Maryland state legislators may no longer accept free transportation to business conventions, a legislative ethics committee ruled yesterday. But, according to the ruling, they can still accept free lodging and meals if they get to the conference at their own expense.
The issue of free trips for legislators received extensive publicity this year when three influential lawmakers traveled to the sumptuous Southampton Princess Hotel in Bermuda, their trip hosted and paid for by the Maryland Bankers Association.
"Certainly these trips were on our minds when the decision was made," said Sen. Julian Lapides (D-Baltimore), cochairman of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.
"It's (the issue) like a gnawing sore. It keeps festering," Lapides said.
"Every year it comes up. The public, I think, is outraged by it."
Still, the guidelines apply only to future trips, and the committee noted in its formal opinion that the ruling was not meant to "reflect or comment upon" trips taken in the past.
The new guidelines also prohibit lawmakers from taking free transportation, lodging or meals for their spouses, a common practice among legislators in the past.
The 1979 bankers' conference in Florida became a controversial issue during this year's legislative session when some lawmakers charged that it had helped smooth the way for a banking bill that raised interest rates on some loans by 50 percent.
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, also a member of the ethics committee, said that legislators are being "asked to participate in more and more conferences and trips" and had asked for clarifications of the ethics guidelines.
The new guidelines are based on a section of the ethics law that prohibits acceptance of gifts that would give the appearance of impropriety or conflict, Lapides said.
"We're interpreting this more strictly even than the law states," Lapides said. "We're not even permitting anyone to be reimbursed for an Ocean City trip. We're going to take a lot of flak on this one."