SC Senate to take final shot at small ethics reform package as session comes to an end



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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Ethics reform might not be dead at the South Carolina Statehouse this year: A Senate committee on Tuesday passed a lighter version of the measure pertaining to what income lawmakers and their families must disclose and when candidates must report campaign spending.

The bills passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee all contain minor changes; chairman Larry Martin said he concluded there was no sense in losing a bigger fight to get an independent commission to investigate ethics complaints against lawmakers again.

Also likely dead this year is a measure requiring anonymous political groups to report their activity and reveal the names of donors, following an objection by Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck.

But the chance of any ethics reform this year was a surprise, coming three months after Martin said he was "embarrassed and taken aback" when he ended up having to vote against an ethics bill he personally led to the Senate because it was so watered down on the floor.

"Maybe we can get two-thirds of a loaf, declare victory and go on. This is the only game going — I thought I'd give it a whirl," said Martin, R-Pickens, on Tuesday.

Martin is trying a different tactic this time. The first time around, he brought up a comprehensive bill. This time, each component is in its own legislation. The House used a similar plan when it overwhelmingly passed ethics reform in February.

Gov. Nikki Haley has also made ethics reform a priority. But Martin's bills don't contain two of the three things she wants: taking away legislators' ability to investigate themselves and requiring lawmakers who sue the government to report which agency was sued and how much was paid.

The committee did pass a bill with more stringent rules on requirements for lawmakers and their families to disclose their income, which was something Haley wanted.

The bills passed Tuesday also allow larger contributions to candidates and require more timely reporting close to election days.

Another thing working against the bills is the calendar. There are only 11 legislative days left and the Senate has yet to deal will bills on abortion and extra funding for roads.


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