Legislators could soon be required to turn over any emails or letters they send involving state business — ending an exemption to South Carolina’s open records law that they’ve enjoyed for decades.
A House Ethics and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) study panel voted 19-1 Monday in favor of a proposal that would end legislators’ exemptions from open records laws. The vote was largely symbolic — the actual legislation would need to be introduced when the full General Assembly returns in January, but it signaled what House leaders will try to pass in 2015.
For four years, a bipartisan coalition of House members have tried to revamp the state’s FOIA laws to crack down on agencies that abuse or ignore the law by keeping documents secret with little consequence. The effort has been led by State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, a former journalist who said some agencies– especially small, local governments– purposely charge exorbitant fees to intimidate a person out of making the request.
“We’ve had so many subcommittee meetings over the years where we’ve heard the outrageous things that have happened with this,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “Charging $10,000 to a citizen to get some information they want? C’mon. And copying charges at $10 a page? All of that is just ludicrous.”