ANNAPOLIS – When the Legislature returns in January, a priority will be revamping the state ethics law.
Legislative leaders from both chambers predict passage of a bill they say would strengthen the law governing their conduct in office.
“No one will gut this bill,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat. “I will make certain that doesn’t happen.”
“We’re definitely on the right path,” said House Majority Leader John A. Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat. “We’re clarifying the law, and we’re recognizing the need for change.”
Miller said he plans to introduce a bill that embraces recommendations from a state commission as the first Senate bill of the 1999 session, which begins Jan. 13.
The commission recommended in September changes that would forbid legislators from using their offices for personal gain, taking state or local government jobs while in office, and accepting any meals from lobbyists. A full-time counsel would also be established to review potential conflicts of interest.
Currently, legislators are merely advised against using their office for personal gain. They also have been allowed to take government jobs while holding their part-time jobs in Annapolis. And they’ve been permitted to accept meals from lobbyists, as long as they report those exceeding $15.
Deborah Povich, former executive director of Common Cause/Maryland and a commission member, said she believes the Legislature would take “an important first step” with passage of this bill.
The measure also would forbid a legislator from employing a relative for legislative business; soliciting gifts from a lobbyist for a legislator’s favorite charity or other organization; and accepting tickets from lobbyists to sporting and cultural events.
Povich said she had urged the commission to recommend allowing members of the public to sit on panels investigating possible misconduct by legislators. But the commission rejected the idea.
The commission was formed by the General Assembly last spring following the expulsion of state Sen. Larry Young, D- Baltimore. The Senate voted in January to expel Young for conducting private business out of his district office to generate income for himself and for businesses and nonprofit groups he created.
A month later, Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore, resigned after being accused of using the power of his office to secure state contracts for his private insurance business.
Several attempts were made by the General Assembly to pass ethics revisions during the last session, but the measures died.
“With ethics, often times you need to have something happen before anything gets done,” Povich said.