UPDATE: Senate Moves on Income Disclosure

income

INCOME DISCLOSURE, WITH LOOPHOLES

Senators seemed determined this week to not let another session go by without addressing “ethics reform” – although nothing that’s likely to pass the legislature will change their conduct in the least.

After several days of debating an omnibus ethics bill that’s no longer omnibus, the Senate seemed to stall on H.3184, and an amendment that would alter the bill so that it would only address the issue of independent investigation. During debate on H.3184, a “sidebar” meeting of a few members took place, and the result was a unanimous consent motion by Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) to skip over H.3184 and move to H.3186 with the intent to give the bill second reading. The motion passed, and the Senate then took up the amendments to H.3186.

An amendment by Senators Sheheen (D-Kershaw) and Davis (R-Beaufort) that would have required income sources and amounts to be disclosed was tabled by the body (with objections from senators Bryant, Courson, Campbell, Bright, and Davis) on a motion by Sen. Larry Martin. The body then considered an amendment by the Judiciary Committee that passed by a 40-1 vote.

The bill, as amended by the Senate, would require the disclosure of all sources of income except income received from a court order, interest from a bank account, or mutual fund. Public officials would also have to disclose the source of income received by themselves, an immediate family member, or business with which they are associated if the income is from a contractual or financial relationship with a lobbyist or lobbyist principal, contractual or financial relationship with a state or local governmental entity, or a source regulated by the governmental regulatory agency with which the public official serves. However, there is an exception: the requirement doesn’t apply if the income from the contractual or financial relationship is received from a commercial transaction in which “fair market value” is paid.

The bill as amended contains language from previous omnibus ethics bills that would weaken the reporting requirements on public income sources. Existing law requires public officials to disclose any compensation they receive from an individual or business that contracts with a government entity with which the public official is employed. The amendment would change this provision to require the official to report only the amount of the contract between the business and government entity. Furthermore, the bill also exempts income received business related to economic development projects from reporting requirements. The loopholes, then, would still hide significant varieties of conflicts.

When the Senate returns next week, members will continue debating H.3184. Meanwhile, H.3186 – the income disclosure bill with several reporting loopholes – will be up for third and final reading.

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