Lawmakers' ethics forms to go online, but not financial disclosures

Beginning next year, Marylanders will have online access to some of state lawmakers’  ethics documents, though not as access much as some have pushed for.

Under a bill that passed at the end of the session, every lawmaker will have to file forms disclosing both their own and their spouses’ outside employment, and those will be posted online. Conflict-of-interest forms that legislators are already required to file with the Joint Ethics Committee also will be posted.

But lawmakers’ comprehensive annual financial disclosure forms won’t be published online. Over the summer, a workgroup appointed by legislative leaders will explore the possibility of posting those forms, which contain more information than the others.

If signed by the governor, the new state law also will create an “online registration program” for people who want to review ethics forms. It’s still not clear how that system will work, said Susan Wichmann, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Maryland.

Under the new law, state lawmakers still will be able to request whether anyone has reviewed their forms, said Patrick Tracy, a legislative staffer.

Common Cause believes that notification requirement has “a chilling effect,” Wichmann said. “We obviously would have preferred that the notification requirement not be in the legislation, and we hope to work with the workgroup … so that they can be comfortable with the fact that the information should be freely available to the public,” she said, adding that Maryland is one of five states with such a requirement.

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