During Missouri's legislative session, a landlord worked to change rental policy, farmers pushed agricultural legislation and a grocery association official pushed a bill that would prevent communities from banning environmentally costly plastic bags.

During Missouri's legislative session, a landlord worked to change rental policy, farmers pushed agricultural legislation and a grocery association official pushed a bill that would prevent communities from banning environmentally costly plastic bags.
Those are just some of the examples in which lawmakers championed legislation benefiting the industries in which they work, and it's a fairly common practice in the part-time Legislature, where many members hold private-sector jobs to supplement their roughly $36,000 annual salaries.
The dual roles can create the appearance of a conflict of interest. But some lawmakers contend that their private-sector expertise also leads to better policymaking.
Sen. Mike Parson, a Bolivar Republican who is running for governor in 2016, has sponsored bills related to cattle ranching. He owns 48 acres of farmland and a cattle and calf operation near his home, according to personal financial disclosure documents.
A new law backed by Parson, who is a member of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, would allow trucks to carry heavier loads of livestock on some Missouri roads, which could reduce costs for transporting the animals on multiple trucks or trips.
State transportation officials warned that the heavier loads would damage Missouri's already strained roads.
"I've been a farmer all my life, so naturally I'm going to be supportive of agriculture," said Parson, who added that he doesn't see a conflict of interest. "But I don't see anything that's giving an advantage to any owner."
Richard Reuben, a University of Missouri-Columbia law professor, cautioned that lawmakers need to ensure their work passes the "smell test."
"Obviously, particular industries are going to benefit through the course of interest-based legislation," Reuben said. "But the idea is that even within that, it's the larger public that's going to benefit."
Meanwhile, Rep. Gary Cross — a Republican from Lee's Summit who rents out houses and is a member of the Mid-America Association of Real Estate Investors — has sponsored rental bills, including a law signed last year that made it easier to evict the guests of tenants. The group's website describes him as an advocate for the industry and "a landlord like many of you."
Cross denied that there is a conflict with legislation he introduces, and said "it may not affect me at all."
"How many accountants introduce legislation regarding their background or their career?" Cross said. "How many schoolteachers get involved in education?"
Rep. Dan Shaul, an Imperial Republican and the state director of the Missouri Grocers Association, sponsored legislation sent to the governor that would ensure that stores can keep offering customers plastic bags by preventing communities from banning them. He said the bill would give grocers and consumers options.
Plastic bags costs about a cent per bag, while paper bags cost from 5 to 7 cents per bag, according to the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry group that opposes bans and taxes on plastic bags.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 12 percent of plastic bags, wraps and sacks that were thrown away was recycled.
Lawmakers' outside experience also bleeds into legislation in other ways. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, was involved in negotiations that resulted in three Kansas City-area school districts being carved out from a bill to allow the expansion of charter schools. Those include Center School District, where Holsman's wife works. He has said that did not influence him.
Legislative leaders generally defend the overlap of public and private-sector interests. House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said lawmakers need to follow conflict-of-interest rules, which ban members from voting on bills with which they have a "direct personal or pecuniary interest." But he said it's "entirely appropriate" for lawmakers to use their experience in legislation.
"If we had a situation where we said every farmer in the Missouri House can't consider agriculture policy or set agriculture policy, that would be bad for the state," Richardson said.

Missouri lawmakers' private work overlaps with legislation  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — An Associated Press review found numerous examples of Missouri lawmakers championing legislation that affects the industries in which they work. It's a fairly common practice in the state's part-time Legislature, where many members hold private-sector jobs to supplement their $36,000 annual salary. When asked, lawmakers denied conflicts of interest, sometimes pointing to outside experience as helping to inform legislation. Here are some examples of lawmakers' involvement in bills that would affect their work outside the Legislature:

— Republican Rep. Kevin Austin, a Springfield attorney with law firm Keck & Austin LLC. His firm has represented Branson amusement park Silver Dollar City in personal injury cases as recently as this year. Austin introduced a bill that would limit personal injury lawsuits against amusement parks unless the owner or operator is notified verbally within two days and in writing within 30 days.

— Rep. Gary Cross, a Lee's Summit Republican and member of the Mid-America Association of Real Estate Investors, which on its website states "real estate and small business owners have an advocate in the Missouri House of Representatives. Gary Cross." Until he amended his personal financial disclosure form after questions from The Associated Press, Cross did not list his rental company Cross Real Estate LLC. Cross said he wasn't aware it needed to be disclosed because the company receives no government contracts. He's sponsored a number of bills that would help landlords, including a law that made it easier to evict guests of tenants.

— Rep. Don Gosen, R-Ballwin, a State Farm insurance agent and chairman of an insurance committee. Gosen said the bills he introduces benefit small businesses and consumers, not insurance companies.

— Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, was involved in private negotiations that resulted in three Kansas City-area school districts being carved out from a contentious bill that would allow the expansion of charter schools. Critics, including Holsman, have said it's unfair to allow charters to open and potentially siphon students and tuition dollars from districts that are performing well. Among the districts exempted in the bill is Center School District in Jackson County, where Holsman's wife works.

— Sen. Mike Parson, a Bolivar Republican running for governor in 2016, owns 48 acres of farmland and a cattle and calf operation near his home, according to personal financial disclosure documents. A new law he backed allows trucks to carry heavier loads of livestock on some Missouri roads. It could cut down costs of transporting the animals, while transportation officials say it could damage roads.

— Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, is vice president of Schatz Underground Inc., a utilities contractor. Schatz sponsored a bill to prevent municipalities from requiring communication service providers to move utility poles or other infrastructure unless the city pays them or hires a contractor who has worked with the company in the past. Schatz said the intent was not to promote business for his company, adding that "this was a measure that obviously the utility providers are requesting." Local officials have criticized the bill costly for taxpayers.

— Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, is the state director of the Missouri Grocers Association. Gov. Jay Nixon is considering a bill sponsored by Shaul that would ensure stores can use plastic bags, which some criticize as environmentally costly but less expensive for stores.

— Democratic Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, is president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council. She has been a vocal opponent of a right-to-work bill prohibiting workplace contracts that require union fees from nonmembers, which critics say would weaken unions.