(AP) – Missouri lawmakers opened the 2016 session under new leadership Wednesday and saw a relatively quiet start after a tumultuous end to last year’s session.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, who took the helm after John Diehl admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with an intern and resigned on the last day of the 2015 session, said changes to the Legislature’s ethics policies are a top priority.
Nixon and legislative leaders of both parties have said ethics changes and a way to pay for repairs to the state’s aging roads and bridges are needed this year. Both issues have been discussed for years in the Legislature with little success.
“This institution should not and will not be defined by the actions of a few,” said Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican. He added that while there is no rule or law “that can make our imperfect process perfect, we can, and we must, work to improve the environment in the people’s Capitol.”
After Diehl resigned, former Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, left office in August amid claims that he sexually harassed interns, which he denied.
Proposed changes to ethics policies include banning lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and not allowing lawmakers to immediately become lobbyists after leaving public office. Measures to cap campaign contribution limits appear less likely to pass.
The Senate also is under new Republican leadership. Sen. Ron Richard, of Joplin, took over after former Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey resigned in August to work at a St. Louis-based lobbying firm, although he does not lobby in Missouri.
Richard is the first president pro tem to also have previously been House speaker. He said little in the chamber on the first day of session, adding that he’d leave that up to his colleagues. “Let’s get to work,” Richard said