House Passes “Public Integrity Act” Unanimously

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-03-24) reported that the Maryland House of Delegates unanimously passed legislation (HB 879) on March 24 that would tighten conflict of interest, lobbying, and public ethics laws for state legislative and executive branch officials. The legislation follows the formal reprimand of Delegate Dan Morhaim for failing to disclose that he had a contingent employment agreement with a medical cannabis company while advocating on medical cannabis issues before the Maryland General Assembly.

The legislation would explicitly prohibit such conduct, limit the ability of legislative and certain executive officials to lobby immediately after leaving office, require greater disclosure about income generated by spouses, and create an independent citizen ethics advisory board. From the article:

Gov. Larry Hogan sought an even more sweeping rewrite of the rules that would have subjected legislators’ conduct to oversight by an executive branch commission [HB 438/SB 253]. The attorney general’s office advised that such a move would probably violate the state constitution by breaching the separation between different branches of government.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the bill as passed represented a compromise that the Republican governor’s office was happy to see moving forward.

“We see this as a definite step forward and a move in the right direction after some very high-profile indictments and public ethical lapses that will help restore the trust the public deserves to have in their institutions of government,” he said.

Alexandra Hughes, House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s chief of staff, said Busch was pleased that he and the governor could combine ideas to produce “one of the strongest ethics bills in years.”

“This legislation will provide greater transparency to the public and tighten conflict of interest laws for greater public confidence in elected officials in the executive and legislative branches,” she said.

The bill’s cross-file, SB 683, was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 3 and no further action has been taken on the bill since the hearing.

Useful Links

HB 879 / SB 683 of 2017

HB 438 / SB 253 of 2017