Lurking in the background of the Palmetto political scandals that have swirled around S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and (more recently) Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell has been a key structural deficiency related to the state’s system of accountability.

We’re referring of course to the “cover-up committees” in the S.C. House and State Senate that have enabled current legislators to sit in judgment over their colleagues (and former colleagues).

Rather than subject themselves to justice in the civil and criminal courts the rest of us must face, lawmakers have carved out for themselves what S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has correctly referred to as effective “immunity” from prosecution on corruption charges.

In other words no matter how compelling the evidence against legislators may be, they’ve always been able to rely on their colleagues to get them off the hook … unless of course there’s a partisan ax to grind.

Anyway …

We’d like to offer up some credit this week to four S.C. Representatives who have been instrumental in proposing what we believe to be a viable alternative to the status quo.

Under a proposal crafted by S.C. Reps. Bruce Bannister, Greg Delleney, Kirkman Finlay and Weston Newton, the current House and Senate “Ethics” panels would be replaced by a single panel – one that includes precisely zero lawmakers.

This new ethics panel would be comprised of four legislative appointees (two from the House, two from the Senate), four gubernatorial appointees and four appointees from the judicial branch.

Sounds good? We certainly think so … but that’s not even the best part.

Not only would lawmakers be banned from sitting on the new panel, judges would also be prohibited from receiving appointments. The same would also go for political donors – a caveat included by Newton in an effort to avoid possible conflicts of interest.

Brilliant … keeping entrenched special interests out of the judgment seat(s) on this panel represents a master stroke, one which should help ensure a rise in both impartiality as well as real accountability.

Where is Haley on the latest proposal? Lawmakers tell FITS they’re not sure.

According to our sources, Delleney was abruptly asked to leave the governor’s office midway through his recent attempt to explain the proposal to Haley.

That’s too bad … Haley and the rest of the state’s political class should be all over this new idea. It’s not a panacea, to be sure, but it’s a rare solid step in the right direction.

That step should be taken: Unless Haley, Harrell and others prefer to continue eroding what little is left of the public trust in this state …