Counties Wary of Unknown Ethics Regulations

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp testified in opposition to SB 395, Ethics – Local Government – Conflict of Interest and Financial Disclosure, to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 29, 2016. Knapp was joined by representatives from Montgomery County, the Maryland Municipal League and the several municipalities.

MACo is concerned that the language in the bill would expand the authority of the State Ethics Commission over local modifications to conflict of interest and financial disclosure provisions. Currently, the Commission has the authority to review local government and school board ethics laws, including local modifications to those laws, and determine whether they are in compliance or non-compliance with the State ethics law.

From the MACo testimony,

SB 395 would add a new requirement that would also subject the validity of local modifications to current or unknown future regulations adopted by the Commission. Under the bill, local modifications to conflict of interest or financial disclosure provisions of state law would have to comply with regulations adopted by the State Ethics Commission and must be consistent with the intent of the Maryland Public Ethics law.

However, by also adding regulations adopted by the Commission as a required hurdle, the bill grants the Commission significant authority to limit or influence how a local government may modify the amendments. By enacting regulations, the Commission could seek to block a local modification that it does not particularly like but would be permissible under existing statute.

Reasonable local interpretations could be overridden by the Commission’s interpretation.

MACo understands the goals of the Commission in introducing this legislation and is willing to work with the Commission to see if its concerns can be addressed. But however well-meaning this legislation may be, it would give the Commission far more control and intrusion into conflict of interest and financial disclosure decisions that the General Assembly specifically left in the purview of local governments.

This bill passed the Senate (43-1) on March 11, 2016.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.