Ethics bill gets initial nod from senate

March 22, 2012|by Annie Linskey

Maryland's Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation that would require the state to put lawmakers' ethics forms online. 

The legislation was supported by watchdog group Common Cause in the wake of a federal corruption trial that starred Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat. Currie was found not guilty of bribery charges, but the Senate censured him for failing to disclose payments from a grocery chain on his ethics forms.

Currently, anyone wishing to view state lawmakers' ethics forms must visit an office in Annapolis, provide an ID that includes a home address, and sign a form showing which lawmakers' records are to be inspected. The lawmaker is then told who reviewed his or her files.

During the floor debate Wednesday and Thursday, senators said the overhauld is "overdue." Those viewing the forms online will not have to provide identification. 

Senators also took the measure a step further, and adopted an amendment offered by Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin that would require county executives and council members (including Baltimore city lawmakers) to put their ethics form on-line too.

The bill's floor leader, Sen. Roy Dyson, argued that change would be an unfair burden to local governments, who may not have the capacity to post the forms on a website.

Zirkin excluded municipalities, but insisted that county lawmakers be part of the bill. "If we have to do it, they should have to too," Zirkin said. "This would shine the light of day on all."

(At one point during the debate, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller offered his view from the rostrum, saying "The Prince George's COunty Council, they should definitely be on this.")

The Zirkin amendment was added 32-13.

The bill still needs final approval from the Senate, and would have to pass in the House of Delegates.

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