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General Assembly passes reform bill after University of Maryland Medical System, 'Healthy Holly' scandal

General Assembly passes reform bill after University of Maryland Medical System, 'Healthy Holly' scandal
Maryland lawmakers gave final approval Monday to sweeping legislation that would reform the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors amid revelations of single-source contracts for some board members. (Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun)

On the last day of Maryland's General Assembly session, lawmakers gave final approval to sweeping legislation that would reform the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors amid revelations of single-source contracts for some board members.

The legislation — which comes after Baltimore Sun reporting sparked an outcry over the board’s practices, including a $500,000 deal to buy Mayor Catherine Pugh’s self-published “Healthy Holly” books — would bar no-bid contracts for board members, force all members to resign and reapply for their positions (if they want to return), and mandate an audit of contracting practices.

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By a vote of 46-0, Maryland’s senators approved the legislation sponsored by Baltimore Democratic Sen. Jill P. Carter.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for his consideration; he supports reforms for UMMS.

Carter pledged to push for more ethics reform in future legislative sessions.

“This legislation is but the beginning, the first shot fired, in our war against those who would betray the public faith and trust,” Carter said in a statement.

Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called Carter’s legislation “a big bill, a very big bill.”

The House version of the legislation was sponsored by the late House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat who sat on the medical system’s board. Busch said earlier in the session that he was never informed of the contracting practices and he called the controversy the largest “scandal” he could recall during his time in office.

Busch died Sunday after suffering from pneumonia.

His legislation was introduced after the Sun reported last month that nine of the board’s 30 members — including Pugh — had deals benefiting their companies with the hospital system they were tasked with overseeing.

Since then, Pugh and two other members have resigned from the board, while four others took leaves of absences. Pugh paid back $100,000 to the system and amended seven years of state ethics forms on which she had not disclosed her Healthy Holly LLC, through which she sold the books.

System President and CEO Robert Chrencik — who was paid $4.2 million annually — has been placed on a paid leave of absence amid scrutiny of the medical system.

The Maryland state prosecutor has launched an investigation and Pugh has taken a leave of absence as mayor, citing her health. On Monday, the entire Baltimore City Council called on her to resign, but she reiterated she will return to office once her health improves.

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