Last year as federal officials were ready to indict longtime Delegate Tawanna Gaines, the Prince George’s County official quickly offered up her resignation to House Speaker Adrienne Jones. A few months later, in a surprise announcement, Baltimore City State Delegate Cheryl Glenn offered up her sudden resignation as well, which was followed days later by a federal indictment for bribery and wire fraud charges due to an alleged bribery scheme that landed her over $30,000 in new found cash for political favors.
And while many were stunned by the charges, others were questioning how, and why, the legislators were able to offer up their resignation before their subsequent indictments. The reason was simple: knowing they were about to be charged with a crime that involved the misuse of their elected position, they were able to resign before charges were filed thereby leaving with their taxpayer funded state pensions intact. Had they been charged, and later convicted while in office, their lifelong pension would be forfeited.
And it is this very deceptive action that Governor Larry Hogan is trying to change as a part of his Ethics and Accountability in Government Act legislation offered up today at a press conference in Annapolis. Speaking to the press twenty-four hours before the start of the 90-day legislative session for 2020, Governor Hogan unveiled a new package of tough ethic reforms to address a culture of corruption among Maryland public officials that last year alone witnessed over a half dozen elected officials and their associates charged and/or convicted for crimes that occurred while in public office.
“It has become clear in recent months and recent weeks that a pervasive culture of corruption continues to exist, and that even tougher and more stringent laws are needed,” said Governor Hogan. “The Ethics and Accountability in Government Act of 2020 will strengthen and toughen the state ethics laws in an effort to help restore the public’s trust and bring further transparency, accountability, and honesty to Annapolis.”
During his campaign for governor, Governor Hogan pledged to hold state government to the highest ethical standards. He issued an executive order on his first day in office outlining strict standards of conduct for the governor’s executive staff and all executive branch employees. From day one, the Hogan administration has taken action to root out corruption across the state, leading to hundreds of indictments, and in 2017 Governor Hogan pushed for and enacted the most comprehensive ethics reforms in 15 years. Here’s a look at what the bill aims to accomplish:
Ethics and Accountability in Government Act (EAGA)
Tougher Penalties for Bribery. The legislation will expand the penalties for bribery of a public official by 1,000 percent, ranging from a minimum of $10,000 and a maximum of $100,000. These penalties will apply both to those who bribe or attempt to bribe a public official and to those who demand or receive a reward to influence the performance of their duties.
Pension Forfeiture for Convicted Lawmakers. The legislation will codify in statute that members of the General Assembly and state employees who are found guilty, plead guilty, or enter a plea of nolo contendere for a qualifying crime committed in the course of their duties are subject to total forfeiture of their pension benefits. This expands a provision the General Assembly passed in 2016 for the state’s constitutional officers.
Expanded Prohibitions on Misuse of Confidential Information. The legislation will expand prohibitions on misuse of confidential information by current state officials and employees to include the misuse of confidential information acquired during state service by former officials and employees.
Stronger Authority for Ethics Commission to Impose Penalties. The legislation will give the Ethics Commission the authority to directly assess civil penalties against state employees and public officials—authority it currently has with regard to lobbying. At present, with respect to state employees and public officials, the commission must request a court to assess fines of at least $5,000.
A recent Gonzalez poll recently released showed the second-term republican governor as being the most popular governor in America, bypassing the previous popular kid on the block, Massachusetts Governor Charlies Baker – who Hogan trailed as the #2 for the past few years. Also revealed in that poll was that the #1 of the majority of Marylanders is crime, especially given the five years of an increasingly violent Baltimore City. This led the nation’s most popular governor to introduce “accountability legislation” that he announced last month pertaining to crime and education.
“For the entire five years that I have been governor, I have been fighting to clean up the mess in Annapolis and to bring more transparency and accountability to state government,” said the governor. “We need more accountability for the violent criminals who are shooting and killing people on the streets of Baltimore City, more accountability in our local school systems for the billions in state tax dollars they spend, and more accountability for public officials to make sure they are deserving of the trust that the people have placed in them.”
The governor stressed the importance of House and Senate legislators passing this package of bills:
The Judicial Transparency Act requires the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to publish sentencing records of judges in violent crime cases to hold the system more accountable to the public for sentencing decisions.
The Violent Firearm Offenders Act significantly increases tougher sentences for violent offenders who commit crimes with guns.
The Witness Intimidation Prevention Act toughens penalties for witness intimidation resulting in serious physical injury or death.
The Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act helps turn around underperforming schools by empowering communities to designate “Innovation Schools” that operate with greater local autonomy and flexibility.