Even as the Legislature was purportedly closing in on a new ethics bill that would give the public more information about their state lawmakers, the House of Representatives passed an unrelated bill that would keep the public in the dark.

One step forward, another step back?

Fortunately, though, late last week a Senate subcommittee wisely put the brakes on that ill-advised legislation's progress toward passage.

The House proposal was supposed to protect the rights of the innocent while also keeping vital information about criminal cases from being expunged.

Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said law enforcement agencies statewide have been destroying too many reports and files about their investigations after judges have ordered them expunged.

But House Bill 4560, which was approved by a 106-0 vote in that chamber, would produce serious problems of its own.

Yes, it would narrow the scope of what is redacted in police reports - but it also would seal the remaining information from the public.

Mr. Smith, a criminal defense lawyer, said he got help from the S.C. Sheriffs' Association in drafting the wording of his bill, but he was unaware of an attorney general's opinion that said incident reports and other documentation of an investigation should be saved.

As a matter of course, legislators ought to seek the input of experts in the area being addressed.

Someone with a thorough knowledge about freedom of information laws in South Carolina should have been consulted before the March House vote to ensure that the wording of the bill didn't diminish the public's right to know.

Rep. Smith said he is "all for keeping public records public. So maybe this is a good opportunity to take another look at this."

That's wise.

But it would also be wise for lawmakers to assure needed transparency on what public bodies are doing - and to work harder to protect freedom of information in all of their deliberations.

As reported in Saturday's Post and Courier, that Senate subcommittee refused to go along with the House version. Instead, it formed a study group to give the matter further review.

Now lawmakers in both the Senate and House can re-focus on a more productive - and open - way to balance the bill's stated goals.

As Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, told our reporter: "What we're headed for is a collision of someone's personal right to be fully exonerated versus any public interest in maintaining a record of an alleged crime. I'm sure there's a way to sort that out."

And we're sure the General Assembly can do better than that fatally flawed House bill.