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Lawmakers' freebies

February 18, 1999

Faced with the prospect of being forced to get off the gravy train, many Maryland lawmakers are trying to derail an ethics bill that was put together in the wake of scandals that cost two lawmakers their seats during the 1998 General Assembly session. This is an outrage; voters should demand an up-or-down vote on the measure now.

We'd also like to suggest that citizens denounce the lawmakers who are opposing this bill, but we don't know who they are. According to Del. John Arnick, D-Baltimore County, many unattributed comments on the bill have been sent to the Commerce and Government Matters Committee and to the legislature's ethics advisor, William Somerville.

And the source of the difficulties? A provision that would prohibit lawmakers from accepting free food from registered lobbyists, who can now spend up to $15 a head on legislators' meals without declaring them.

Arnick would change that so that lobbyists could spend up to $200 per year on each member, but would require that it be reported. If you're wondering why lawmakers would need extra cash when they're reimbursed $30 per day for meals during the session, Arnick noted that "if you ate out at restaurants every day, you couldn't survive on $30 per day."

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Pardon us if we sound a bit preachy on this topic, but there are a lot of people in Maryland who don't have $30 a day to spend on their personal meals. Does it make any sense to allow lawmakers to be further insulated from the struggles of everyday life?

Another other sticking point would prohibit lawmakers from accepting free tickets to sporting events. Lawmakers want to amend that provision to exempt in-state teams like the University of Maryland and the Baltimore Orioles. And finally, lawmakers would have to report sources of outside income greater than $500. Lawyer lawmakers object, saying it would force disclosure of what their clients are.

Well, of course it would. That's the point, to ferret out potential conflicts of interests. If lawmakers oppose the bill, they should stand up in the light of day and say so. Otherwise, let's get this thing passed.

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