On Friday, as yet another Maryland politician was indicted on charges stemming from alleged unethical behavior, lawmakers voted unanimously to strengthen the state’s ethics laws with new restrictions and requirements for officials and their staffers.
The General Assembly approved Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed Public Integrity Act with three days left to vote in the session. The House of Delegates passed the original version 139-0 in late March, while the Senate approved a tweaked version last week 46-0, which the House then approved again unanimously on Friday. With Hogan’s signature, the new law will heighten disclosure requirements for officials involved in private businesses, with a goal of preventing them from taking corrupt, self-beneficial actions.
It will also impose a one-year embargo for letting lobbyists work as public officials or staffers after they leave their lobbying gigs, require the Legislative Ethics Commission to share officials’ disclosure forms online and create a “Citizens’ Advisory Board” – made up of five regular citizens, rather than officials – to recommend changes to state ethics procedures.
Hogan proposed the measure at the start of the legislative session, just after Mayor Catherine Pugh’s former campaign aide was charged with making $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions just before he was to be sworn in by Hogan as a replacement delegate for a Baltimore district. A member of the Prince George’s County Liquor Board and two other officials had also been arrested on federal bribery charges for allegedly arranging or taking bribes to weaken liquor regulations.
While he was never charged, Del. Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County was also being scrutinized at the time for his admitted involvement with a budding Baltimore medical marijuana firm. Morhaim hadn’t disclosed that he would be working as a consultant for Doctor’s Orders, LLC, years before, when he advocated for medical marijuana in Maryland and helped design the regulatory framework for the soon-to-open medical marijuana program. He eventually received a reprimand from his colleagues in the legislature.
By the end of the session, another Baltimore official had been charged with an ethics breach. Sen. Nathaniel Oaks appeared in court Friday after being arrested on federal wire fraud charges.
The governor issued a statement that same day thanking General Assembly leadership and rank-and-file members for unanimously approving his proposal. “With this legislation, we are reaffirming our promise and commitment to the accountability, transparency, and fairness that the people of Maryland deserve,” he said.
Some of Hogan’s other proposals didn’t meet the same happy fate. His Liquor Board Reform Act, which would have shaken up how jurisdictions appoint their own liquor boards, received an “unfavorable” report in the House of Delegates last week. And the proposed Legislative Transparency Act, which would have required livestreaming of all General Assembly meetings, didn’t escape committee in either house of the legislature.
Recent polling data shows corruption is on Marylanders’ minds. About a third of all state residents say it’s a “big problem,” according to the newest Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. About three in five Baltimore residents feel the same way about city government, according to the same poll.
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