COLUMBIA — S.C. House Republicans have quietly filed a major ethics reform bill, the result of a series of meetings earlier this year by a GOP committee studying ethics changes.
Despite the intense spotlight this year on possible ethics reforms following a series of high-profile scandals at the Statehouse, the new bill by Cayce GOP Rep. Kenny Bingham has a cadre of Republican co-sponsors but has received little publicity since its introduction last week.
Jason Zacher, the spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said that’s because the caucus isn’t yet sure whether Bingham’s proposal will end up being the caucus’ official ethics reform bill.
The House GOP could introduce a separate bill soon or build on Bingham’s legislation, Zacher said.
Bingham, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said it was time for a reform bill to be introduced.
“I just felt like it was time to move forward,” he said.
Daniel Island GOP Rep. Jim Merrill, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed similar sentiments, saying the proposal needed to get to a committee so work can begin.
The proposal has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Gov. Nikki Haley hopes to draw attention to the new legislation.
The first-term Republican’s staff this morning dropped off a letter from the governor backing the bill on each House member’s desk.
In the letter, Haley thanked Bingham and co-sponsors of the proposal and urged House members to pass ethics reforms this year.
Bingham’s proposal would makeover the State Ethics Commission, granting the House and Senate the power to make two appointments each to the commission and leaving four appointments to the governor.
Currently, the governor appoints all members of the commission.
Under Bingham’s bill, the revamped commission would initially receive and process complaints against the executive and legislative branches. Currently, the House and Senate ethics committees receive and investigate complaints against their chamber’s members.
But Bingham’s legislation would strip the ethics committees of their investigatory power, instead placing it with a new “Public Integrity Unit” first proposed by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.
The new unit would pool the resources of several existing offices.
Bingham’s bill proposes that the unit conduct investigations of complaints if the State Ethics Commission deems them founded.
Haley created a separate ethics reform commission that in January released a report calling for a series of ethics law changes. House Democrats also convened their own ethics study group, and could file legislation. Senators convened a bipartisan reform group, and a series of reform bills already have been filed in the upper chamber.
Read more in upcoming editions of The Post and Courier. Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.
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