- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — A Prince George’s County delegate is proposing a constitutional amendment to close a loophole that allows elected officials convicted of felonies to remain in office until their sentencing.

Delegate Jolene Ivey formally introduced a bill Wednesday that, if passed by the General Assembly and approved by referendum, would immediately remove officials after they are convicted of felony charges or certain misdemeanors.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, the bill would need three-fifths support in both chambers, or 85 votes in the House and 29 votes in the Senate. It has heavy bipartisan support in the House, with 86 of the chamber’s 141 delegates listed as sponsors.

Current Maryland law requires officials found guilty of felonies to leave office after sentencing, rather than after their actual conviction.

“It looks to me as if [the current law] was designed to protect the elected official and that person’s right to have that job,” said Mrs. Ivey, Prince George’s Democrat. “I just think it’s more important to protect the citizens’ right to have effective representation.”

Mrs. Ivey said the bill was inspired in part by the situation last year involving former Prince George’s Council member Leslie Johnson, who pleaded guilty in June to federal charges of conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering. In 2010, authorities said she flushed a $100,000 check down a toilet and hid $80,000 in her underwear to protect her husband, then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson.

Leslie Johnson initially said she would stay in office until her sentencing late last year, but was pressured into resigning at the end of July.

The state places no resignation requirements on officials convicted of misdemeanors, a policy that was brought to light late last year when Anne Arundel Council member Daryl D. Jones refused to leave office after he was sentenced to a five-month prison term on misdemeanor charges of failing to pay income tax.

Jones reported to prison this week, days after council members voted to remove him from office.

Mrs. Ivey said her bill has received a strong positive reaction in both General Assembly chambers, and that Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, Prince George’s Democrat, is expected to propose a Senate version of the legislation by the end of the week.

She also said the bill would allow an official whose conviction is overturned to return to office and finish the remainder of the term.

If approved by both chambers and Gov. Martin O’Malley, the proposal would be put to a statewide vote in November.

“When I first found out it would be a constitutional amendment, it really did make me take pause,” Mrs. Ivey said. “But I said, ‘Let’s just go with it and see what happens.’ The worst thing that can happen is it fails.”

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