Gov. Larry Hogan is asking people nominated to fill vacancies in the General Assembly to undergo background checks before taking their seats, infuriating Democratic leaders.
Two people recently nominated to fill seats in the House of Delegates — Baltimore's Nick J. Mosby and Montgomery County's Jheanelle Wilkins — have not yet been sworn in. Both were asked by the governor's office to submit to background checks. Neither has complied.
"He doesn't need to hold anybody up for a background investigation. I just don't believe that's appropriate," said Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.
A Hogan spokesman said the background check was voluntary.
"All we're doing is asking," said Doug Mayer, the spokesman.
Mosby and Wilkins are among several people recently recommended to join the legislature following resignations by lawmakers who won election for a different office in the fall or left because of health reasons.
Glenn said she learned of the requests for background checks when she asked about inviting Mosby and Wilkins to the Legislative Black Caucus annual breakfast with Hogan, which is planned for Thursday.
Glenn said prospective lawmakers have never been subjected to background checks before — whether they were elected by voters or selected by a party central committee, which is what happens when vacancies occur between elections.
She said it was "very troubling" that the governor suddenly determined a need for background checks. She noted the two prospective delegates are African American.
"Why create a new standard for these persons who were rightfully elected by their central committee members?" Glenn asked. "You can't have a double standard."
There are three more vacancies that need to be filled in the General Assembly, all in heavily Democratic and African-American districts.
Mayer said the governor's request for background checks applies to all appointed lawmakers moving forward.
The new policy of requesting background checks is "made out of an abundance of caution, especially in light of recent, well-known news involving former, current and prospective members of the legislature," Mayer said.
In one case, Gary Brown Jr., an aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, had been selected to fill a vacancy for a seat representing Baltimore in the House of Delegates. But his swearing in was abruptly canceled after Brown was indicted on charges of campaign finance violations. Mosby was selected for the vacancy instead.
And on the first day of the legislative session last week, Del. Michael Vaughn of Prince George's County abruptly resigned, citing health reasons. That county has been rocked by a scandal involving its liquor board. Federal documents described an unnamed delegate from the Economic Matters Committee accepting cash to vote for a certain liquor bill. Vaughn is the only Prince George's delegate on that committee who voted for the bill.
"This is a very common-sense, proactive policy change that simply seeks to hold these nominees to the same standards that we hold all our appointments to currently," Mayer said.
The Attorney General's Office advised House Speaker Michael E. Busch on Wednesday that the governor can ask for background checks, but cannot require prospective lawmakers to submit to them.
"The Governor can request that the nominee submit to a background check, but the nominee is under no obligation to comply," Assistant Attorney General David W. Stamper wrote to Busch on Wednesday. "Regardless of whether the nominee submits to a background check, the Governor must make the appointment."
Mosby said he was surprised when the governor's appointments staff gave him a form to authorize a background check when he went to Annapolis on Tuesday to take care of paperwork before being sworn in.
"I thought it was unusual," Mosby said, adding he has nothing to hide.
Mosby, who was selected by the Democratic central committee in his district on Jan. 12, said members of the community keep "calling and texting me, asking when I'm going to be sworn in."
Wilkins, likewise, is eager to get started after being selected Jan. 9. to fill a vacancy created when William C. Smith moved from the House to the Senate to replace Jamie Raskin, who was elected to Congress.
Wilkins said she hasn't returned the background check authorization form. She says she was vetted by voters who elected her to the central committee and then went through a "thorough" process to be picked by the central committee for the delegate seat.
"I am ready to get to work," she said. "I think that every day that goes by is a day that the state of Maryland and the residents of District 20 lack representation."
Mosby and Wilkins both said they haven't been told when they will be sworn in.
There are three more vacancies to be filled in the General Assembly. Democrats need to replace former Sen. Lisa Gladden of Baltimore, who resigned for health reasons; former Del. Jill P. Carter of Baltimore, who joined Pugh's administration; and Vaughn.
The selection meeting for Carter's replacement was scheduled for Wednesday night.