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New Ethics Reforms Hope To Bring An End To Political Scandals

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- As the clock ticks down on the final hours of the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day legislative session in Annapolis, several current and former lawmakers are in the spotlight after being connected to political scandals.

Those stunning incidents led to significant ethics reforms, but watchdog groups are asking, do they go far enough?

Some watchdog groups say any reform is a good thing, but there needs to be more.

Senator Nathaniel Oaks, of Baltimore, was in federal court on Friday to face criminal charges, but he was back on the job in Annapolis Monday.

Oaks laughed on the senate floor, but on Friday, the long-time southwest Baltimore lawmaker appeared in handcuffs, facing a federal judge accused of taking cash to help a developer.

It's the latest in a string of corruption scandals that have stung Maryland legislators.

"There's very little that can be done to restore public trust when something that blatant and that brazen does occur, but this bill is a good step forward," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, with Common Cause Maryland.

Bevan-Dangel, with watchdog group Common Cause, praises changes to ethics laws that mandate lawmakers disclose their business interests.

"At least send a message out there that this behavior won't be accepted," said Bevan-Dangel.

Fellow lawmakers reprimanded Baltimore County Delegate Dan Morhaim for failing to reveal ties to a company trying to get a medical marijuana license.

But the ethics reform would do little to prevent other scandalsm including Gary Brown Jr., an aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, charged just days before his swearing in as a delegate.

He was accused of breaking campaign finance laws for funneling money to his family above legal limits, which went to the mayoral campaign.

"You're innocent until proven otherwise," Pugh said back in January.

Delegate Michael Vaughn resigned just an hour before the session started, and was later charged in a federal bribery probe that also snagged former delegate William Campos, a rising star in Maryland politics, and a founder of the state's latino caucus.

The governor told WJZ he's proud of the new ethics bill, and plans to sign it.

"We started the session with indictments and ended the session with indictments," said Gov. Hogan. "And I think that got legislators to focus on it. Every single one of them voted for the bill, which hasn't happened in 15 years."

Senator Oaks and Gary Brown say they are not guilty of the charges against them. Former Delegate Vaughn had no comment.

Former Delegate Campos entered a guilty plea, and Delegate Morhaim never faced criminal charges.

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