State House 'culture' called ethics problem Taylor lauds proposal to educate legislators

September 10, 1998|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

While lauding proposed changes in state ethics law, Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said yesterday that the real problem in Annapolis is not so much the law as it is the "internal culture" at the State House.

Taylor said a proposal to hire a full-time legal counsel to educate legislators on ethics issues will have more impact on that culture than other changes in the law. The adviser would help make lawmakers more aware of potential ethics-related problems, he said.

Taylor, noting "a disconnect between a very strong ethics code and the internal culture" of the legislature, suggested that legislators' insensitivity to ethics issues, not the law, has led to ethics problems.

His comments came as he and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller formally received a task force's proposals for changes in the ethics law.

Among other proposals, the panel recommends hiring the legal counsel Taylor mentioned and prohibiting lawmakers from accepting meals or gifts from lobbyists or voting on bills in which they have a direct economic interest. Taylor and Miller have promised to work to get the package passed as legislation.

The two men created the task force, chaired by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, in the wake of ethics controversies this year that led to the expulsion of one legislator and the resignation of another.

Sen. Larry Young was expelled after the Senate found he was using his public office for private gain. Del. Gerald J. Curran, one of Taylor's committee chairmen, resigned after the legislature's ethics committee decided to investigate whether he had used his office to benefit his insurance business.

Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat, also was swept up in an ethics controversy after a newspaper report that he inappropriately intervened in a land deal on behalf of a friend. Taylor vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and the legislature's ethics committee concluded his reported role in the deal violated no state laws.

Asked to elaborate on problems with the "culture" at the State House, Taylor did not offer specifics.

"The criticism has not been that we don't have a strong law, because we do," he said. "The criticism has been that there's a disconnect in the legislature between the law itself and the culture within the institution, the mind-set."

He said educating legislators would change that culture and mind-set.

"You can pass all the laws in the world, but if the culture doesn't exist to apply and enforce the laws, then you're not going to accomplish what the laws are meant to accomplish," he said.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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