COLUMBIA -- After much criticism by Gov. Nikki Haley, outside groups and House members the South Carolina Senate is poised to pass two ethics bills today, one of which will end the practice of self-policing by lawmakers themselves.
The measure, along with another requiring lawmakers disclose their income sources-- but not the amounts--would be a major legacy victory for Haley, if passed. The second-term governor has made ethics a signature platform issue. But there was no “bring it home” tweet from Haley, who frequently uses social media to make lawmakers and the public aware of her stances, Tuesday after senators gave second reading to a bill creating an independent ethics commission for lawmakers.
Second reading is typically a critical vote for bills, but it’s been in vogue for the Senate to vote for second reading just to advance a bill, but reserving the right to amend it on third reading. This move is made possible by Senate Rule 26.
Even with a possible chance to amend today, Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, expects the Senate will send the bill to the governor--more than a year after the House approved it last February.
“I’m optimistic, we’ll see if it’s misplaced optimism,” Martin said. “I don’t sense that there’s a mood to hold these up at this point.”
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, also has a positive outlook on the measures, though some kinks remain.
“We definitely made some progress,” Massey said.
A vote on the income disclosure bill is expected first before taking up the bill to strengthen the State Ethics Commission by creating an eight-member board. Four members would be appointed by the governor and Democratic and Republican lawmakers would each add two members.
Six of the eight commissioners would have to agree before ethics hearings would be held.
Currently the House and Senate investigate their own ethics complaints.
Three senators were appointed Tuesday and join three House members on a conference committee that meets at 2:30 p.m. to hash out details over a state Department of Transportation restructuring bill. The bill, which originally included funding provisions, has been stripped down to just restructure SCDOT Commission appointments. The House caused major heartburn with the Senate when members overwhelmingly approved changes allowing the House to be part of the commissioner confirmation process.
The move enraged Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, who said weeks ago he would not be part of the conference committee if asked. But on Tuesday Grooms along with Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, and Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, were appointed.
“At the time it seemed like there was no hope,” Grooms said, explaining his change of heart. “Now there is.”
The three will join House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, House roads bill author Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia.
If the group finds common ground they could send the restructuring bill right on down to Haley today. Is that possible? Sure, one insider said Tuesday, just not probable.
Massey said until he’s seen sufficient movement on the restructuring bill a vote to send $200 million a year to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank--to finance a future $2.2 billion bond for infrastructure improvements--the bill won’t receive a third reading.
The bond bill enjoys broad bi-partisan support, with only Sens. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, and Shane Martin, R-Pauline, voting against the bill in the Senate Finance Committee last week. It does not raise taxes or fees, but swaps $200 million in state Department of Motor Vehicles and SCDOT fees and fines with annualized budget dollars. The fees allow the infrastructure bank to leverage the money into revenue bonds.
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