Senate, House OK ethics bills

March 19, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - All eight members of the Washington County Delegation helped to pass ethics reform bills Thursday in the Maryland General Assembly.

The Senate and the House of Delegates approved different versions of an ethics bill.

Both bills would ban one-on-one meals between lawmakers and lobbyists and put restrictions on charitable solicitations and jobs.

The bills are aimed at clarifying the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists. But they conflict on several significant provisions.

For instance, the House agreed to prohibit charitable solicitations of lobbyists. The Senate voted to allow solicitations of companies that hire lobbyists, but not individual lobbyists in Annapolis.

"I think it was a good start and I'm very happy that the bill passed," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.


Even though they voted for the bills in their respective chambers, some local lawmakers had complaints about the pieces of legislation.

"I don't think that any of us were a hundred percent happy about the provisions," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Hecht said the reforms threaten her favorite part of the job - bringing community groups together for the common good.

The bill bans lawmakers from asking lobbyists for charitable donations.

Recently, she may have crossed that line when she set up a meeting between a business and a nonprofit group raising money for a child-abuse prevention program.

"To take away the ability to do that is really sad," she said.

Hecht and Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, questioned the need for ethics reform.

"My concern is I think that this much scrutiny on ethics, that it sends the message that legislators can be bought and sold so easily," Bartlett said.

The task force that drafted the reforms was set up after two Democratic members of the legislature from Baltimore left after ethical scandals last year.

The Senate approved its version without debate on a vote of 43-2. House approval came on a vote of 109-25, after a debate about whether the bill created unnecessary restrictions against part-time lawmakers.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, voted for the bill.

A conference committee will reconcile differences in the legislation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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