Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006
not needed in state government
SC Statehouse Report
22, 2006 - - At a time when people's confidence in government
is reaching new lows, government doesn't need to be more secret.
But in Columbia, that's just what House GOP leaders seem to
In Washington, the U.S. House is scrambling to make patches
to ethics laws following the downfall of powerful U.S. Rep.
Tom Delay and the corruption investigation of lobbyist Jack
Abramoff, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to fraud,
tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
Meanwhile across town, President Bush continues to take criticism
for snooping by big government investigative agencies. Nearby
at Andrew Air Force Base, caskets of soldiers who died in
the Iraq war continue to arrive quietly to keep the pictures
off the televised airways.
This renewed culture of American secrecy is dripping into
our state. Over the summer, a project by major newspapers,
the Associated Press and the S.C. Press Association showed
some municipal police agencies use monetary barriers that
keep regular folks from getting access to public information.
The study also highlighted how local governing boards also
went into secret session too much for things that should be
Now in Columbia, leaders of the House and Senate Republican
caucuses want caucus meetings to be private - - even though
many lawmakers have said the public's business should be done
In fact, it's the law. "Every meeting of all public
bodies shall be open to the public," says the state's
of Information Law. It goes on to list five reasons that
public bodies may close meetings: discussions of personnel
matters, contracts, matters related to the development of
"security personnel or devices," investigative proceedings
and industrial recruitment.
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Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:
Nowhere in the law does it say public officials can meet
secretly as a group for political discussions.
The law says meetings of public officials should be in public
whenever there is a quorum - - a simple majority - - of members
present. The law specifically says legislative committees
and subcommittees must comply.
House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, and Senate
Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, surely are doing
their jobs in trying to change state law to allow their caucuses
to meet in secret. Both caucuses have a majority of members
of each chamber.
It's understandable they want to talk party politics and
develop strategies so they can beat opponents on the floor.
And yes, caucuses are political organizations, not formal
But whenever more than half of the elected members of a body
get together, they constitute a quorum. In the House, a meeting
of 63 members constitutes a quorum; the House GOP caucus has
74 members. In the Senate, 24 members make a quorum; the Senate
Republican caucus has 26 members. By law, caucus meetings
with a majority of House or Senate members present should
More importantly, operating in more secrecy is a dangerous
threat to liberty. Because the party has majorities in both
chambers, there's a reasonable fear that real legislative
business, such as the selection of the House speaker in the
spring, may actually get done in the caucus instead of an
open, general session.
For years, local governments across the nation were plagued
by the practice of a few key officials having "the meeting
before the meeting" when those in power gathered before
a public meeting to decide what would happen when the public
Keeping caucus meetings closed smacks of this notion.
State lawmakers are public servants who get their power and
pay from citizens. In serving the public, legislators should
do all of their business in public.
The late Supreme Court jurist Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunshine
is the best disinfectant." In other words, doing the
public's business in the open is best way for a democracy
As more people are frustrated by government, state officials
should be doing more to create transparency and accountability,
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning
paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive
news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and
TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed
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Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less
for business subscribers. More: SC
Raising cigarette tax should curb illegal drug use
To the editor:
I'm so glad you are urging the Legislature to raise cigarette
1/8 ] I was impressed with your research and arguments
to do so, especially "The ACS says increasing cigarette
taxes by 93 cents would likely cause youth smoking to drop
by 18.8 percent, which would result in 57,500 fewer youth
smokers and 40,000 fewer adult smokers."
Following from that, here's an argument nobody ever relates
to this issue in South Carolina: According to the American
Lung Association, adolescents who smoke tobacco are three
times more likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely
to smoke marijuana, and 22 times more likely to use cocaine.
Therefore, raising the cigarette tax will reduce illegal
alcohol and drug use among adolescents...and this is a significant
benefit. Furthermore, kids are more likely to smoke when their
parents smoke (I'm sorry I don't have a statistic to back
this up at the moment), and if parents quit, kids are once
again less likely to smoke (and then use mj, alcohol, etc.).
I do wish someone (you!) would get this point across--there
are so many more benefits to raising the cost of cigarettes
than people realize.
-- Sharon Fratepietro, Charleston, S.C.
- 1/1: Stop
public smoking, Name withheld, Elgin, SC
- 12/29: Drivers
are only part of the problem, Philippe Felsenhardt,
- 12/27: Driver
responsibility, Frank Hamilton, Beaufort, SC
- 12/27: Nothing
done about speeding, Russell Menz, Bluffton, SC
- 12/26: Truckers
cause problems on road too, Jeffrey Sewell,
- 12/22: Workers'
comp needs different overhaul, Name withheld, Aiken,
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
Wilkins. Former Speaker David Wilkins, as affable
as he was when he was a member of the House for a quarter
of a century, was honored by the unveiling of a his portrait
on Thursday in the House chamber. He is now ambassador to
Canada, appointed by President Bush, but he was back in Columbia
for the unveiling and, by his own admission, "I appreciate
warm" weather and greetings.
Sheheen, Matthews. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden,
and Sen. John W. Matthews Jr., D-Orangeburgs, eparately raised
issues on charter schools and property tax changes that gave
even Republicans pause. Sheheen said he couldn't justify tax
relief for 20 percent of homeowners and a tax increase for
80 percent. Matthews said in a televised interview that he
supports continuance of a public school system rather than
switching to charter schools.
Ryberg. A sack of potatoes to Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken,
who stopped the swift progress of a bill that would give the
Department of Transportation the right to charge tolls on
Interstate 73 when it is constructed. The House passed the
bill without referring it to committee last week, and the
Senate was prepared to do the same thing when Ryberg wanted
the bill referred to his Transportation Committee for no apparent
reason. Ryberg is running for state treasurer and should have
thought about the votes he could lose in 10 eastern counties
where I-73 would be constructed.
GOP leaders. Thumbs down to Republican leaders in
the House and Senate who want to close their caucuses to the
public, despite state law to the contrary, continue to use
taxpayer support to run their caucuses, hire their staffs
and pay no rent on their offices, even though they claim the
caucuses aren't official parts of state government.
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