Your local pothole might not get fixed this year, but at least you can know when your city or county council will discuss the other issues that irk you.
Lawmakers left Columbia on Thursday under much criticism that 2015 was a do-nothing session. Top issues, including a plan to repair the state’s crumbling roads, died in the state Senate.
But House members and senators did take a small step toward more transparency for public bodies across the state.
Lawmakers passed a bill that requires agendas be posted at least 24 hours before the meeting of a public body, including city and county council meetings.
That proposal, now headed to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk, also requires two-thirds of a public body agree before making any additions to an agenda, during a meeting, that would require a vote.
That stipulation will “set up some reasonable barriers to (public bodies) slipping something by the public,” said Bill Rogers of the S.C. Press Association.
(Disclaimer: The Buzz is a member of the S.C. Press Association. The Buzz is also a fan of transparency.)
The agenda law is necessary because the S.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that public bodies do not have to publish agendas for regularly scheduled meetings. The high court said a close reading of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act showed it required public bodies only to publish the times and dates of those meetings. Since the law did not specifically say an agenda had to be published, none was required, the court ruled.
Most lawmakers thought that was “a foolish decision,” said state Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.
“This is really a bill that allows the public to know what’s going on so they can be there to talk about it and hear the debate,” Rogers said.
“That’s a foundation of doing the public’s work at any level of government,” said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
Tigerron Wells of the S.C. Municipal Association, which represents 270 incorporated town and cities, said that group advocated for the continued use of agendas — “important tools for order” — despite the Supreme Court ruling.
Wells said he was not aware of any public bodies that had abandoned the use of agendas.
Passage of the agenda bill also gives advocates of more government openness hope for movement on other Freedom of Information reforms, including a proposal to ensure the public has access to information about the cause and manner of deaths, Rogers said.
Information on deaths had been available to the public, too. But the Supreme Court ruled autopsies were medical records, not public records.
Rogers also supports a House-passed bill to establish an office in the state Administrative Law Court to resolve Freedom of Information issues, cutting down on lengthy, costly lawsuits. That proposal also would cut the time that public agencies have to respond to information requests to 10 days from 15.
That proposal is before a Senate subcommittee, which can begin consideration again when legislators return to Columbia in January for their next regular session.
“The agenda bill was a step,” Rogers said. “But there’s a lot left to be done.”
2016 in S.C.
▪ U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, will be on CNN at 9 a.m. Sunday, discussing how he thinks he can win the presidency in 2016.
▪ Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas will be in Columbia at 10 a.m. Monday at the S.C. Military Museum on Bluff Road. Perry will honor Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton and retired U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Later Monday, Perry will be in Mount Pleasant at 6 p.m.
▪ Jeb Bush will visit South Carolina June 18 at the Charleston Maritime Center. Bush formally will announce that he is running for president in Miami on June 15.
The last day on social media
On the last day of the regular session, lawmakers were vocal about the (lack of) progress made this year. A few of The Buzz’s favorite posts from Thursday:
@KlughGregory: “Want to see government move at the speed of business? Watch the Senate for the next 50 minutes.”
— State Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, on the always-frantic last hour of the session
@toddatwater: “What a wreck. The Senate hasn't passed roads, ethics, etc. So what are they discussing? National Doughnut Day. U can’t make this up.”
— State Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington
“An annual tradition of the House is to hand out members Tootsie Pops on the last day. Since I can’t cite any major accomplishments this session, I can at least say that my kids enjoyed the Tootsie Pops.”
— State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, on his Facebook page