules. And even the Senate's rules provide no penalty for violation.
"You're changing it from a rule, which really has no enforcement mechanism, to penalties," Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Harold Caskey, D-Butler, said at a Tuesday hearing.
Maxwell said he strongly supports moving the restriction from the rule book to state law.
"I believe it's good for the state of Missouri to know it's in the laws," he said. "That's what the people expect is that it makes it a law."
Maxwell said, if passed, the law needs teeth, but within reason. His bill has three tiers to follow in case of a gift violation.
The first allows the offending lawmaker to reimburse the lobbyist for a gift received in violation of the limits.
In the most severe case, misdemeanor charges could be filed carrying a jail sentence of up to six months.
Because of the potential for criminal punishment, committee members and Maxwell agreed it is imperative that it be clear what is and what is not in violation of the proposed law.
"I think that we have to deal with this language again and be more specific about what we're doing," Maxwell said.
Despite the fact that he is now the bill's sponsor, Maxwell did not support the rule when it first came before the Senate.
"I did not originally support the rule because I believe it can be abused," he said, citing potential abuse during campaigns by opponents or political parties in general.
Although nobody voiced direct opposition to Maxwell's proposal, a similar measure faced fatal opposition in the legislature last year.
And there has not been universal support of the current Senate rule.
"This is not a wise rule and I really have not supported this rule," said the longest-serving member of the Senate, Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County.