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Ethics? We don’t need no stinking ethics

If the Maryland General Assembly wasn’t content to add insult to injury by making it even more difficult to petition bad legislation to referendum, there is currently a bill floating about the House of Delegates that would enable lawmakers to use taxpayer dollars to fight – for or against – any bill that becomes a ballot question.

The first detestable effort, House Bill 493 – The “Referendum Integrity Act” – would, among other odious edicts – enforce the altering of petition information from signatories; establish additional requirements for those gathering the petitions; force a petition sponsor to form a ‘ballot issue’ committee; and generally make petitioners jump through more hoops than the Lipizzaner Stallions.

See, some fool who happened to believe the people had a right to attempt to overturn select pieces of wretched legislation included a section addressing that right in the current version of the Maryland Constitution.

Article XVI, Section 1 – “The people reserve to themselves power known as The Referendum, by petition to have submitted to the registered voters of the State, to approve or reject at the polls, any Act, or part of any Act of the General Assembly” – presents the largest of the thorns in the side of the majority Democratic party.

To Maryland legislators, that pesky Constitution has proved quite the roadblock for Maryland’s ruling class. As a result, lawmakers have opted to play fast and loose with ethics rules, or, as is the case with House Bill 867, attempt to overturn current laws they deem obstructionist.

Yet, even more egregious is not the august assembly’s thirst for stifling dissent, but their longing to take the people’s money and use it to defeat them (or enact dreadful legislation in spite of them) may just be the most repulsive action to date.

Sponsored by Delegate Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D – Baltimore City) HB 867 would, if passed, authorize members of the General Assembly to use public resources to promote the success/defeat of a ballot issue.

Using one of last November’s ballot questions as an example, HB 867 would permit your elected officials to not only pass a law creating new, gerrymandered legislative districts to solidify their chances at reelection, but would also allow them to send out mailers on state letterhead; flood voting rolls with emails; and even sanction the use of state computers, mailrooms and print shops for preparation of such literature.

Well, given Maryland’s transparent government is as fake as John Boehner’s tan it’s heartwarming to see lawmakers so open and honest when it comes to ethics violations.

Oh, right… HB 867 would overturn Ethics Opinion #12 (issued by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics). Opinion #12, found in the Annotated Code of Maryland, responds to concerns about inappropriate uses of Assembly letterhead, the legislative email system and other General Assembly resources, and clearly states that the “official stationery of a delegate or senator is provided at taxpayer expense and is intended for use in official General Assembly business and for customary constituent services.  Other correspondence, particularly if it relates to a political campaign, must be sent on stationery that is not printed at the General Assembly’s expense.”

This opinion, the Joint Committee wrote, is “intended to provide more explicit standards of ethical conduct.”

And therein lies the problem: most members of the Maryland General Assembly wouldn’t understand ethical conduct if it bribed them in a grocery store parking lot or it failed to disclose lobbyist income.

What a pity our ‘leaders’ don’t work as hard on our behalf after their election as they do on bending the rules once they’re in office.

Which begs the question: how many state delegates does it take to screw the taxpayer? Only the ones we allow to get away with it.

The hearing on HB 867 is scheduled for March 1 at 1:00 p.m.

J. Doug Gill is the Maryland State House Examiner for Examiner.com, and a veteran freelance writer, has been hip-deep in Maryland politics for nearly 50 years – one of the hazards of having been a lifelong resident of the “Free State.” He spent seven years as the communications director for a Maryland lobbyist organization, where he witnessed first-hand the astuteness of Otto Von Bismarck’s observation that “laws are like sausages: it is better to not see them made.”

Categories: Elections, Featured Posts, Government Transparency, Must Read, Opinion, Policy, Politics
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