ANNAPOLIS, MD—Following another wave of indictments against Maryland officeholders, Governor Larry Hogan on Tuesday unveiled a new package of ethics reforms to address a “culture of corruption” among public officials – and on the same day a new independent poll showed that “voters want lawmakers to focus on crime,” he called on legislators to pass his crime package.
Speaking at the State House the day before the start of the new legislative session, Governor Hogan announced that he will introduce the Ethics and Accountability in Government Act. Key provisions include:
- Increasing fines for bribery of public officials by 1,000%
- Forcing convicted lawmakers to forfeit their taxpayer-funded pensions
- Expanding prohibitions of misuse of confidential information by public officials
- Empowering the Ethics Commission to directly assess penalties against public officials
“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.
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.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Governor Hogan stressed that the focus of this legislative session should be accountability.
“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 reinforced the importance of accountability legislation that he announced last month pertaining to crime and education, including:
- 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 under-performing schools by empowering communities to designate “Innovation Schools” that operate with greater local autonomy and flexibility.