UPDATE: House Considers Self-Policing Bill

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HOUSE, SENATE SQUABBLE OVER SEMANTICS, AGREE ON KEEPING LOOPHOLES

House leadership has developed a compromise with Senate language in an amendment to H.3184, legislation supposedly intended to abolish lawmakers’ power to police their own ethics violations. Gov. Haley was highly critical of the loophole-riddled Senate amendment. The House amendment, however, isn’t that much different.

Indeed, the chief difference is a matter of semantics.

Under both versions, legislators would be given appointment power over the Ethics Commission, they would retain sole punishing authority over their own members, and party caucuses would retain a major role in appointing Ethics Commissioners.

In both the House and Senate amendments:

  • The Ethics Commission would conduct the initial investigation, but a final decision and punishing power would remain in the legislative ethics committees.
  • Lawmakers would appoint some of the Commissioners, ensuring that even the initial investigations are not truly independent.
  • The legislative ethics committees’ highly questionable practice of issuing confidential advisory ethics opinions would be officially recognized in law.

One slight difference in the House amendment is that legislative party caucuses would nominate Commissioners instead of directly appointing them, and the appointment would be made by the chamber (House or Senate) as a whole. That’s hardly a difference worth mentioning.

Neither version of the amendment would institute genuinely independent investigation and punishment of lawmakers, and neither would outlaw the sketchy practice of secret “advisory opinions.” Indeed, both versions codify the practice.

The House amendment will likely be adopted tomorrow (Thursday, May 19) and will then go back to the Senate for an up or down vote. If the Senate non-concurs, the bill will go to conference committee.

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