By Dan Menefee
Seizing on bribery and conspiracy charges facing former Democratic lawmakers, Gov. Larry Hogan unleashed a handful of bills Thursday to rein in corruption and put an end to influence peddling in Annapolis.
Hogan also proposed legislation to take some of the politics out of liquor board appointments, force the Maryland Senate and House to video stream their sessions, and set up an independent commission to draw lines for legislative and congressional districts.
“Current and former members of our own legislature…have been abusing the public trust and abusing their offices for self-enrichment and criminal activity,” Hogan said at the foot of the State House on Thursday. “This type of conduct is disgraceful and must no longer be tolerated in our great state.”
Hogan’s proposals come on the heels of a federal indictment against former Prince George’s County Del. Will Campos, who pleaded guilty to steering grants as a member of the county council to nonprofits in exchange for cash bribes. And two Prince George’s County businessmen have been charged with bribing liquor board officials and a state delegate to secure special licenses through the legislature.
Del. Michael Vaughn has been implicated in the investigation, though not yet charged. He resigned last week citing health reasons.
“When legislators are being charged with taking cash bribes to sell their votes it is time for action to be taken to finally clean up this mess in Annapolis,” the governor said.
Hogan cites lack of reform
Citing the lack of ethics reform in the last 15 years and ongoing investigations that could bring even more charges, Hogan introduced the Public Integrity Act of 2017 – intended to “toughen ethics laws and create transparency.”
The measure would prohibit current lawmakers from steering legislation to benefit businesses they own or their employers, and prohibit former executive appointees, legislators and staff from working as lobbyists for one year after leaving office.
Under the act legislators would also fall under the oversight of the State Ethics Commission, rather than their own Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics made up of fellow lawmakers.
“Currently legislators exempt themselves from oversight by the State Ethics Commission,” Hogan said. “This legislation will require members of the legislature to be regulated by the same State Ethics Commission that everyone else in state government is.”
Liquor board reform
In response to Prince George’s County’s liquor board problem, Hogan introduced the Liquor Board Reform Act of 2017, which would take central committees in the counties out of the nominating process and require state senators to make nominations. Nominees would undergo background checks and fall under the oversight of the State Ethics Commission if appointed.
The Legislative Transparency Act of 2017 would require live video streaming of House and Senate sessions. Currently only audio streaming is available during the session but video streaming is available for committee hearings.
This is a direct poke by Hogan at House and Senate leaders who have rejected past legislation to video their sessions. House and Senate rules forbid the use of members’ names, so those speaking on the floor are sometimes difficult to identify. On Wednesday, Senate President Mike Miller had bristled at the idea that Hogan had added $1.2 million to the legislative budget to pay for the video streaming.
Shortly after Hogan’s announcement Miller said “ethics reform is going to be a major topic in the 2017 session, and we look forward to evaluating the governor’s proposals.”
And finally, Hogan formally announced that he was again introducing plans to cure partisan gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts by creating an independent commission to draw the lines. Currently, the governor and legislative leaders control the reapportionment process which has led to only one Republican being elected out of Maryland’s eight members in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dan Menefee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Larry Hogan is apparently anxious for Marylanders to see what legislators actually do on the first floor of the State House, so he is warmly endorsing legislation that provides for live streaming and archived video of floor and voting sessions in the House of Delegates and Senate.
The conservative Republican and liberal Democrat pushing together for video streaming of General Assembly floor sessions also agree that the estimated costs are far too high. In the fiscal note to House Bill 316, legislative staff estimates it would cost $1.2 million to install and operate next year, and then over $400,000 per year to staff and maintain the system. “With modern technology you can do it for much, much less,” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga told the House Rules Committee Friday.
Gov. Larry Hogan plans another push for creating an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative district lines and stop the partisan gerrymandering that has marked the process in recent decades. “I know the governor is still committed to moving forward,” Hogan legislative officer Matthew Palmer told what was supposed to be the final meeting of the governor’s Redistricting Reform Commission on Friday. THIS STORY ALSO LINKS TO PAST COVERAGE OF THE COMMISSION.