- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate voted 39-8 yesterday to prohibit lawmakers from giving scholarships under their control to their family members and to relatives of lawmakers in their districts.

The legislative scholarship program, under which lawmakers have $11.4 million to distribute in fiscal 2008, has been a source of controversy for years.

Critics, including government watchdog groups and some lawmakers, contend that the program enables lawmakers to win votes by handing out scholarships. Lawmakers supporting the program say it enables them to give scholarships for unique circumstances not covered by other state scholarship programs.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican who has spoken out against the measure in floor debates, said the bill “tries to legislate common sense” and puts lawmakers who want to distribute the scholarships themselves under “a cloud.” He also has argued that it could be hard to know the distant relatives of lawmakers in his district.

But Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican and sponsor of the measure, said the bill is needed to restore public confidence in the system.

“We can argue whether it’s fair or unfair how the media presents this, but the fact is we are getting negative attention when we can take a simple action that could avoid that,” Mr. Simonaire said.

Mr. Pipkin successfully included an amendment earlier this month requiring a lawmaker to “knowingly” award the money to a relative in order to be in violation.

The legislative scholarship program, which has been around in some form since 1924, is one of the few of its kind in the nation.

Maryland’s 2008 budget includes $6.5 million for the state’s 47 senators and $4.9 million for 141 delegates. The Senate, where members get considerably more money to distribute, has been a roadblock over the years for attempts to put the money in the hands of impartial boards.

Many lawmakers have set up committees to distance themselves from the process. In order to take themselves out of the process entirely, 20 lawmakers have turned over their scholarship money to the Maryland Higher Education Commission to make awards.

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