Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has named a special committee to review the state's ethics laws that apply to legislators and other state and local officials and make recommendations for reforms that could be voted on as early as this year.
Miller announced Friday that he has appointed Sen. Jamie Raskin, a persistent ethics advocate, to chair the seven-member panel. "As law school professor and constitutional law expert, Senator Raskin is uniquely qualified (to) lead this committee and I look forward very much to his recommendations.
The creation of the panel comes two months after the acquittal of Sen. Ulysses S. Currie on bribery and extortion charges at a federal corruption trial at which the defense admitted ethical lapses on the Prince George's Democrat's part but insisted they weren't crimes. Those issues have been referred to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics for investigation and a potential recommendation of punishment.
The new, Senate-only panel is separate from the joint committee, which includes members of the House of Delegates as well as senators. Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, is a member of the joint panel as well as the new committee.
Miller said he has directed the Special Senate Committee on Ethics Reform to make initial recommendations to the full Senate by March 1 so that high-priority legislation can be passed during the session, which ends in April. He said the panel will continue its work after the session and make final recommendations for action in 2013.
While the timetable gives ample time for the Senate to act on any recommendations, it is unclear whether the House would feel as motivated to act quickly on proposals it did not play a role in developing. House Speaker Michael E. Busch could not be reached for comment.
Raskin said he has long believed the General Assembly should undertake a comprehensive review of its ethics laws. "Our hope is to generate some excellent ideas that we will be able to enact in the Senate and send to the House for their consideration," he said.
While the Currie case is still fresh in legislators' minds, Raskin said no single case has precipitated the review Miller has ordered.
"Every legislative body should be doing what it can to pinpoint the best practices around for professional conduct in the legislative process," Raskin said. "The basic thing is that people cannot view public office as an opportunity to make money at the expense of the public."
Also named to the panel were Democratic Sens. Bill Ferguson and Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore, James Robey of Howard County and Victor Ramirez of Prince George's County, as well as Republicans Joseph Getty of Carroll County and Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County. McFadden and Getty also serve on the joint ethics panel.