ANNAPOLIS – The House of Delegates made good on its effort to clean up relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists by overwhelmingly passing an ethics bill Thursday, despite continuing disagreements over the measure’s language.
“This bill puts Maryland at the very top of all states in the country in ethics legislation,” said House Majority Leader John A. Hurson, D-Montgomery. “We have come a long, long way.”
The bill, which passed with a 120-4 vote, would allow the state to withdraw the licenses of lobbyists who violate ethics laws. It would also require greater disclosure of how much lobbyists spend entertaining lawmakers and of campaign contributions given by companies that hire lobbyists.
The bill was backed even by its major critics.
Delegate Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, voted in favor of the bill, even though his two amendments – to remove a requirement that lobbyists tell the truth in testimony and to require public lobbyists to report spending on entertainment for lawmakers – failed.
“There’s no such thing as perfect legislation. And there’s no such thing as a perfect legislator,” Billings said after the session. “I judged that, in this case, an imperfect bill was better than no bill at all.”
Billings said he may resurrect his amendments as separate bills later.
Delegate Cheryl C. Kagan, D-Montgomery, who backed Billings’ amendment to remove lobbyist truth-telling requirements, was one of the four delegates who voted against the bill Thursday.
“It’s surprising so few voted against the bill. Almost everyone admitted it was flawed,” Kagan said. “If (a bill) says ethics, people are afraid to vote against it.”
While the House hurried to pass the legislation, the Senate met its first obstacle.
A vote Thursday on a similar Senate bill was pushed back one week after members of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee debated an amendment – introduced by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s – to strike a provision prohibiting lobbyists to hold board or commission positions.
Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County, asked for the delay because “the amendment needs work.”
With the ethics legislation, lawmakers are trying to repair a reputation tarnished by a series of recent high-profile cases.
Lobbyist Gerard Evans was convicted last summer of conspiring with Delegate Tony Fulton, D-Baltimore, to introduce anti-lead poisoning legislation, which paint companies would then pay Evans to oppose. Fulton was acquitted.
Last session, lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who was convicted of seven counts of federal mail fraud in 1994, returned to lobbying in Annapolis. And in 1997, Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, became the first Maryland senator to be expelled from office over allegations that he misused his position to win favors from health care companies. He was acquitted, but admitted in December to falsifying financial disclosures and paid a fine of $2,250. – 30 – CNS-2-1-01