JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri lawmakers approved new political ethics rules Friday but adjourned for the year after failing to forge a deal on a jobs bill backed by the governor.
Passage of legislation enhancing the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws allowed lawmakers to check off one of their goals for the 2010 session, though it wasn’t as sweeping of an accomplishment as some had sought.
Big ideas about economic development and tax credit reform fizzled in the end, as did some of the money-saving bills needed to prop up Missouri’s shaky budget — virtually guaranteeing the need for more spending cuts.
Although the jobs bill could have applied to other companies, the chief target was the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant near Kansas City.
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But lawmakers and the governor said progress was made.
“Although some of the work remains unfinished, clearly we moved Missouri forward,” Gov. Jay Nixon said during a news conference after lawmakers adjourned Friday evening. Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields added: “While it’s true that in any legislative session you don’t get everything you want, I think we ended up having a very successful legislative session.”
Nixon negotiated with lawmakers until the waning moments of the session on a bill that would have authorized new tax incentives for manufacturers that improve their factories in Missouri.
Republican senators who balked at the creation of new tax incentives agreed to go along with the plan on two conditions: House passage of a bill revamping Missouri’s pension system and Nixon’s creation of a task force to recommend changes to Missouri’s vast system of tax credits.
But the House never brought up the pension bill for a vote, and both bills ultimately failed.
Nixon said the Legislature’s failure will make it more difficult to prevent Ford and other major manufacturers from being lured to other states.
Republican House leaders said there was no consensus in their chamber for the pension overhaul, because it had not been sufficiently studied. House Speaker Ron Richard, who has focused his legislative career on economic development, said the state could make it through one year without a jobs bill.
“You can’t get job creation all the time. We had a pretty good run since 2003,” Richard said.
The demise of the pension legislation likely will mean more spending cuts to state government, because lawmakers had relied on its savings just weeks earlier when adopting a $23 billion budget for the 2011 fiscal year.
“The Legislature made some solid steps forward on the budget, but clearly they did not pass a balanced budget,” Nixon said.
Lawmakers did pass several measures intended to aid the budget, including the merger of the state highway and water patrols, new fees benefiting the Department of Agriculture and a package of cost-cutting measures for the Medicaid program.
On their final day, lawmakers also passed a bill expanding the information that medical clinics would be required to provide to a woman at least 24 hours before she has an abortion. Nixon has not said whether he plans to sign the bill.
The ethics legislation passed Friday would beef up the investigatory powers of the Missouri Ethics Commission and cut down on the ability of donors to shroud contributions by shifting money among various political committees. But it would not reinstate campaign contribution limits and does not close the revolving door between legislating and lobbying.
“We have taken some very good steps,” said Rep. Kevin Wilson, a Republican from Neosho and chairman of a House ethics committee. “We have moved the issue forward, but do not under any circumstances say this is a comprehensive ethics reform that addresses all the issues we have in Jefferson City.”
Nixon described the ethics legislation as “a watered-down version” of what was originally proposed.
Lawmakers passed several other prominent bills a day before their session ended, including ones imposing strict regulations on sexually oriented businesses, revamping drunken driving laws and banning a synthetic form of marijuana that currently is being legally sold in Missouri.
Earlier this week, the Legislature sent Nixon two of his other priority bills.
One would require group insurance policies regulated by the state to cover autism treatment for children. The other would change the Access Missouri scholarship program so that students at public and private universities are eligible for the same amount of money, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. Private school students currently can receive larger scholarships than those at public institutions.