The House of Delegates Saturday gave final approval to an amended version of Gov. Larry Hogan’s ethics reform package.
And while House Bill 978 provides for stiffer penalties for bribery — a provision offered on the same morning a state senator was charged with taking cash payments in a phony development deal — the legislature made it harder to find one piece of information about lawmakers: their home addresses.
Under the bill, state officials will be barred from recommending specific lobbyists. The measure also strengthens ethics laws following Del. Dan Morhaim’s work for a company seeking a medical cannabis license. Morhaim was a leader in getting the legislation passed and later worked as a consultant while in the legislature. He was publicly reprimanded for that work earlier this year.
Additionally, a late amendment by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. increased the penalties for bribery under state law to a maximum of $10,000 for each count and or 12 years in jail.
The amendment was introduced on the same morning Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore City, turned himself in to federal authorities and appeared in court on charges that he took more than $15,000 in cash payments and used his office to benefit a developer. The developer and land deal are part of an FBI corruption investigation.
Additionally, the law requires the state ethics commission to post annual financial disclosures online. Currently, the forms are only available at the commission’s Annapolis office. Those who wish to view or make copies of the forms must come to the office and provide photo identification and their own home addresses. Officials are notified in real time as their reports are accessed.
Hogan, in a statement released soon after the House of Delegates gave its final approval, praised the passage of the bill.
“Today is a great day in our historic state capital,” Hogan said in the statement. “I commend Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Mike Busch, and the Maryland General Assembly for working with our administration in a bipartisan fashion to unanimously pass the most important and transformative ethics reform legislation in over a decade. Together, we have made major progress in fulfilling our shared obligation to preserve the honor and the foundation of public trust that our proud institutions of government should always command.”
“With this legislation, we are reaffirming our promise and commitment to the accountability, transparency, and fairness that the people of Maryland deserve. I look forward to joining with both presiding officers in signing the Public Integrity Act of 2017 into law.”
But lawmakers also removed some information from the forms that is currently public — home addresses of public officials.
Last summer, The Daily Record collected and published the most recent financial disclosures online.
Some lawmakers criticized the publication of those forms, citing concerns about access to home addresses.
Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard and chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, told a reporter that the publication of the disclosure forms had “violated” her and the rest of the General Assembly.
Del. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, also raised concerns about the public access to addresses as well as information regarding his family finances — no Social Security or account numbers are publicly available. West said he was considering legislation possibly for the 2018 session that would restrict access to the disclosures to a government agency such as the Office of the State Prosecutor.