Freedom of Information Act Retreat in South Carolina

By Paul Gable

The Freedom of Information Act in South Carolina took a huge step backward last week with a ruling issued by the S.C. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court basically ruled out any requirement for public bodies to tell citizens what they are doing, or intend to do, during their meetings.

The rather surprising Supreme Court ruling was based on interpretation by the justices of S.C. Code of Laws 30-4-80, otherwise known as the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the unanimous opinion written by Acting Justice James Moore, “We conclude FOIA’s notice statute does not require an agenda to be issued for a regularly scheduled meeting, and FOIA contains no prohibition on the amendment of an agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting.”

This is the interpretation our ‘esteemed justices’ give to Section 30-4-80(a), which reads in part, “All public bodies, except as provided in subsections (b) and (c) of this section, must give written public notice of their regular meetings at the beginning of each calendar year. The notice must include the dates, times, and places of such meetings. Agenda, if any, for regularly scheduled meetings must be posted on a bulletin board at the office or meeting place of the public body at least twenty-four hours prior to such meetings. All public bodies must post on such bulletin board public notice for any called, special, or rescheduled meetings. Such notice must be posted as early as is practicable but not later than twenty-four hours before the meeting. The notice must include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting. This requirement does not apply to emergency meetings of public bodies.”

The complete section of the law may be viewed here: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t30c004.php

It seems, if there is an agenda, it must be posted, but nothing in the law requires an agenda to be set for a public meeting, according to our ‘esteemed’ (and I use the word very loosely) justices.

This is just another example of how the government may exclude the general public from the decision making process with the consent of the courts.

No doubt you will see the publishing of agendas of the meetings of public bodies disappear immediately.

Next, these justices will find a way to do away with publishing minutes of what occurred during these meetings, even in open session.

Isn’t representative democracy a wonderful thing when the courts can legislate with the stroke of a pen?

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