Ethics proposal would bar lawmakers from new state jobs

June 10, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Legislators who are not state employees when elected would be barred from accepting Maryland government jobs under a proposal debated yesterday by a high-level commission working overhaul ethics laws.

Members of the Special Study Commission on the Maryland Public Ethics Law appeared to be favorably disposed toward the suggestion from Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat.

No decisions were reached at yesterday's session, billed as part of a consensus-building process. But the panel's chairman, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, said Arnick had raised "a very valid issue."

In a letter to the commission, Arnick proposed that the law should draw a distinction between people who already are on the state payroll when elected and those who might be hired by an agency while serving in the General Assembly.

Without elaborating, the delegate suggested that a similar test be applied to people who do business with the state.

Commission member Deborah Povich praised the delegate's proposal.

"I think this is very strong and far-reaching," she said, adding that it clearly addresses the type of dealings that led to the resignation under pressure of Del. Gerald J. Curran this spring.

Curran, a Baltimore Democrat and an insurance broker, quit the House rather than go through an investigation by the Assembly's ethics committee into charges that he used his position to gain lucrative insurance contracts with the University System of Maryland for his paying clients.

The Curran case was one of several recent ethics controversies that prompted legislative leaders to establish the commission. The most notable was that of former state Sen. Larry Young, the Baltimore Democrat expelled from the Assembly at the beginning of this year's session in January.

Among the questions raised yesterday were whether a lawyer in the Assembly should be allowed to represent clients before state and local agencies and whether a lawmaker should be allowed to receive state contracts in an area of expertise.

"We should not assume someone is unethical," said panel member Sherry F. Bellamy, president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland. "Ethical legislators are going to need to be employed."

Cardin, a Democrat who represents Maryland's 3rd District, said the panel expects to prepare an interim report to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. in August so they can prepare an orientation program for legislators.

"We're going to make the yellow light brighter and blinking more often so it's easier for legislators to see," he said.

Pub Date: 6/10/98

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