Palmetto Sunrise: Ethics bills start to push front and center

The South Carolina Statehouse. Grace Beahm/Staff

Gov. Nikki Haley’s roads plan has absorbed most of the ink lately, but ethics reform could be taken up by both the House and Senate in the coming days.

The House has broken its ethics reform package into around 20 separate bills, including FOIA or transparency reforms. Several of them are in front of the House Judiciary Committee today.

The Senate bill could be taken up by the full Senate anytime.

The measure, S.1, sponsored by Sen. Larry Martin, would create a new committee to investigate complaints against lawmakers and require elected officials to disclose private sources of income.

Martin’s bill is already facing opposition, namely from the S.C. Policy Council. The small govermment advocacy group points specifically at the key provision in the bill that would set up a committee, appointed by the Legislature and governor, to investigate elected officials. Both the House and Senate would maintain their own ethics committees to mete out punishment after the initial investigation is conducted.

The Policy Council wrote on its website recently that the committee isn’t an improvement. Made up of their own members, both the House and Senate have been accused of being unwilling or unable to police their own members.

“This doesn’t eliminate the legislature’s ability to police and enforce their own ethical behavior,” the Policy Council wrote. “Worse: it actually enhances legislative power by adding four legislative appointments to the State Ethics Commission. The legislature, in other words – via legislative appointments to a newly constituted Ethics Commission – would get new powers to investigate other statewide elected officials while remaining subject only to an “initial” (not full) investigation by the Ethics Commission. In short: it’s another legislative power grab.”

Ethics is clearly headed for another fight.

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