A state constitutional amendment that would force convicted public officials to leave office as soon as they are found guilty is gaining steam in the House of Delegates.

Jolene Ivey

Del. Jolene Ivey

Del. Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George’s, is circulating the bill among her colleagues. As of Thursday morning, she had 56 co-sponsors, including her co-sponsor, Del. Michael Vaughn, another Prince George’s Democrat. She will submit it to get a bill number once she gets a symbolic 71 delegates — a majority of the House — signed onto it, a task she does not think will be challenging.

“It seems to be an easy sell so far,” Ivey said.

The bill calls for an amendment to the state constitution that would immediately force out of office public officials found guilty of crimes that make them ineligible to serve. This would apply to all elected officials in the state, from governors to county executives to city council members.

The state constitution currently allows elected officials convicted of crimes to retain their positions until they are sentenced. Ivey said that when officials are convicted, they are going to be forced out of their offices anyway, and the current law just “drags out the process.”

“I think this is one of those loopholes people just didn’t know about,” Ivey said.

This issue came to the forefront in Prince George’s County politics this year when former County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson pleaded guilty to charges of destroying evidence in a federal investigation of her husband, County Executive Jack Johnson.

Leslie Johnson had been arrested in connection with the charges in the months between being elected and getting sworn in to office. She pleaded guilty to the charge in June, and had initially planned to continue in office until her sentencing at the end of the year.

After making her plea, Johnson’s constituents, colleagues on council, and County Executive Rushern Baker pressured her to leave office immediately. Johnson resigned in July, and was sentenced in December to a year and a day in prison.

Ivey said she hasn’t started looking for backing in the Senate, and there is no companion legislation in that chamber. However, she is certain her bill will make it there, and she is hopeful for wide support.

Ivey’s bill is likely to get a number and find its way to the hearing schedule soon, she said.

“I’d have 71 signatures on this now if I weren’t talking to you about it,” she told MarylandReporter.com after Thursday’s session.

Amending the state constitution requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers — 85 in the the House of Delegates and 29 in the Senate. If passed, it automatically goes on the ballot in November’s election for the people of the state to vote on. If a majority of people approve the amendment, it would be added to the constitution.

—Megan Poinski