The 2015-2016 Legislative Session is in full swing and I wanted to let you know about an important bill that is in the Senate. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee passed out a bill that would rewrite the ethics laws in South Carolina. After the events of 2014, it is important that our ethics laws send a strong clear message. Some of the provisions in S.1., “The Ethics Reform Act” move the ball forward and some take us in the wrong direction. It will be discussed in Senate this week and could come up for a vote. Here are the good, the bad and the ugly provisions in S.1.
· Increases the time that legislators must wait before becoming lobbyists or judges to two years. Currently there is just a one-year waiting period. This increase would slow down the revolving door of legislator lobbyists.
· Campaign funds may not be used to pay penalties resulting from criminal prosecution.
· Under S.1 the only documents that become public from ethics violations are the initial complaint, the response by the legislator to the complaint, the notice of hearing and the commissions recommendations. The public should be able to access all documents related to legislators ethics cases not just a select few.
· While S.1 requires income disclosure at a more in-depth level than is currently required there is a long list of exemptions.
· The current Ethics Commission has nine members appointed by the governor. S.1’s current language would remove one seat on the commission. The governor would appoint 4 members and the four remaining members would be appointed by the legislature. It appeared that the legislature finally realized that self-policing wasn’t working. Unfortunately, our assumption the legislature recognized that seems not to be the case. See “The Ugly” below.
· Ultimately, the House and Senate Ethics committees still police legislators. While this bill gives some authority to the State Ethics Commission ultimate authority lies with the respective ethics committees.
· S.1 contains a four-year statute of limitations on ethics violations. Under this language any ethics violations committed before 2011 could not be prosecuted.
Strong ethics laws have been a focus of the South Carolina Club for Growth since our founding. Votes taken on the ethics bills will be a part of the SC Club for Growth Foundation’s 2015 Scorecard.