The struggle for true ethics reform in 2013 by the General Assembly has become the same old South Carolina politics at its worst.
It’s a shell game of “hurry up and stall” as H. 3945 sits in the Senate without action. After multiple amendments and hours of deliberation, ethics reform finally passed out of Senate Judiciary on May 9.
But that’s as far as it has gone, as the bill now languishes on the Senate Contested Calendar. And time is running out.
The Senate has the power to pass real ethics reform, but too many senators are busy playing familiar legislative games, holding the bill hostage to benefit some other objective or acting simply out of a desire to kill reform. A political blame game is underway to claim the other side is responsible for endangering reform, but the reality is that senators from both parties are at fault.
We will soon see who in the Senate has the leadership and courage to move ethics reform off the contested calendar to full debate for passage this year. The last sands of the hourglass are quickly falling, but there is still time if enough senators summon the political will for change.
After criticizing the House for their “rushed” approach to ethics reform this year, the Senate appears to be taking the opposite approach. By doing nothing, the Senate puts at risk all the hard work of so many on this important issue.
Not everyone in the Senate is foot-dragging. Just as those obstructing progress are a bipartisan group, so are those who are working to move ethics forward. Senators like Larry Martin, Vincent Sheheen, Wes Hayes and others are working hard for change. But they cannot do it alone. They need help from many other senators to get this done this year.
H. 3945 is not without flaws. However, it eliminates leadership political action groups, increases requirements for income disclosure and the types of income to be disclosed, while also enhancing public access to information.
Although an independent oversight agency would be the ideal approach to monitor and enforce ethics, the proposed ethics commission structure is much better than existing oversight.
Stronger enforcement provisions (especially prohibiting those with unpaid fines from running for office) and routine audits of disclosures would improve the bill, but overall, H. 3945 is the most comprehensive ethics reform we have seen in South Carolina.
Now is the time to pass ethics reform. No more waiting and no more delays. Our General Assembly must give the citizens the transparency and good government they deserve.
To keep the ethics reform bill from passing is the same as saying yes to “business as usual.” Doing nothing on ethics reform is inexcusable.
In an era of fierce competition for business, jobs and economic development South Carolina, elected officials must rise to the occasion to rebuild public trust and proclaim to its residents and the world the dawn of a new era in Columbia.
The Senate should take responsibility and be the leaders they proclaim to be and not let this historic opportunity pass them by.
Too many politicians in Columbia don’t want real change. They are hoping the people of South Carolina aren’t watching and don’t really care about political ethics. Let’s prove them wrong and contact them to demand action on H. 3945.
JoAnne Day is the vice president of the Issues and Action committee of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.
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