Ethics reform has supposedly been on the Legislature’s priority agenda for the last three years, but each year legislation has died in the state Senate.
An ethics reform bill that would provide for independent investigation of legislative ethics complaints and greater disclosure of income sources for lawmakers could be considered as early as today. The Senate should approve it.
The bill isn’t as strong as the plan recommended by Gov. Nikki Haley’s ethics review panel or the bill submitted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
But it represents a significant improvement over the current ethics law, and it appears to have the benefit of broad support in the Senate.
Sen. Martin, who saw his bill die in the Senate last year, urges passage of the current proposal.
“The question is do we go after what we think we can pass or do we go at the whole issue again and come up empty handed,” Sen. Martin said.
Gov. Haley agrees that amending the bill will only jeopardize its chances of approval.
Failure to pass ethics reform legislation is not an option that the Senate should entertain after falling short so many times. The House has approved ethics reform legislation repeatedly, including by an overwhelming margin last year, only to see the Senate drop the ball.
The ongoing dispute between Attorney General Alan Wilson and 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe over the investigation of legislative corruption is sure to heighten the public’s interest in legislative ethics reform.
It might reasonably be argued that the current bill could benefit from the pending results of that probe — assuming the matter advances to the state grand jury. But that would require taking a pass on a reform bill for yet another session.
There is nothing to preclude the Legislature from taking up additional reform proposals after passing this bill.
Indeed, the House has already approved legislation requiring disclosure of the funding sources of third-person political attack campaigns. That bill also is pending in the Senate.
In addition to independent review of legislative ethics charges, the ethics reform bill provides for higher standards of investigation that will improve the subsequent judicial process.
“Every aspect of this bill has been debated,” said Lynn Teague, vice president of the S.C. League of Women Voters. “This is a sound bill that needs to go forward and be passed.”
“Legislators are either for ethics or they are not,” is how Gov. Haley put it.
It’s time for senators to show which side they are on.