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Hogan legislation focuses on redistricting, ethics and lobbying reform

Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday displays his legislative proposals that he said would overhaul the state's ethics rules and redistricting process. (Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday displays his legislative proposals that he said would reform the state’s ethics and lobbying rules and its redistricting process. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday announced a set of proposed measures he said would reform state government in the wake of a number of recent criminal and ethics investigations of state and local officials.

The four-bill package includes legislation to overhaul state ethics and lobbying laws and to place new restrictions on lobbying for lawmakers, former lawmakers and executive branch employees. Also included is a bill, previously introduced, that would create an independent redistricting commission as well as nearly $2 million that would allow the House and Senate to stream live video of floor proceedings.

“The initiatives we are introducing today are in an effort to restore the public’s trust in our state government and finally bring some transparency, accountability and fairness to Annapolis,” Hogan said of the four-bill package while standing at the base of the steps of the State House. “We cannot allow the unethical behavior of the few to tarnish the good will of the many in our state capital.”

The language of the bills, which were delivered to the House of Delegates and Senate for introduction, was not immediately available.

Hogan’s proposals include:

  • A proposal prohibiting legislators from working on legislation that directly benefits their employer or a business they own. It also prohibits executive branch and legislative staff from lobbying for one year after they leave state service and bars individuals employed by a lobbying firm from being appointed to a state board or commission. The State Ethics Commission would have oversight power over all elected officials, registered lobbyists and consultants.
  • Legislation requiring that all meetings of the General Assembly be live-streamed. Hogan has already earmarked $1.2 million to fund the new technology.
  • Reform for county liquor boards, including eliminating political party central committees from nominating board members. Legislators would be required to submit formal, public nominations. The state ethics commission would have oversight.
  • Creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission that would redraw legislative and congressional districts in the state. The bill is said to be similar to a failed 2016 proposal made by Hogan. Democratic lawmakers this year have started to public express concerns about redistricting should Hogan win re-election in 2018.

“There’s no question that some of the recent indictments and stories to come to light about former and current and even potential legislators being indicted on state and federal charges and felonies, that we certainly want to try to close some of those particular loopholes and address some of the problems that were allowed to happen,” Hogan said.

In his remarks, Hogan referenced a number of legal and ethical issues that have made headlines in recent weeks, including an ongoing federal investigation that has resulted in the indictment of Prince George’s County liquor board officials and license holders, as well as former Del. Will Campos. That same investigation is believed to be behind the resignation of Del. Michael Vaughn, D-Prince George’s County.

Hogan also noted an ongoing legislative ethics inquiry into Del. Dan Morhaim related to his involvement with a company seeking medical marijuana license, and questions about former Del. John Bohanan’s activities in advocating on behalf of a now-canceled state contract with a company owned by his brother-in-law. Bohanan’s wife also owned a company that was a subcontractor on the deal that she said last year was worth $864,000 to her building supply company.

The announcement was met with positive reaction from Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.

“A lot of the bills, from what I heard the governor say, are actually taking numerous pieces from legislation that we’ve advocated for over the last decade or so and packaged them up together,” Bevan-Dangel said. “As the governor said, we haven’t seen a major ethics overhaul in over a decade and it’s certainly long past due.”

Julia Pitcher Worcester, a registered lobbyist and vice president of the Maryland Government Relations Association, said her organization would withhold comment until it could review the exact language in each of the bills.

Legislative leaders in the House and Senate also took a wait-and-see approach while vowing to work on ethics reform.

“We look forward to working with the governor to make sure Maryland has the highest standards of transparency and ethics,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch said in a statement.

“Ethics is going to be a major focus of the 2017 session,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. in a statement. “We look forward to looking at the governor’s proposals and working with him.”

 

 

 


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