Reform Agenda: Taking the Power Back

Politicians, not the people, are in charge of South Carolina’s government. There are eight steps we can take to change that, and here they are.

(1)   Restore judicial independence. The public deserves confidence that judges rule independently of the legislature whose laws they judge. South Carolina is the only state in the nation in which the legislature unilaterally appoints judges even when vacancies arise. The governor should nominate judges, with only advice and consent from the Senate.

(2)  Make the governor fully accountable for the Executive Branch. South Carolina lawmakers control the executive branch through a complicated web of boards and commissions, to which lawmakers appoint members to run state agencies instead of allowing the governor to run them. The legislature has further diluted the governor’s responsibility by doling out power to multiple constitutional officers (the Comptroller General, Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, Secretary of State, and so on), thus creating little executive fiefdoms that properly belong in the governor’s cabinet.

(3)  Ensure a true citizen legislature by shortening session. Our state has one of the nation’s longest legislative sessions: a system that favors career politicians over citizen-legislators, and empowers lobbyists and special interests over taxpayers. Legislative sessions should be limited to 90 calendar days or 45 legislative days, every other year, forcing lawmakers to limit their activity to citizen priorities.

(4)  Open the state’s secret incentives process. Corruption is virtually guaranteed when politicians have the power to strike secret deals with private companies using public money. Taxpayers deserve full transparency in all incentive deals – including public applications for subsidies, public debate on the merits of deals, and full reporting on investment “return.”

(5)  End lawmakers’ ability to police themselves. House and Senate members police their own ethics violations – and much of the process is kept private. Legislators should be governed by the same agency that governs other public officials, and details of hearings should be publicly reported.

(6)  All South Carolina elected officials should report their income sources. The public has no way to ensure that lawmakers don’t personally profit from legislation on which they vote. Members of Congress and elected officials in other states report their income – and so should South Carolina politicians.

(7)  Strengthen the state’s open records law and abolish lawmakers’ exemption from it. State agencies should organize their transactions and expenditures to be accessible to the public rather than charging taxpayers double for “labor” costs. And there’s certainly no justification for lawmakers exempting themselves from the state’s Freedom of Information law.

(8)  Enforce the state law that mandates an open budget process. The law requires the governor to write “the” budget and the legislature to hold “joint open hearings” to debate it. Compliance with that law would allow the public to engage in the budget process in real time. In addition, lawmakers should submit the budget in a simple format that is accessible to citizens online.

(Download pdf.)

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16 Responses to “Reform Agenda: Taking the Power Back”
  1. Michael Graham says:

    You left #9 – a VERY important one!!

    (9) TERM LIMITS!

  2. Kevin Thomas says:

    We are looking forward to Ashley visiting us on Monday.

    • Rebecca Shadwell says:

      She is an amazing speaker. Concise, to the point, and feisty!

      If teachers taught history and govt & econ classes with an ounce of her
      smarts and enthusiasm we’d have a much more engaged “next generation.”

  3. Luther Strayer says:

    We know what needs to be done. The question is how?

    Obviously the Republican majority won’t do it and the Dems can’t

    Can a voter initiative succeed?????

  4. Butch Robbins says:

    Spot on!

  5. Let’s take the exemptions out of the sales tax code and become a zero income tax state, which we can do through legislation. We need a Constitutional Amendment to lower our highest-in-the-nation Industrial Property Tax and bring our Commercial Property Tax rate in line with what homeowners pay. These measures would make South Carolina the most business-friendly state!

  6. silvereagle0412 says:

    But our illegal and unethical governor wants to take credit for everything even though she
    didn’t have anything to do with it. Watch her speech – she will claim ethics reform in her
    speech at the RNC

  7. Jock Stender, Charleston says:

    Number 5 is especially important to me:

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    (5) End lawmakers’ ability to police themselves. House and Senate members police their own ethics violations — and much of the process is kept private. Legislators should be governed by the same agency that governs other public officials, and details of hearings should be publicly reported.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The State Integrity Investigation (www.stateintegrity.org), published Mar. 3, 2012, gave South Carolina a 0% (that’s “zero percent”), or “F” score on the following question:

    284: In law, the agency or set of agencies tasked with enforcing state ethics rules has jurisdiction across all branches of the state government.

    (Question 284 fell into the “Ethics enforcement agencies” criterium, on which the state received an overall score of 52%, or “F.”)

    Sen. Mike Rose introduced the following bill that would accomplish the SCPC’s item number 5, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Glenn McConnell refused to assign it to a subcommittee (colloquially, “pushing it into the drawer,” “smothering it,” “killing it”):

    S. 306 General Bill, By Rose
    Summary: State Ethics Commission

    A BILL TO AMEND SECTION 8-13-310 OF THE 1976 CODE, RELATING TO THE STATE ETHICS COMMISSION, TO PROVIDE THAT THE STATE ETHICS COMMISSION SHALL BE COMPOSED OF EIGHT MEMBERS, AND TO PROVIDE FOR THE APPOINTMENT AND INITIAL TERMS OF THE MEMBERS; AND TO REPEAL SECTIONS 8-13-530, 8-13-540, AND 8-13-550, RELATING TO THE ETHICS COMMITTEES OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

    View full text at http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess119_2011-2012/bills/306.htm

    12/15/10 Senate Prefiled
    12/15/10 Senate Referred to Committee on Judiciary
    01/11/11 Senate Introduced and read first time (Senate Journal-page 137)
    01/11/11 Senate Referred to Committee on Judiciary (Senate Journal-page 137)

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Thankfully, McConnell, a vigorous opponent of ethics reform, is out of the legislature, and Sen. Larry Martin has taken his seat as Judiciary Committee Chairman.

