Editorial: Get to work on ethics, restructuring, elections reforms

April 7, 2013 

— LEGISLATORS return from their spring break Tuesday for the final nine weeks of a session that has produced precious little for anyone to brag about.

Oh, the Senate has passed a bill to dismantle the anachronistic Budget and Control Board and turn most administrative duties over to the governor, the House has voted to end our adjutant general’s status as the only military leader in the free world who is elected rather than appointed, and both bodies have passed bills designed to prevent a repeat of last year’s ballot fiasco (although only the House bill addresses the pre-existing problem of political parties acting as official agents of the state).

All three of those reforms are long, long overdue, but they’re far from becoming law: A bill must pass both bodies in order to become law, and so far the House hasn’t even held the first subcommittee meeting on the Department of Administration bill, the Senate just failed to muster the needed two-thirds vote to advance changes to another constitutional office, and neither body has passed the other’s ballot bill.

In fact, the only significant bill that the Legislature managed to turn into law in the first 11 weeks in session is a measure to close what some considered a loophole in a sweepstakes law that video gambling operators were using to revive their banished business. It’s an extremely important law, and we commend legislators for finally passing it. But there is much, much more to be done.

Six months after hackers stole the Social Security and bank account numbers of six million South Carolinians, neither the House nor the Senate has acted to protect us from additional breaches. A Senate committee finally approved a bill empowering a centralized information technology office to set and enforce standards for cybersecurity, purchases and protocol across state government, but the full Senate has yet to take up the measure, and a House panel reviewing the matter hasn’t even written a bill yet.

Progress is even slower on the year’s other crisis-induced priority: ethics reform. Bills introduced in the House and Senate include most of the changes we need: meaningful disclosure of politicians’ potential conflicts of interest, from the sources of their income to the sources of campaign funds, an independent system for policing legislators’ compliance with the law, and a robust set of teeth to replace the loopholes in our open-government law. Subcommittees are holding hearings on the measures. But neither seems in any hurry to approve a bill. Which is outrageous.

And neither body has even pretended an interest in getting the unaccountable local election boards out of the business of running the state’s elections, much less getting the Legislature out of the business of meddling in those local matters that truly are local matters. Or overhauling our antiquated tax code.

At this point, we might have to acknowledge that those last items will be ignored — yet again. But there is simply no justification for failure to act on ethics reform, cybersecurity and cleaning up the messes in our law that allowed last year’s elections to be so disastrous, from filing through voting.

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