An ethics reform package that would require lobbyists to reveal which lawmakers they wine and dine in Annapolis crossed a major legislative hurdle yesterday and appears headed for passage.
The Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee unanimously passed the bills, which would also prohibit lobbyists from giving legislators gifts worth more than $15.
Bonnie A. Kirkland, the governor's chief lobbyist, said she thought that Gov. Parris N. Glendening would respect the General Assembly's wishes and sign the bills into law.
"The outlook is very good that meaningful lobbying reform will become law," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, the self-described citizens' lobby. "This is a significant improvement over the current lobby law."
The measures are designed to shed more light on the sometimes cozy relations between legislators and lobbyists, as well as put some distance between the two. Each year lobbyists spend more than $800,000 on meals, drinks and gifts for legislators, according to Common Cause. Some lobbyists also give lawmakers tickets to events, including Baltimore Orioles' and Washington Redskins' games. The reform package would end that practice, too, by prohibiting lobbyists from giving out tickets for certain sporting, charitable, cultural or political events.
One of the catalysts for passing reform legislation this year was the felony mail-fraud conviction last fall of Bruce C. Bereano, a top state lobbyist who developed his reputation, in part, by wining and dining legislators.
State Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, has had reservations about the reform measures, particularly the one requiring disclosure of meals. "I know they say it's an abuse, but I don't see the evil," said Mr. Blount, who does not dine often with lobbyists. But he also said it was important to address the public's negative perception of lawmaker-lobbyist relations. "In that sense, I think we've acted responsibly," he said.
At least one committee member, Montgomery Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, said the legislation did not go far enough. He and other members of a Senate subcommittee had recommended prohibiting lobbyists from buying legislators meals, but the full committee did not vote on the more stringent proposal.
Sen. Michael J. Collins, the subcommittee chairman and a Baltimore County Democrat, said such a change could have jeopardized the bills' chances in the waning days of the session.