MD Senate Dems seek ethics, transparency reforms
The state's Democratic senators today announced their legislative priorities for the year. The press conference came a day after Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, laid out his legislative agenda.
The senators' ideas hit a number of hot topics this year:
* Ethics: Sens. Jamie Raskin and Douglas Peters want all local governments to follow state ethics filing procedures. "We all read the newspapers," Raskin said, referring to the recent conviction of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. Her theft case also revealed inconsistent ethics filing practices in the city. Raskin said state lawmakers fill out comprehensive ethics forms, and "citizens have the right to expect uniform high standards." All filings would be due at the same time and centrally warehoused.
* Sex offenders: Sen James DeGrange said he will seek to expand the state's sex offender registry, bringing Maryland into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act. The senator referenced the December killing of an 11-year-old girl on the Eastern Shore. A registered sex offender is a suspect, which has pushed sex offender reforms back into the spotlight this session. The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services also wants the state to revist its sex offender registry requirements. Among the provisions in DeGrange's bill are quarterly registration instead of twice a year for the most dangerous offenders and retroactive registration for offenders convicted before 1995. The state stands to lose $2 million in federal funding if it does not comply with the Adam Walsh Act, DeGrange said.
Health insurance: Sen. Nancy King wants a 45-day cushion for people whose insurance allows them only one wellness checkup every year. Sens. Robert Garagiola and Delores Kelley want insurance companies to directly pay out-of-network health care providers, if the coverage is approved. Now, insurance companies typically mail payments to the patients, who then have to turn them over to doctors, creating "administrative inefficiencies," Garagiola said.
As the press conference concluded this morning, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller addressed a transparency issue that flared up at the start of this session. Republican leaders were among those who requested better public access to votes taken in committee. Such votes decide the life or death of every piece of legislation.
Miller said his chamber has ordered that committee votes be posted online at most 10 days after voting sessions. He hopes the votes become available much more quickly -- within a day or two. On the House of Delegates side, Speaker Michael E. Busch recently ordered that all committee votes be placed online before bills come to the floor for full consideration.