    I understand that Sen. Martin conducted a fair hearing on June 19th of Gov. Haley’s nominee Patrick James Maley as State Inspector General, and hope that Martin will support the SCPC’s ethics efforts.

    I also understand that Sen. Wes Hayes, Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, has been working with Attorney General Alan Wilson to draft ethics legislation to introduce in the 120th Session.

    McConnell, now Lt. Governor, will still have his dirty hands involved somewhat: he will determine to which committee (Judiciary or Ethics) goes any bill.

    Let us hope that McConnell’s legacy is dead and that Martin and Hayes (and Rose, if he returns to the Senate) “mop up” and get real ethics legislation passed.

    One to watch:

    Paul Tinkler (a democrat), apparent successor to McConnell as S.C. Senator in District 41, where, thankfully, Paul Thurmond (republican) “disqualified himself” by misfiling his Statement of Economic Interest. I live in District 41 and Paul Tinkler tells me he’s absolutely committed to ethics reform as one of his top priorities. Wonderful. Music to my ears. Can’t wait.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    From the SII report:

    Full Scoring Criteria:

    These are the scoring criteria for this question.
    Yes: A YES score is earned if in law the agency or set of agencies tasked with enforcing state ethics rules can monitor all branches of the state government.
    No: A NO score is earned if there are no such provisions in law, or if the state ethics rules agency lacks jurisdiction over key parts of the state government.

    ***************

    Reporter Notes:

    The State Ethics Commission only has jurisdiction over the nine statewide elected officials and candidates, according to State Ethics Commission staff attorney Cathy Hazelwood, during a July 22, 2011 personal interview in her Columbia office. Members of the S.C. House and Senate have their own jurisdiction over lawmakers, in each chambers separate ethics committees, she said.

    The State Ethics Commission only has jurisdiction

    Statute 8-13-500 in the South Carolina Code of Laws is what gives the House and Senate ethics committees their jurisdiction:

    SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ETHICS COMMITTEES

    SECTION 8-13-510 | Creation of ethics committees; committee membership; terms; filling vacancies:

    There is created a House of Representatives Legislative Ethics Committee and a Senate Legislative Ethics Committee. Each ethics committee is composed of six members. Terms are coterminous with the term for which members are elected to the House or Senate. Vacancies must be filled for the unexpired term in the manner of the original selection. The members of each ethics committee must be elected by the House or the Senate, as appropriate. One member of each ethics committee must be elected as chairman by a majority of the members

    http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t08c013.php

    ***************

    Sources:

    State Ethics Commission staff attorney Cathy Hazelwood, during a July 22, 2011 personal interview in her Columbia office.

    8-13-500 is what gives the House and Senate ethics committees their jurisdiction:

    SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ETHICS COMMITTEES

    SECTION 8-13-510 | Creation of ethics committees; committee membership; terms; filling vacancies:

    There is created a House of Representatives Legislative Ethics Committee and a Senate Legislative Ethics Committee. Each ethics committee is composed of six members. Terms are coterminous with the term for which members are elected to the House or Senate. Vacancies must be filled for the unexpired term in the manner of the original selection. The members of each ethics committee must be elected by the House or the Senate, as appropriate. One member of each ethics committee must be elected as chairman by a majority of the members

    http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t08c013.php

    [END]

    – Jock Stender, Charleston

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  1. [...] The South Carolina Policy Council put out this 8-point policy statement in May. Imagine how different our election cycle would be at this point if #1 had been dealt with by previous legislators. We have corruption and power consolidation in that the SC Supreme Court is appointed by the SC legislators. NO separation of power there! [...]

  2. [...] The South Carolina Policy Council put out this 8-point policy statement in May. Imagine how different our election cycle would be at this point if #1 had been dealt with by previous legislators. We have corruption and power consolidation in that the SC Supreme Court is appointed by the SC legislators. NO separation of power there! [...]

  3. [...] Let me remind you about the 8-point plan for reform the South Carolina Policy Council has researched. [...]

  4. [...] blogged a few times recently about the South Carolina Policy Council’s identified 8 points of reform, how activists across the state are beginning to talk about these reforms in their meetings and [...]

  5. [...] The South Carolina Policy Council has some good suggestions on how to reform state government here. It’s time to start the conversation. Every day we wait, lives are being lost. Share:FacebookTwitterMoreLinkedInStumbleUponDiggRedditPrintEmail   About the author [...]

  6. [...] The South Carolina Policy Council has this report on the amount of time SC legislature is in session compared to other states … and how many lobbyists per legislator are in Columbia. Note that “Ensure a true citizen legislature by shortening session” is one of the 8 points for Real Reform to take our power back. [...]



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