The Senate has rejected an attempt by House lawmakers to substitute revisions to the state Freedom of Information Act in a bill passed by the Senate to regulate the release of police dash cam video.
The House made the swap after a senator halted progress of the FOIA bill in the Senate. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the year on Thursday.
The House passed the swap by voice vote Tuesday and the Senate took it up later in the afternoon.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin of Pickens told the Senate he did not think the swap was germane and pointed out the Senate had not debated the proposed FOIA revisions.
“I cannot begin to support that in that bill,” he said. “Regardless of how you feel about it, in the 11th hour, it’s not going to be put in a conference report.”
House judiciary committee members said at the time of the swap they liked both bills but were afraid unless they placed the FOIA language in the dash cam bill and removed the dash cam legislation, the FOIA legislation might die.
Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Colleton County Democrat, has blocked revisions to the House-passed FOIA bill saying she objects to smaller counties being limited in what they can charge for public records requests following an incident there in which clerks were inundated with such requests.
The proposed revisions would require copying fees for records not exceed rates by copying businesses and would limit fees to retrieve records to rates no higher than the lowest salary of the employees handling the records. Copy charges also would be banned if the information is released in electronic form.
The time agencies have to decide whether to release information would also be cut under the bill from 15 days to 10 days. An administrative process would be established under the bill to handle disputes over information requests to avoid all such disputes being handled before a circuit judge.
Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Darlington County Democrat, said he wants to send a message to the House there is “no working out on this issue.”
“They’ve tried to embarrass my colleague (Matthews) on that issue and there’s some of us that don’t want to let that happen,” he said.
Martin said he or his designee will be on any conference committee negotiating differences between the House and Senate.
“I can promise you, you have my word, there will be no accepting of the FOIA legislation,” Martin told Malloy.
The Senate’s vote means the bill’s differences will have to be worked out by a conference committee.
Rep. Bill Taylor, an Aiken Republican, has called out Matthews over her objection, telling his constituents that she alone is jeopardizing the bill.
Martin has said he is not opposed to the FOIA revisions but does object to what the House did.
Under the Senate dash cam bill, law enforcement dash camera videos of officer shootings would be considered public and available under the state Freedom of Information Act but police and prosecutors could ask a circuit judge to withhold their release if there is “clear and convincing” evidence the video falls under one of several exemptions, such as depriving a defendant the right to a fair trial, interfering with a prospective law enforcement action or constituting an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.
The hearing must be requested within 15 days and would require a judge’s private review of the video.
Martin said the bill would prevent situations that can occur now in which police withhold a dash cam video but do not explain why or say simply that the investigation is not complete.
Martin in December said he filed his bill in response to the fatal shooting in July of Zachary Hammond, a Seneca teen, by a police officer that was captured on the officer’s dashboard camera.
The Greenville News filed a state Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the video after the shooting and eventually sued for its release.
The video was released near the end of October after 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams concluded that the officer’s actions did not constitute a crime.
Martin said he was concerned over delays in the release of the video in the Seneca case but also in the year-long delay in the release of a video of a killing of a Chicago teen by an officer there.
He said the bill would provide consistency for law enforcement, prosecutors and the public instead of the current handling of such requests, in which he said police or prosecutors do not have to detail why they are not releasing the video.
The bill offers similar standards for making videos public under federal law.
It also would withhold the utterances of a dying victim captured on a 911 call unless released by the next of kin.
Martin said such situations aren’t common but believes it is respectful of the family to keep such tragic moments out of the public view unless and until they may be broadcast or released in a court proceeding.