More Freedom of Information in South Carolina?

By Paul Gable

A S.C. House Ethics and Freedom of Information Act Study Committee will recommend legislation that could make government information more open to request.

The committee is proposing to put a time limit on the production of public documents of between 30-35 days after an FOIA request is agreed to.

However, like everything regarding public information in South Carolina, there is a hitch. After two free hours of work on producing the documents, a public agency would be able to charge the citizen requesting the documents up to $100 per hour for the time needed to fulfill the FOIA request.

If we can’t bar you from seeing them, we can at least make it financially ridiculous to have the privilege.

Public agency salaries are high compared to the private sector in South Carolina, but, there is no public agency in the state that can justify anything close to a $100 per hour charge. You can bet they will charge it, however.

Other recommendations from the committee include posting agendas for public meetings no less than 24 hours before the meeting and restrictions on adding agenda items at the last minute; removing some of the ban on FOIA requests for state legislator documents; closing loopholes in state law that currently exempt third party political committees from disclosing their sources of revenue greater disclosure of income of public officials and banning leadership PACs an their contributions to public officials.

Will any of this make government more transparent to the citizens it purportedly represents? Probably not.

My experience gained over 31 years in South Carolina is that decisions made behind a veil of secrecy are the preferred method of conducting government business in the state.

Ethics law changes have been regularly defeated in the General Assembly over the last few sessions.

I don’t expect any of these suggested changes to be seriously considered. However, it all sounds good as we prepare for a new legislative session in January.

Politicians keep telling the people that there is sunshine on government in South Carolina, but it always seems to be pretty cloudy to me.

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