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New Ethics Panel To Consider Fines, Disclosures

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Senator Ulysses Currie was found not guilty of corruption charges stemming from allegations he improperly used his influence to benefit Shoppers Food.  He will face a House Ethics committee in 2012.

Senator Ulysses Currie was found not guilty of corruption charges stemming from allegations he improperly used his influence to benefit Shoppers Food. He will face a House Ethics committee in 2012.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A new ethics panel of seven state senators will consider posting Maryland lawmakers’ financial disclosure statements online and establishing sanctions that could include fines for ethical transgressions, the panel’s chairman said Friday during the group’s first meeting.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, also said the panel will consider creating disincentives for lawmakers to violate ethics rules, such as loss of pensions.

The panel aims to submit recommendations by March 1, so the General Assembly can consider legislation on them this year. A task force in the General Assembly last reviewed ethics reforms in 1999, senators on the panel said.

The decision by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, to form a commission this year follows a high-profile federal case against Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, who was acquitted of federal bribery and extortion charges in November for failing to note work he did for a grocery store chain in his financial disclosure forms.

Posting financial disclosure forms online would make it much easier for the public to see them. Currently, people who want to see the forms must appear in person at the state ethics commission in Annapolis and present identification. Then, the lawmaker whose forms are viewed is notified.

Raskin, who pointed out that the Center of Public Integrity has given Maryland a grade of “D” for its disclosure standards for legislators, said many states already make financial disclosure forms available online.

As for sanctions, the General Assembly currently can reprimand, censure or expel a lawmaker. Raskin said he wants the panel to examine a greater variety of options, such as fines.

The commission’s recommendations also would apply to executive branch employees. William Somerville, the General Assembly’s ethics counselor, said about 12,000 state employees submit financial disclosure forms.

A separate Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics will be considering potential sanctions this session against Currie for failing to disclose payments of more than $245,000 from Shoppers Food Warehouse between 2003 and 2008.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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