COLUMBIA — Senators voted Tuesday to move forward the House-passed ethics bill that focuses on income disclosure and third-party investigations for lawmakers, two topics that Gov. Nikki Haley mentioned as a priority during her State of the State speech last month.
One senator who opposed the legislation, Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat, issued a minority report on the legislation, saying it didn’t go far enough. He said he would prefer the Senate take up one of several bills that already are before the body. A minority report effectively can block the bill from being debated on the Senate floor.
“There are seven ethics bills on the calendar right now,” Hutto said. “The idea that somehow this one is special — the eighth one — is the charm. If we have the votes to take up ethics, all we have to do is go in the chamber tomorrow and take any one of those (seven) bills. I would suggest if we’re going to take up any bill on the floor, we should take up our comprehensive bill (passed last year) instead of the House’s bill.”
The measure does not address guidelines for third-party disclosure requirements, something Hutto said needed to be included. That would require groups that spend more than a set amount on campaign materials to identify themselves.
The Senate needs to be “serious about getting an ethics bill that is meaningful to the people of South Carolina,” he said, “one that addresses the major problem we all know we have, which is third-party expenditures.”
Judicial Committee Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said passing the House bill — introduced last year by York Rep. Tommy Pope — was an attempt to move legislation to the Senate floor, which could then be amended as it goes through the debate process.
The House and Senate have wrangled for the last year to pass ethics reform.
The Post and Courier published an investigative series called “Capitol Gains” in September that revealed how the state’s ethics laws are considered weak. Longtime critics say the system needs to be reformed so that lawmakers disclose their income sources and have independent bodies investigate potential violations.
Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.