For those of you keeping score at home, South Carolina ranks dead last in the nation when it comes to the accessibility of government documents. In other words, our state’s elected officials are better than anyone when it comes to keeping secrets.
What’s driving this unparalleled culture of secrecy?
Easy: Our state’s “Republican-controlled” General Assembly does NOT want you to know how they spend your money. Or who they are spending their nights with. Accordingly, they have permitted the rampant abuse of our state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws – while at the same time completely exempting themselves from having to follow these laws.
Ridiculous, right? Of course …
FOIA is an essential tool for holding elected officials accountable – which is why these elected officials are perpetually looking for ways to weasel out of it.
Standing against this culture of secrecy is one legislative veteran: S.C. Rep. Rick Quinn.
Against the urging of other “FOIA reformers,” Quinn – an ex-GOP majority leader – introduced a FOIA amendment last year which would have forced state lawmakers to follow these laws. He’s pushing a similar statutory change this year.
“Meaningful reform must include the elimination of the legislative exemption from FOI laws,” Quinn told FITS recently. “I will continue to press for this reform. We had two decisive votes in favor of the proposal in the House. We must hold the Senate’s feet to the fire.”
And apparently the governor’s feet, too …
In addition to using the FOIA exemption to cover up evidence of her extramarital affairs, Haley has ignored the law in an effort to keep a lid on public access to her gubernatorial actions. Months after taking office Haley’s administration began charging reporters for responding to FOIA requests. A few months after that, the self-appointed transparency queen deliberately omitted relevant emails sought via FOIA by reporter Renee Dudley ofThe (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier.
S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor is proposing a host of FOIA reforms this legislative session – including some important revisions to the current law (and strengthening of penalties for refusing to follow it) – but his proposal stops short of addressing the legislative exemption.
It shouldn’t …
So long as one branch of government views itself as being “above the law,” South Carolina will never have true transparency.
Taylor and Quinn should join forces on real FOIA reform in the S.C. House, while the “Republican-controlled” Senate and governor’s office should stop stonewalling these long-overdue reforms.