Statehouse Report #10 – Fixing the Ethics Reform Act

Legislative Update – March 26, 2014
March 26, 2014
Legislative Update – April 2, 2014
April 2, 2014

Statehouse Report #10 – Fixing the Ethics Reform Act

Two major pieces of legislation moved in the South Carolina House this week that have received a lot of public attention – the Ethics Reform Act and Emma’s Law.

First, a little background. The House Republican Caucus led the fight on strong ethics reforms when we first approved the bill last year. We have long touted our ethics laws as some of the strongest in the nation, and they were when they were originally written two decades ago. Since that time a lot has changed in politics: We use tools today that weren’t widely used in the early 1990s – simple things like cell phones, ATM machines, and the Internet. Even six years ago, people rarely contributed to political campaigns online. We hardly give any of these things a second thought today, but our law doesn’t reflect those changes.

Our legislation:

Abolishes the House and Senate ethics committees and replaces them with a new, bi-partisan commission that includes public officials and members of the general public.

Abolishes “Leadership PAC” contributions to elected officials.

Requires all lawmakers to disclose all sources of income – public and private – in an attempt to root out conflicts of interest.

Strengthens criminal penalties for violations of the Ethics Act.

Eliminates the “blackout period” right before an election when candidates do not have to disclose donors.

The S.C. Senate added 12 new sections and doubled the length of the bill – watering down several key components of the law and adding a few good changes. And, as is typical with the Senate, the bill was approved before it was written. That means there are a number of sections of the new bill that raise more questions than give answers. This week, we sent the bill to a specially expanded House Judiciary Subcommittee tasked with rewriting the bill so the House can enter into a conference committee on the strongest possible footing.

It is time to change. It is time for our conservative state to promote a conservative ethics reform plan that strengthens the law, streamlines the complaint process, and makes public officials more accountable. I look forward to getting that legislation back quickly so we can get it to Governor Haley’s desk.

Another piece of legislation approved this week was a stronger version of “Emma’s Law” in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill received its name from Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old girl from Lexington County who was killed by a repeat offender drunk driver two years ago.

Emma’s Law:

  • Requires drivers who blow a 0.15 on a Breathalyzer and are later convicted of a first offense DUI must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles for a year. Interlock devices prohibit a driver from starting a car when he or she has been drinking.
  • Requires an interlock device be installed on cars of DUI first offenders who refuse to be tested on a Breathalyzer and are later found guilty of DUI.
  • That no provisional licenses be granted to people who refuse the Breathalyzer and are later convicted.
  • Closes loopholes that made it easier for those convicted of a DUI get back on the road without having to use an ignition interlock device.

Our state is currently using the interlock devices, but only for people convicted of multiple DUIs. According to media reports, more than 700 are currently in use. Expanding the use of these interlock devices is a critical step in making our roads safer.

As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.