Legislatively, this has been a good year for South Carolina's card-playing adults with young children in school.
But for older schoolchildren? Not so much.
And advocates for the environment are conflicted. One step forward, one step back.
But the most disappointed are those who want ethical government. Unless the Legislature votes for reform when it reconvenes on June 17, they are out of luck.
On Thursday it appeared that the General Assembly was finally prepared to make some improvements in the state's ethics laws, which were last significantly strengthened in 1992. But Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, filibustered and blocked a vote. The Legislature shouldn't let another year go by without at least some reforms.
The bill has significant shortcomings. But its good points include:
- Requiring public officials and candidates to disclose the sources of their private income and that of their immediate family members. The public would be able to see who officials might be beholden to.
- Banning PACs tied to elected officials through which funds can be funneled to cooperative legislators.
- Establishing a committee composed of four prosecutors and four public defenders whose job will be to determine whether ethics complaints should be investigated as criminal offenses or technical ones.
Unfortunately, the bill fails on the most important issue by not providing for independent investigations of allegations against lawmakers, leaving the task up to their peers in the House and Senate.
The matter of independent investigation and adjudication of elected officials is essential to accountability. It would put the Legislature on the same playing field as the rest of the elected officials in the state.
With lawmakers continuing to handle ethics complaints against their colleagues, the fox is still guarding the henhouse.
As for card playing, the Legislature has decriminalized social games so that people can enjoy a game of bridge or Canasta at home or in a social setting without fear of the "card police."
And young children? The Read to Succeed Act focuses on literacy by providing reading coaches, summer reading camps and teacher training in an effort to ensure students can read by the fourth grade. Those who cannot will be retained.
It also expands kindergarten for 4-year-olds. Studies indicate early childhood learning is critical.
Older students, however, will have no assurance that they are receiving medically accurate information in sex education classes. A bill requiring that was effectively killed by Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, late last month.
On the environmental front: The General Assembly passed a bill that will encourage the use of solar panels, which are easy on the planet and can save people money.
But it blundered when it made an exception for homeowners at Debordieu to rebuild and extend seawalls to protect their beachfront houses. Science is clear: Seawalls and other hard erosion control devices cause more erosion down the beach.
And lawmakers also let citizens down by lumping together in one bill a move to allow the College of Charleston to offer more graduate degrees and an initiative to give Clemson University more autonomy in its building program. The two important, disparate issues should be dealt with individually.
On the issue of government reform the Legislature finally approved the creation of a Department of Administration, a Cabinet agency that will assume a wide range of duties formerly under the authority of the Budget and Control Board. Those include personnel, property and fleet management and information technology.
In most states those duties are the responsibility of the governor. Our chief executive should have the same authority.
South Carolina is the only state in the nation where the adjutant general is elected. A bill approved by the Legislature would allow voters in November to give that authority to the governor. It also would establish minimum educational and service standards for the adjutant general, who heads the state National Guard.
And the Legislature approved a reform bill to make election operations uniform in counties throughout the state.
Approval of that bill was forced by a threatened lawsuit by constitutional activist Edward Sloan. The fact that an attorney general's opinion agreed with Mr. Sloan's position was a clear warning that a failure to act could have put the Tuesday primary elections in jeopardy.
In the 2012 general election, 250 candidates were thrown off the ballot because of a badly written law. The state doesn't need a replay of that debacle.
Less notably, legislators gave themselves a $12,000 backdoor pay hike, by doubling their in-district expense allowance. It may be short-lived, since Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to veto that budget proviso. As she should. If legislators want to raise their salaries they should forthrightly make the case for a fat increase for their part-time jobs.
The General Assembly appears incapable of completing its business in a timely manner, and this year is no exception. Lawmakers will return in mid-June to take care of unfinished business, including the ethics bill and the University of Charleston proposal.
There's still a brief opportunity for the Legislature to burnish its uneven record for the year.
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