HOW SERIOUS are state lawmakers about passing a strong ethics code?
House leaders successfully fought off attempts to dilute reforms last week. They intend to vote on a strengthened bill tomorrow. In the Senate, though, Baltimore County's Sen. Michael J. Collins is leading an effort to sabotage ethics proposals.
Legislators don't seem to understand that every time an opponent tries to add another loophole, it drags down the General Assembly in voters' eyes.
The bills being debated don't call for earth-shattering changes. In fact, they don't go nearly far enough. But they are a vast improvement over the present, 20-year-old law, which is riddled with ambiguities.
Proposed changes would bar legislators from dining off lobbyists' tabs, prohibit nepotism, stop lawmakers from voting where a clear conflict exists and give the joint ethics committee subpoena power.
The House version would also ban lawmakers from accepting sports tickets from a lobbyist or his employer. That means no more free Orioles or Redskins tickets. If the average citizen doesn't get such freebies, why should lawmakers?
Likewise, legislators should not be permitted to pressure lobbyists for charity donations. Such fund raising is unseemly and poses a troubling potential for abuse.
And a proposal that would stop legislators from taking jobs with local governments deserves support. Once lawmakers are hired by local governments, they must serve two masters.
Most legislators have high ethical standards. Yet they also know some of their colleagues bend the rules.
It is time to clamp down on violators. A new ethics code would help. This should include a requirement that each lawmaker meet annually with an ethics adviser to review potential ethical conflicts.
Now is the time for right-minded legislators to send a clear signal that a higher level of conduct is expected of them.