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SC lawmakers try to find ethics compromise

- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The leader of a committee trying to hash out a compromise on an ethics reform bill feels confident something will pass before this year's session ends, but Sen. Wes Hayes said he isn't sure how far the changes will go.

Hayes is part of a conference committee trying to work out the differences in ethics bills passed by the House and Senate. They met Tuesday, talking for over an hour before agreeing to go back to their colleagues and try to work out a compromise before the session ends Thursday.

The biggest sticking point between the bills is the creation of a 12-member committee to investigate all ethics complaints. The House version has the committee, while the Senate version does not. Currently, lawmakers both investigate potential ethics violations by their colleagues and punish them when needed.

Hayes said the committee may be a tough sell, but he hasn't lost hope. He does think some reform will pass, including requiring lawmakers to disclose the sources, but not the amounts, of their income, requiring more open campaign reporting from independent groups and ending the practice of allowing lawmakers to form their own leadership groups to dole out campaign money.

"I think there are a lot of other good things in here," said Hayes, R-Rock Hill.

Rep. Greg Delleney spent most of Tuesday's meeting explaining the new investigative committee. Lawmakers would appoint four members, the state Supreme Court would appoint four members and the executive branch would get to appoint the final four members.

The committee would investigate all ethics complaints. If a majority determined rules were violated, their report would be made public and the complaint sent the group that currently handles punishment. For lawmakers, that would be the House or Senate ethics committee. Delleney said that should prevent complaints that ethics panels sweep complaints under the rug and the allegations aren't aired publicly.

Senators appeared skeptical, but not hostile to the plan. When Delleney, R-Chester, explained the committee members could only serve one four-year term and could not currently hold any public office, Sen. Brad Hutto interjected.

"Do we really think there are 12 people out there who haven't been appointed to any other commission, aren't serving in any elected office on any library or hospital board," said Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

At an unrelated bill signing Tuesday, Gov. Nikki Haley reiterated she wants some kind of independent team to investigate ethics violations and she wants public officials to be required to disclose the sources of their income.

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