By Paul Gable
A House bill on ethics reform passed the important second reading vote Tuesday, which will allow it to pass with a majority vote in the Senate, if one can be arranged, before the end of the current legislative year.
However, before we get too excited about ethics reform occurring in South Carolina, let’s consider some of the provisions of the proposed legislation.
The bill would do away with the House and Senate Ethics Committees and replace them with a Joint Committee on Ethics to hear complaints filed against members of the General Assembly.
The committee would be made up of sixteen members, eight legislators and eight members of the public.
The makeup of the legislators would be four senators, two each elected from the majority party and the largest minority party in the body. Four house members will be elected to the committee in the same manner.
The eight public members would be elected four each by the House and Senate with two each from the majority caucus and the largest minority caucus in each body.
Here’s the kicker, in order for a complaint to move into the investigative phase, it must receive “a majority vote of the total membership of the committee” on a finding of probable cause.
In other words, a complaint must receive nine votes to move forward in a committee that is essentially split eight to eight along party lines.
And all of these deliberations and votes will be taken in secret, “All investigations, inquiries, hearings and accompanying documents must remain strictly confidential until a finding of probable cause, unless the respondent waives the right to confidentiality.”
Pardon me for being cynical, but, other than equalizing the membership of the committee along party lines, I don’t see how this changes much from the way the current House and Senate Ethics Committees conduct business.
Including public members sounds good, but, I can’t imagine election of these individuals will include anyone not strongly associated the respective political parties doing the voting.
Real ethics reform rests with voters electing candidates who will not succumb to the temptations of the perks of holding office. A difficult animal to find in our current political environment.