S.C. lawmakers could no longer investigate themselves, and public officials soon could have to reveal their sources of private income.
After four years of ethics-reform efforts, lawmakers approved both proposals late Wednesday as the legislative session ended, sending the bills to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature.
“I’m relieved to have these two important bills across the finish line and on the governor’s desk,” said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who pushed for the proposals.
Lawmakers have been criticized for investigating ethics complaints against other House and Senate members. Critics say it is impossible for lawmakers to be objective about their colleagues.
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“It is wonderful that we will now have independent law-enforcement professionals investigating complaints against legislators,” said Lynn Teague of the League of Women Voters. The reform will give the public more confidence in the objectivity of investigations, she said.
In addition, shedding light on where public officials get their money will reveal potential conflicts of interest, ethics advocates say.
“South Carolina's public officials are joining others all over our country in being required to report private sources of income,” Teague said.
While the proposal is not everything that reform advocates hoped for, it is “a big step forward,” she added.
For example, Teague said the proposal did not include requiring lawmakers to disclose the amounts of income they receive from businesses that lobby the Legislature.
State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, criticized the income disclosure proposal, saying the proposal simply codifies lawmakers listing the occupation they already list in the legislative manual.
In addition, listing sources of income could make it more difficult to attract some people into public service, Hutto said. Some could see it as an invasion of privacy, he said.
Republican Gov. Haley has made strengthening the state’s ethics laws a top priority.
In late 2012, Haley formed a blue-ribbon committee to evaluate state laws governing how public officials behave.
After taking office in 2014, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, also formed a special House panel to examine the state’s ethics laws. Lucas succeeded former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who resigned after pleading guilty to spending campaign money on personal uses.
Out of the nearly 20 recommendations, two passed.
S.C. House kills study of moving Confederate flag, military museum
S.C. House members voted to sustain Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a study into moving the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum to Charleston from Columbia, killing that proposal.
The Columbia Mills Building that houses the Relic Room is being examined as part of a state buildings study conducted by the state Department of Administration, Haley said in her veto message. She said that study will consider whether it makes sense to move the Relic Room.
“This veiled attempt to justify the co-location of the (Confederate submarine) H.L. Hunley and Confederate Relic Room is nothing more than a legislative pet project and should not become law,” Haley said in her veto message.
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, responded the study was “an unveiled attempt to save money.” In its current location, the Relic Room “loses money, hand over fist,” he added.
Still, Limehouse encouraged House members to sustain Haley’s veto, citing the Department of Administration building study.
Statement by SC Governor Nikki Haley on ethics reform
“Tonight, after four years of hard work, the people of South Carolina have a real reason to celebrate. Income disclosure and independent investigations will help restore the people's trust in state government by making it more accountable to those it serves. We thank the House and Senate for keeping their promise and helping us bring this home.”
SOURCE: SC Governor’s office