Maryland lawmakers would have to file more timely disclosures of their sources of income and business dealings and make that information more easily accessible to residents under proposals debated by a special ethics panel yesterday.
The panel, formed to review the state's ethics laws, discussed requiring that the disclosures be filed in January as the General Assembly goes into its annual session. Copies would be kept in Annapolis, where they would be more accessible to the public.
Legislators do not have to file such disclosures with the state ethics commission in Towson until April, after the session ends. Anyone who wants to review the forms must travel there.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat who chairs the special ethics panel, said after the meeting it would be better if the public had information about potential conflicts involving a legislator before a session starts.
"Right now, a whole session can go by and you don't know a legislator had a presumed conflict," Cardin said.
During the meeting, Cardin said requiring legislators to disclose income sources before the session starts -- and posting such disclosures on the Internet -- might also make legislators more sensitive to situations that could pose a conflict of interest.
Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a citizen watchdog group, said after the meeting that those kinds of changes would be a step toward improving the state's system of ethics laws.
"I think it's terrific," Skullney said. "Any time you make those kinds of disclosures quicker and more easy to access, it's always a great idea."
The panel also talked about allowing legislators to file their ethics disclosure statements electronically and about assigning a legislative staffer with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics to help legislators fulfill disclosure requirements.
The legislature appointed a 15-member commission to study its ethics standards in the wake of two highly publicized controversies involving legislators this year.
Larry Young, a West Baltimore Democrat, was expelled from the state Senate after he was accused of using his legislative position to generate income for himself and businesses he created. Young, who is under criminal investigation, plans to seek re-election in the Democratic primary in September.
Gerald J. Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, was pressured to resign from the House of Delegates after he was accused of crossing ethical lines in his insurance business dealings.
Cardin said the ethics panel hopes to complete a preliminary report on its work by Sept. 1.
Pub Date: 6/24/98