A bill aimed at plugging a loophole in the state's criminal code by making the law against bribery cover employees of bicounty and multicounty agencies passed the House of Delegates today and was sent to the Senate.
The measure was prompted by a Court of Appeals ruling last year that inspectors of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission who had been indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury could not be prosecuted for bribery.
Montgomery State's Attorney Andrew Sonner said today that the new bill would "do a lot of good," but would not affect the aborted investigation that led to indictments last year.
"That investigation is dead," Sonner said.
Existing last made it a crime to bribe county, municipal and state employees, but did not affect agencies such as the WSSC and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which are jointly operated to serve Montgomery and Prince George's countries.
The investigation that led to the return of a 122-count indictment against four WSSC inspectors and three contractors on Feb. 25, 1976, was plagued with technical problems.
Even before the Court of Appeals ruling, county judges dismissed the indictments of several other grounds. One judge said that while prosecutors contended the alleged crimes were aimed at securing [WORD ILLEGIBLE] permits in Montgomery County, the payoffs alleged occurred in Prince George's, meaning that the wrong grand jury had returned the indictments. When the investigation [WORD ILLEGIBLE] was transferred to Prince George's, a judge there found the indictments too vague, and dismissed them a second time.
Del. Frederick C. Rummage (D-Prince George's), primary sponsor of the new legislation, said it would take effect as soon as the Senate approved it and it is signed by the governor, instead of the normal July 1 effective date.
"We want to be able to stop any bribery as soon as possible," said Rummage.
During the long investigation, prosecutors said they were told that it had been a "common practice" for WSSC inspectors to accept money from contractors seeking to get permits for sewer lines.
Another reform measure was dealt a blow by the House today, when it amended a bill that would greatly expand the public financing of elections in the state.
Today's House action postponed the effective date of the new financing law until 1982, an action that Del. Benjamin Cardin (D-Baltimore) interpreted to mean "public financing will be a campaign issue in the 1977 elections."
Cardin, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, fought for the bill in its original version, which would have provided up to $500,000 to candidates for governor in that keeps that idea alive, while bow the election next year.
Today'a action was a compromising to opponents who promised to defeat it if it were tied to the 1977 campaings.
As a result of today's action, the little-used existing law will remain on the books. It has produced less than $300,000 since adopted two years ago. The major drawback is that, unlike the federal law that does not cost taxpayers extra money, persons who check a box on the Maryland income tax returns must add $2 or $4 to their tax bill.
The amended measure, strongly supported by Common Cause, would have replaced the check-off system with money provided directly from the state's general fund to candidates for the state's top four elective offices.