If you are concerned about the environment, about fair treatment of small businesses, about education, or about any of the other many areas in which government affects our lives, you should care about ethics reform.
The year started with the best intentions. In the Senate, Larrry Martin pre-filed a comprehensive reform bill, S.1. The House held very thorough pre-session hearings to consider ethics issues and develop draft bills.
The Senate's work on S.1. included behind-the-scene negotiations to get S.1. out of committee, only to have the bill fail on the floor. Senator Luke Rankin offered an amendment to provide an investigation mechanism that passed with the support of some Republicans and the Democratic caucus. The resulting bill was so flawed that supporters of the original bill voted against it.
The pre-session work in the House, resulted in several smaller bills that were drafted, debated in subcommittees, committees, and on the floor of the house. They successfully deliberated, ammended bills, and passed them. The House, under the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas, did its job.
Not having passed their own bill, the Senate was prepared to consider the House's bills, but only if they were combined into a single bill, so the House combined them as H.3722. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Senator Larry Martin, the Senate replaced the text of H.3722 with the language of S.1. without the Rankin amendment and passed it onto the floor for debate. H.3722 stalled when Senator Kent Williams used one of the Senate Rules to file an objection in which "Senator Williams desires to be present." Senator Martin attempted to go back to the smaller bills sent over by the House and address each one separately, only to have each of these bills stalled by objections from senators Lee Bright (minority reports on donor disclosure bills) and John Matthews (objections on private income disclosure and other ethics measures), each representing larger coalitions of legislators who wished to stop debate of these bills.
In 2016, senators who put the objections on the bills can remove their objections or two-thirds of the Senate members could vote to overcome the objections and provide special order to bring either H.3772 or the smaller bills to the Senate floor for debate and vote.
2016 will be the year in which we learn if two-thirds of our Senators are in Columbia for their own benefit or for the citizens of the state of South Carolina.
For more a more detailed overview of what happened to Ethics Reform in 2015 and where it needs to go in 2016, see our Fall 2015 Ethics Reform Update.
Send the message, loud and clear, that we demand real reform now.
Complete instructions and the form that officials are asked to complete are available at http://www.scpolicycouncil.org/conflict-watch. You can also check to see if your representatives have already cooperated with the project. This is not only an opportunity to learn about individual officials, but a chance to remind South Carolina's officials that we are watching and want to see a strong commitment to ethical behavior from all of them.