SC political briefs

January 18, 2013 

Local governments oppose bill on public records

S.C. residents told legislators Thursday that a bill strengthening the state’s public records law is needed desperately, but advocates for local governments and law enforcement contend the proposal goes too far.

A House panel heard testimony, but took no action, on a bill designed to force public agencies to respond more quickly to Freedom of Information Act requests and to bar them from charging excessive fees.

“There’s a lot of stonewalling out there,” and governments are getting away with it, said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken. “The spirit of that law has been diverted.”

The House approved a similar bill last year, but it died in the Senate.

Currently, the only way to force a public body to comply is to sue in circuit court, which means hiring a lawyer and possibly waiting years for a decision. While the law allows offenders to be charged with a misdemeanor, no one ever has been convicted, said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association.

Under a proposed amendment, appeals instead would go to the Administrative Law Court.

“This is a desperately needed law,” said Alberta Wasden of Wagener, adding the town of Swansea tried to charge her $9,996 for copies of four years’ worth of town budgets and the board minutes from 10 meetings.

Representatives for law enforcement, counties and cities testified they want to be transparent, but argued the quicker turn-around required in the bill and inability to charge administrative fees create an undue burden.

Holly Eskridge, who manages Rock Hill’s public records requests, told of a request that took her 45 hours to fulfill. She suggested a defined fee schedule.

Currently, public bodies have 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, which can include simply acknowledging receipt. The bill would require responding in seven calendar days and actually providing the information within a month – 75 days if the data is more than two years old.

Two more enter 1st District race

The filing period has not opened but South Carolina’s 1st District congressional race is getting several more candidates.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, announced Thursday that he will run for the GOP nomination in the district along the state’s south coast.

Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly also will seek GOP nomination. Ten candidates already have said they are getting into the contest.

Teddy Turner, the son of media magnate Ted Turner, held a reception Thursday to kick off his campaign. Former Gov. Mark Sanford announced his candidacy Wednesday.

Filing opens today at noon for the seat left vacant when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed U.S. Rep. Tim Scott to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the resignation of Jim DeMint.

The Associated Press

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