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Missouri Ethics Law Under the Microscope

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JEFFERSON  CITY, Mo. (AP) — Like loggers surveying a tree, the Missouri Supreme Court is deciding whether to chop down a far-reaching 2010 state ethics law or prune back only a portion of its many branches.

The high court heard arguments Thursday from attorneys who presented a variety of possible solutions for the legislation — from an outright invalidation of the whole thing, to the elimination of the main provisions on ethics and campaign finance laws, or the stripping of only a single provision granting lawmakers keys to an exclusive tourist site atop the Capitol dome.

The court’s decision will turn on how it interprets a pair of provisions in the Missouri Constitution prohibiting legislation from containing more than one subject that is clearly expressed in its title, and barring lawmakers from amending a bill to change its original purpose.

In March, Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green ruled that the legislation violated the constitutional ban on bills containing multiple subjects. He let stand only the bill’s original section allowing statewide elected officials to use the Office of Administration to determine the best bids for their contracts and one amendment that also dealt with state contracts. Green said those sections both abided by the bill’s original purpose of procurement.

The judge struck down the rest of the 69-page bill, including sections that had changed campaign finance laws, given greater powers to the Missouri Ethics Commission and created new crimes related to bribery, obstruction of ethics investigations and lobbyists’ failure to report their expenses for state officials. The judge also struck down the requirement that each lawmaker get a key to the Capitol dome.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the state agreed the dome-key provision violated the constitution’s restrictions.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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