Maryland Ethics Bill Signed In Aftermath Of Investigations

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Larry Hogan signed an ethics reform bill Tuesday, after ethics and criminal investigations bedeviled state lawmakers from the start of the legislative session until its end.

Hogan, a Republican, called it “the first meaningful ethics reform in 15 years” during a bill signing ceremony Tuesday. He thanked House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas v. Mike Miller, Democrats from Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, for working hard to pass his proposal.

“I think it’s really going to help us turn things around here in Annapolis,” Hogan said.

The law was one of the first bills signed after the end of the legislative session on Monday at midnight. It more carefully defines a conflict of interest, clarifying when state officials need to keep their distance from businesses with interests before them. It also expands the law’s definition of a “close economic association” to include association between a legislator and an entity with which the lawmakers is negotiating employment or arranging prospective employment.

The law includes provisions that could have applied to a case handled by the legislature’s ethics panel, which recommended reprimanding Del. Dan Morhaim in March. The House voted 138-0 to reprimand the Baltimore County Democrat for using his position to advocate for changes in awarding licenses to medical marijuana producers that could have resulted in a benefit to a company that employed him as a consultant.

The company, Doctors Orders, is now a finalist to grow and process marijuana in Maryland. Morhaim said throughout the investigation that he had checked with the state’s ethics adviser and believed he was complying with the law.

The new law also forms a citizen’s advisory board to offer recommendations to the legislature’s ethics board regarding changes to public ethics law.

These changes would not have had an impact on the state and federal charges against would-be, former and sitting lawmakers who ended up in legal trouble this year.

Gary Brown, a Democrat, was indicted by state prosecutors in January on charges of making illegal campaign contributions, one day before he was scheduled to be sworn in as a Baltimore delegate.

A day later, federal prosecutors announced that a former delegate, William Campos, had pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy in a public corruption case involving the liquor industry in Prince George’s County.

And the very next day, less than an hour before the legislative session started, another Prince George’s County Democrat, Del. Michael Vaughn, abruptly announced his resignation. He was indicted in the same federal case.

On Friday, federal prosecutors announced that Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, was charged with honest services wire fraud for allegedly accepting illegal payments in exchange for using his position to help a phony real estate development.

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