Ex-lawmakers would have to put off lobbying


The General Assembly voted yesterday to require a cooling-off period before outgoing members can return to Annapolis as lobbyists.

Under the bill, former senators and delegates who want to lobby their ex-colleagues would have to sit out one legislative session first.

The measure now goes to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

"The cooling-off period would diminish the cozy relationship that appears to exist between legislators and lobbyists," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, the self-proclaimed public interest lobby.

Supporters hope a waiting period will reduce the incentive for legislators to curry favor with potential employers while still in office.

"The perception is that we're going to do something here that is going to feather our nest when we leave the General Assembly," said Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat.

After the election last November, a record number of outgoing legislators cashed in on their public experience to become lobbyists. At least one sat in the Senate gallery yesterday as his former colleagues debated the issue.

One senator even planned to begin his new career late last year before he left office in January. He agreed to a delay when a reporter informed him he would be violating ethics law.

The legislation is the result of a compromise between the Senate and House of Delegates.

Lawmakers in both chambers originally considered waiting periods of one or two years. Senators preferred one year, but delegates ultimately held sway with their one-session proposal.

The one-session rule amounts to a three-month wait for most ex-legislators. That's because they usually leave office in January, the same month the annual 90-day session begins.

Delegates also successfully pushed to include an exception. Former legislators don't have to wait to become lobbyists for a local government or the state.

"We believe the big bucks come from the private sector," Senator Collins said.

But some senators claimed the exception amounted to a loophole. "That's a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through," complained Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, a Republican from Anne Arundel County.

The Senate passed the bill 42-4, but only after a move to scuttle the compromise failed on a 25-21 vote.

Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, complained that the compromise restricts former legislators' rights to freedom of speech.

Mr. Pica, a lawyer, said he feared the rule would keep a former senator from joining a large law firm that lobbies in Annapolis.

The House of Delegates approved the bill later yesterday, 124-7.

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