- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A bill reducing fees and setting specific deadlines for when South Carolina governments must release documents requested by the public appeared to be dead Thursday after the Senate didn’t debate it for 15 months.

The bill was put on the Senate’s calendar in March, but Sen. Margie Bright Matthews placed an objection on it that required extra consideration to come to a vote. A second legislative maneuver appeared to fail Thursday when senators refused to go along with a House version in a conference committee.

“Our issue is the Senate has not debated it. Other senators have concerns,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who pointed out the General Assembly’s session ends at 5 p.m. Thursday and there wouldn’t be time to take up the proposal when senators consider budget vetoes and other items in a special session later in June.

“That wasn’t for lack of opportunity,” responded Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton.

Thursday’s action also likely killed a proposal that would have made police patrol cars’ dashboard camera video available to the public only under a public records request, which Martin backed.

The bill would have cut the time an agency has to decide whether to provide records to the public under a request from 15 days to 10 days. If the request is granted, the agency has 30 days to produce the information. The time periods are longer when the records are more than two years old.

The proposal also requires posted fees for copying records that can’t exceed rates charged by copy businesses and bans copy charges when records are provided as computer documents.

The bill also would limit the fees governments could charge for records to the lowest salary of any employee who handles the records. The proposal requires that a special judge be hired to settle public-records disputes.

The bill was supported by police and government organizations as well as the South Carolina Press Association. Supporters promised to try again next year, and Sen. Greg Hembree said it was a good idea for House members to not push the Senate too hard.

“I fear we will poison the well even more than it might be right now,” said Hembree, R-Little River.

Bright Matthews objected to the bill because she said governments, especially smaller ones, shouldn’t be limited too much in what they can charge for public records. She also doesn’t think the state should spend nearly $150,000 for a judge and new clerk to hear public records cases.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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