Lawmakers promote legislation at workshop
COLUMBIA — At a state legislative workshop for media representatives Thursday, Republican Aiken County lawmakers Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, got a chance to explain and promote legislative initiatives they’re passionate about.
For the second straight year, Aiken resident Taylor is actively leading the effort for new legislation that would reform the Freedom of Information Act and provide greater access for news organizations and the public.
Massey, an Edgefield resident who works in Aiken, is working with Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, on state government restructuring, which, in part, would eliminate the Budget and Control Board and would create a Department of Administration under the governor’s authority.
Taylor introduced the FOI reform measure in the House in 2012, getting a whopping 101-1 vote in favor of it. Late in the session, however, the bill died in the Senate, ending debate for another year.
The bill is intended to provide far more government transparency, requiring all entities to respond within a reasonable time frame to requests from media and citizens.
Yet the disappointment last year, Taylor said, actually led to a stronger bill this year, thanks to collaboration with Bill Rogers – the S.C. Press Association executive director who coordinated the workshop Thursday.
Taylor readily acknowledged that the FOI issue can work both ways. Some government officials will demand thousands of dollars for a modest request of information. And some in the public unnecessarily may seek thousands of pages of material going back years.
“There are pesky people out there who are provocateurs, and that’s wrong, too,” Taylor said.
It’s a new world with all the opportunities to put public information online for people to see it, he said. School boards, and town and county councils should consider putting up items electronically simply by scanning them, he said.
The bill also has another key component – allowing citizens to get relief in Magistrate’s Court if they are being denied reasonably prompt attention from government entities. At the same time, those entities could go the same route if a citizen is burdening them without a valid reason.
The general public might find it surprising that Massey is working with a prominent Democratic senator in Sheheen – the gubernatorial candidate who got 46 percent of the vote against Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
“We have similar interests and work together a lot,” Massey said. Like many other lawmakers, he was dismayed that solid reform initiatives was derailed in 2012, “but I agree we have a good shot this year.”
One of the major components of reform would be the elimination of the state’s Budget and Control Board. It makes no sense, said Massey, for its five members to have most of the executive functions within state government.
The board consists of the governor, the state treasurer, the comptroller general, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.
“We need to abolish the (BCB) and create a Department of Administration as a cabinet agency under the governor,” Massey said.
Such a reform measure wold also include legislative oversight so that state lawmakers would themselves know what is going on in state agencies.
A real example would be the Department of Revenue, following the data security fiasco that alarmed citizens throughout the state, Sheheen said.
“At this point, the culture within state government is at such a low point,” he said. “I’ve seen it with the Department of Workforce and the revenue department. We need a state constitutional convention. People need to say they’ve had enough. ... It’s not working piecemeal with the same political culture. We need something drastic, as it’s so bad in state government right now.”
Sheheen said he would also like to see the positions of secretary of state and comptroller general eliminated.
S.C. Rep. Wes Hayes, R-York, approves that approach and “the superintendent of education should be appointed, too,” he said. “Our current superintendent of education, Mick Zais, agrees.”