Changes to the state’s government ethics laws are moving ahead in the South Carolina Senate, with one remaining vote this week.
The Senate OK’d the option of entertaining some last-minute amendments, but the bulk of the bill has been decided–on the Senate side that is.
Some key items in this version of the bill:
-No role for an independent ethics commission in hearing violations of state legislators. Claims will be heard by either the House or the Senate. The governor and a special ethics task force called for increasing the power of the State Ethics Commission to stop lawmakers from policing their peers.
“It’s not broken,” said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. “We have functioned under that system for years. We’ve had members expelled, reprimanded, fined, we’ve had members resign. A vast majority of the Senate don’t accept that criticism.”
-Lawmakers must reveal every source of income, including consulting arrangements and contracts. Then, they must recuse themselves from debating or voting on a bill if it is connected to an employer. It only includes who is paying a legislator, not how much.
– Third-party campaign committees must reveal their backers. A few of these groups, with innocuous names, targeted a few senior GOP legislators in the most recent election.
“But you don’t know who is really financing that effort. Is is the oil companies, is it the electric companies, is it the labor unions?” said Hutto.
Also, the bill will not establish a “public integrity unit” to investigate ethics infractions by public officials. A separate bill, S. 505, is now in the Senate Judiciary to allow different agencies to work together for that purpose.
One set of amendments yet to be heard would further limit use of the state airplane. Some senators, in this and a separate bill, are calling for the governor to reimburse the state if there is any fundraising or campaigning done on an official trip. Democrats have questioned Gov. Nikki Haley’s use of the plane, but these changes would apply to all governors.
The House must consider and vote on the Senate changes.