Bill would require online disclosure

A special committee on ethics reform set up by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will propose legislation that would put the financial disclosure forms of legislators and top state officials online next year and eliminate a requirement that filers be told the names of people who examine those statements.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the special committee, said the legislation has the bipartisan backing of all members of the panel.

Currently, a person who wants to look at disclosure forms — which are public documents — must go to the State Ethics Commission office in Annapolis and fill out a form giving name and address. Under current law, the lawmaker or official whose disclosure is examined has the right to be notified of the identity of the person making the inquiry. Open-government advocates contend the need to travel to Annapolis is burdensome and that the notification provision has a chilling effect on inquiries.

Raskin called the current arrangement an "obsolete system."

"If the information is public, it is going to be online," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "We have nothing to hide, and we should be No. 1 in ethics transparency in America."

Raskin said the legislation would take effect in two stages. The disclosures of senators, delegates, statewide elected officials, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads would be posted by July 1, 2013. Statements by all other officials covered by the financial disclosure law would go online by July 1, 2015. Counties would be exempt because of a reluctance to impose added expenses, Raskin said.

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