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Md. Senator Wants Financial Disclosures Online

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One of the first major changes to Maryland ethics laws in more than a decade is expected to be introduced to the state Senate next week. 

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said he plans to file legislation Monday that would require lawmakers and eventually thousands of Maryland government employees to file their financial disclosures electronically. The bill would also require the state to post those forms on the Internet. 

The legislation, born out of the work of a panel of senators tasked with revising state ethics laws, would force legislators and state employees with cabinet-level positions to file their disclosure forms electronically and have those forms listed on the Internet by July 2013. Thousands of other employees who deal with public policy would have their filings listed online by July 2015.

About 12,000 state employees submit financial disclosure forms.

“We need to have a fully sunlit opportunity for inspection, and that means the Internet,” Raskin said Friday morning.

Currently, people who want to review financial disclosure forms must travel to the state ethics commission in Annapolis in person and present identification. Then, the lawmaker whose forms are viewed is notified.

The panel, appointed last month by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, is led by Raskin. The last time ethics laws were revised was the late 1990s, when lawmakers tightened laws governing receptions for lawmakers, gifts and financial disclosures.

Miller's decision to form the panel follows a high-profile federal case against Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George's, who was acquitted in November of federal bribery and extortion charges. A separate Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics is considering potential sanctions against Currie for failing to disclose payments of more than $245,000 from Shoppers Food Warehouse between 2003 and 2008.

Raskin's bill, which he asked the other six members of the panel to co-sponsor, exempts county and municipal governments from posting the disclosure forms online.

However, representatives from the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League asked the panel to amend portions of a 2010 disclosure law, saying that it is too far-reaching and makes it difficult to attract qualified candidates for local public office.

“We have folks at the local level who are candidly saying, ‘I'm not sure I want to go through this difficulty and go through this disclosure to talk about if I have shares of Hewlett-Packard stock, just so I can sit on this local board within my county that has absolutely nothing to do with those broader corporations and financial holdings,’” said Michael Sanderson, executive director of the association of Counties.

The panel also is expected to examine sanctions the legislature can impose on colleagues found to be in violation of ethics rules and whether those lawmakers should be granted access to their pensions.

The group is expected to continue meeting and deliver initial recommendations to the full Senate by March 1. They will continue to meet after that date to develop more recommendations for the General Assembly to consider in 2013.

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