A Review of Transparency Policy for 2009-2010
The Best & Worst to Come: A Review of Transparency Policy for 2009-2010
As we review the best and worst transparency legislation of 2009, it’s also time to begin to consider what ideas are likely to resurface during the 2010 session.
The Policy Council is a longtime advocate of transparency, calling repeatedly for such reforms as recorded legislative votes and a ban on taxpayer funded lobbying. Likewise, the SCPC has joined forces with Attorney General Richard Eckstrom in encouraging municipalities across the state to post online check registries.
Although state and local lawmakers have made some strides in furthering transparency, there is much more work to be done.
Best Ideas for 2010
1) Comprehensive Online Check Registries: While several municipalities have taken the initiative of opening their books to the public, a Truth in Spending Act (S 229) would require the comptroller general of every state and local government entity to maintain a detailed online check registry.
2) Roll Call Voting: After prompting by the Policy Council, the General Assembly made some progress last year in recording more votes. Yet, 75 percent of votes (excluding congratulatory resolutions) were unrecorded. H 3047 would require roll call votes on most bills, including each section of the budget. This proposal and S 244 – which would require state boards and commissions to record votes when awarding compensation or bonuses – went nowhere last year.
3) Effective FOIA Laws: In its current form, South Carolina law mandates state agencies to respond within 15 business days to acknowledge receiving a Freedom of Information Act request. But beyond formally recognizing the request, state agencies have no requirement as to when they must disclose whether the information will become available. This causes state government to be less responsive to its citizenry. Take the recent Myrtle Beach fire incident, where the city was refusing to release fire response records. Public employees need to remember that it is our tax dollars that pay their salaries – and they have a responsibility to be transparent with how they spend our money. And better, more timely responsiveness would instill more faith in government. A better model would be Florida, which has some of the most open and transparent FOIA laws in the nation.
4) Earmark Disclosure: As Sen. Jim DeMint battles earmarks in Washington, his fight has resonated at home in Columbia. Last year, the Senate passed legislation (S 239) requiring legislators to submit in writing any request for an earmark, with the request posted online for public viewing. The bill currently sits in the House Ways & Means Committee. In light of the fact that earmarks won’t be completely eliminated, the least politicians can do is be transparent about their pork projects.
Worst Ideas for 2010
1) Taxpayer Funded Lobbying: Taxpayer funded lobbying seems to be a new boom industry for localities across the state – as least for the lobbyists. The strategy is one of spending more tax dollars to spend more tax dollars that will only result in more debt and higher taxes.Legislation banningtaxpayer funded lobbying, including lobbyists employed by publicly financed organizations, will make certain taxpayer interests are represented in a fair manner. In 2003, Governor Mark Sanford issued an executive order banning cabinet agencies from hiring lobbyists. Several other states – including Virginia, North Carolina and Florida – have also partially banned taxpayer funded lobbying.
2) Doing Nothing: Transparency is a win-win situation for anyone from any party who wants an accountable and honest government. Generally speaking, legislators will not introduce bills that explicitly undermine transparency. But it is just as damaging not to support sound policies that would promote transparency. Citizens should be aware of occasions when their representatives – at both the state and local level – try to sidestep transparency reform either by leaving good bills to die in committee or ignoring calls to establish online check registries.
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Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation.
Copyright 2009. South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, 1323 Pendleton Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201.