Md. Home committees reshuffled as ethics questions come up

Md. House committees reshuffled as ethics questions arise

Del. Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel), a Democratic delegate in her first time period, was booted from a committee amid questions on her authorized illustration of a church-affiliated group that obtained state funding.

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Del. Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel) walks to the Home Methods and Means Committee Tuesday. Henson was reassigned to the committee amid ethics questions. (Maryland Issues / Bryan P. Sears)

A muted mid-session reshuffling of two Maryland Home of Delegates committees final week raised questions on a possible battle of curiosity involving an Anne Arundel County Democrat and her authorized work on behalf of a church-affiliated nonprofit that has lately obtained state funding.

Del. Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel) was moved off the Home Appropriations Committee final Friday and changed with Del. Dana Jones (D-Anne Arundel). Henson was re-assigned to Jones’ seat on the Methods and Means Committee. Each signify District 30A.

The announcement was made on the ground by Home Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) similtaneously the committee project for a newly sworn-in delegate. In a subsequent press launch saying the brand new lawmaker, the Henson and Jones committee flip-flop was omitted.

Henson, a Democratic delegate in her first elected time period, was booted from the important thing committee project amid questions on her authorized illustration of a church-affiliated group on purposes for legislative bond funding.

Del. Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel). (Maryland Issues / Bryan P. Sears)

Henson declined to talk to a reporter or supply a written assertion in regards to the committee reassignment or the bond funding purposes.

A supply accustomed to the committee swap confirmed that moral issues arose from Henson’s relationship to Odenton-based Kingdom Kare, the nonprofit arm for the nondenominational Kingdom Celebration Heart. The church’s associated nonprofit neighborhood outreach packages sought greater than $1.5 million in funding by means of the legislative bond program since 2020.

A spokesperson for the speaker’s workplace mentioned Jones was unavailable for remark.

Assets for the legislative bond program are restricted and requests all the time outstrip want. By one estimate, annual requests could be 10 occasions greater than accessible funding.

Henson was listed because the “authorized consultant” for the Kingdom Kare on no less than two legislative bond requests whereas she was a legislator. A 2021 ethics disclosure filed with the Normal Meeting didn’t record the group as a supply of potential battle.

Henson had served on the Home Appropriations Committee since 2019 when she was appointed to fill the emptiness created by the dying of then-Home Speaker Michael Busch. Earlier this 12 months, she was appointed to that panel’s Capital Price range Subcommittee, which opinions and makes suggestions on capital bond tasks together with the so-called legislative bond initiatives.

Kingdom Kare obtained $200,000 for a undertaking in 2020. Two years later, they had been granted one other $850,000 for a veteran’s middle. The group was looking for one other $650,000 this 12 months to finish that undertaking.

Henson is listed because the authorized consultant on Kingdom Kare’s funding request in 2022. This 12 months, she was once more listed because the consultant, however this time as Shaneka Johnson.

The delegate practices regulation in Annapolis and is principal counsel of Johnson Authorized Group, the place she makes use of her married title.

She can be a member of Kingdom Celebration Heart.

The Normal Meeting’s part-time construction makes the potential for conflicts of curiosity — actual or simply the looks — an ever-present concern.

Lawmakers are regularly cautioned about potential ethics landmines. A handbook offered to delegates and senators states:

“It can be crucial for legislators to look at their exterior pursuits from the angle of a median member of most people to find out if something presents the looks of a battle. Moreover, sure relationships or pursuits create the authorized presumption of a battle of curiosity. A legislator with a presumed battle should both abstain from legislative motion regarding the problem or file a disclaimer. If doubtful, a legislator ought to seek the advice of with the Ethics Counsel to find out whether or not a selected problem must be the topic of a disclaimer or recusal.”

Of specific concern are relationships that are “direct and private” to the lawmaker or a partner, dependent baby or employer.

“The Ethics Committee has decided that that provision applies to pursuits which might be fairly narrowly targeted and as to which a transparent monetary affect would movement from the passage or defeat of the laws or the success or failure of the matter,” mentioned Deadra Daly, ethics counsel to the Normal Meeting.

Daly spoke usually about ethics guidelines that apply to all lawmakers and never particular incidents or legislators.

Some conflicts could be disclaimed after the lawmaker discloses them in public data filed with the legislature. Others involving these direct monetary implications might require a lawmaker to recuse themselves.

Not all potential conflicts require lawmakers to recuse themselves from legislative actions. Others involving direct monetary implications might require a lawmaker to recuse themselves.

Henson disclosed possession of her regulation agency in stories filed with the Maryland State Ethics Fee in addition to the 2021 disclosure filed with the Normal Meeting’s ethics counsel.

The 2021 disclosure associated to the overall work of her regulation follow, however didn’t particularly reference Kingdom Kare and certain wouldn’t be thought-about particular sufficient to fulfill disclosure necessities for potential monetary conflicts.

It’s unknown if Henson obtained any funds from Kingdom Kare for her work as its authorized consultant. She declined to reply questions concerning fee.

Daly mentioned the disclosures filed by lawmakers can “apply to a selected invoice or to all issues that fall inside a particularly described topic space.”

Daly used the instance of a fictional lawmaker who owns property in western Maryland that could possibly be open to the pure gasoline extraction course of often called fracking.

In that case, a lawmaker looking for to deny a battle associated to fracking laws wouldn’t go far sufficient in the event that they solely disclosed a possible battle concerning a “property in western Maryland.” The lawmaker must particularly disclaim the battle with fracking.

On uncommon events, lawmakers are publicly rebuked for conflicts.

In 2017, the Home and Senate voted to reprimand then-Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) for paid consulting work carried out for an organization looking for a medical hashish license.

4 years earlier, then-Del. Tony McConkey (R-Anne Arundel) was reprimanded for providing amendments that made modifications to an actual property restitution fund. The modifications affected seven licensed actual property brokers together with McConkey.

William F. Zorzi contributed to this report.

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