Lawmakers question proposals urged in ethics reform legislation

February 03, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Legislators raised a host of questions last night about proposed General Assembly ethics reform legislation, with many focusing on a proposed ban on legislators taking jobs in state or local government.

While no lawmakers spoke directly against the bill, the questions and critiques made clear that many changes will be proposed once Assembly committees begin line-by-line work on the measure.

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who headed a 15-member task force that drafted the bill last year, defended it as a tool for helping lawmakers avoid conflicts of interest.

"You can't legislate good ethics," Cardin told a joint hearing of the House Commerce and Government Matters and Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs committees. "But I would urge you to adopt these recommendations. I think they will serve you well."

The bill grew out of last year's expulsion of a senator and the forced resignation of a delegate for ethics violations.

The wide-ranging measure would ban most gifts from lobbyists to legislators, prohibit lawmakers from voting on bills in which they have a direct financial interest, and establish a full-time ethics adviser to help senators and delegates avoid conflicts of interest.

But it is the proposed ban on employment of legislators in state or local government that seems to be drawing the most criticism.

Cardin, a Democrat from Baltimore and former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, said legislators who seek a government job could have an advantage over another job applicant.

In addition, he said, holding down a state or local job creates a "structural conflict" because legislators have to approve the budgets and vote on other issues affecting those governmental agencies.

The bill would create an exception to allow legislators to take jobs as teachers or law enforcement personnel.

But some legislators said the proposal goes too far.

"There's not a problem to resolve," said Sen. George W. Della, a Baltimore Democrat. "I don't know what it cures."

"I don't have anything against teachers, police or firefighters, but there are other career paths that would fit here," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat.

Aside from legislators, some lobbyists are concerned about the bill's ban on them giving gifts to legislators, including the purchase of an individual meal or beverage. Some of the provisions both in the bill and in current law are confusing or illogical, they said.

Pub Date: 2/03/99

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