With the censure of Maryland Sen. Ulysses S. Currie still reverberating around the State House, state lawmakers are nearing decisions on ethics reforms they hope will prevent another scandal like the one that enveloped the state’s longtime budget committee chair.
An ethics reform task force set up by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) will hold its final meeting Friday morning to “look at the whole question of creating an ethic of compliance and professionalism in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), the committee’s chair.
But many questions remain about how far the reforms will go — particularly whether they will incorporate a key recommendation from the group of lawmakers that urged censure for Currie (D-Prince George’s), whose failure to disclose outside consulting payments became the subject of a federal investigation.
Currie was acquitted of all counts. However, last month the Senate voted unanimously to censure him, and Miller also has removed Currie from two powerful committees, the Executive Nominations Panel and the Senate Rules Committee.
Under a recommendation from the group of lawmakers who reviewed Currie’s case, each legislator would be required to meet in-person with the state ethics adviser, bringing along his or her most recent state and federal tax returns.
The type of problem such a reform would be meant to address came up as recently as last week, when Senate majority leader Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery) was accused by a political opponent of failing to report his employment by a D.C. lobbying firm on financial disclosure forms.
On Friday afternoon, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee will take up two bills put forward by the ethics reform task force. The bills were introduced before the release of the censure report last month.
One of the bills, which is being applauded by a government watchdog group, would put online financial disclosure forms filed by legislators and officials. As it stands, anyone wishing to see the forms has to go to a room in an Annapolis office building during business hours and present identification. Lawmakers are notified of requests to view their disclosure forms.
“It’s really a burden to people....It has a real chilling effect,” said Susan Wichmann, executive director of Maryland Common Cause.
But the other bill, which Wichmann called “a step in the wrong direction,” would relax financial disclosure requirements for local government officials.
A bill that passed in 2010 made ethics requirements for county and local officials conform to those for state lawmakers. Several local officials have since complained the rules are too stringent.
Under the bill to be considered Friday, local officials would only have to disclose investments in companies that do business with or are regulated by the state or local government.