A study group appointed by the governor is wrestling with a long list of ideas to foster more ethical government activity in South Carolina. The 11-member SC Ethics Reform Commission moved closer to clearer ideas about campaign finance, enforcement of ethics laws, open records and freedom of information laws.
AUDIO: Co-chairman and former State Attorney General Henry McMaster says this is a complicated process. (:22)
One such solution is to open up the State Legislature to FOIA laws. They are exempt right now.
AUDIO: McMaster on blanket exemption for legislators (:21)
Former Dorchester Senator Mike Rose told the panel Tuesday that eliminating the exemption would require too much of part-time lawmakers with limited and shared staff.
Rose, who argued for more transparency during his years in the Senate, says the state should have an independent ethics panel to oversee all government officials, including the legislature:
AUDIO: Rose recommends the Texas model (:21)
The panel talked about letting administrative law courts hear FOIA cases or appeals along with up-front charges of percentage of an agency’s costs to fulfill information requests in order to discourage abuse.
The last reform of state ethics rules happened in the early 1990′s after the “Operation Lost Trust” legislative bribery scandal. Those laws did not go far enough, according to citizen advocacy groups and Gov. Nikki Haley.
In late 2012, Haley selected a group independent of the state legislature and gave them until the end of this month to recommend reforms to “improve the public’s trust in its officials.”
The state Legislature has assigned committees to do the same thing, but McMaster says his 11-member panel comprises leaders in business, law, journalism as well as former legislators and will “be taken seriously when they make their suggestions.”
One of those appointed commissioner is Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association.
AUDIO Rogers says, “If we can’t enforce the law, it’s not worth anything.” (:16)
The ethics study group’s recommendations are due January 28.