Thursday’s second editorial returns to one of our favorite subjects, efforts to reinforce our state’s sunshine laws:
We can’t let a common sense bill to strengthen and reinforce the state’s Freedom of Information Act die on the vine in Columbia. But the bill seems doomed by an ill-advised amendment that would open lawmakers’ emails to inspection.
The bill (H 3235), which has passed the House and passed out of a Senate committee this week, would limit the cost to the public for a public records request, make records more readily available and shorten the inordinate amount of time that public bodies have to respond to a request. These are all great ideas, much needed and well considered.
S.C. Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers pointed Wednesday to the strong support the bill has received from the state’s residents. “Citizens are tired of paying these ridiculous amounts and these ridiculous delays,” he said. “That has given it legs.”
But the last-minute inclusion in the House of a section to end lawmakers’ exemption has put all of these good ideas in jeopardy.
“From what I’m picking up, it would kill the bill with so little time left in the session,” Sen. Chip Campsen told the Charleston Post & Courier last week.
It’s not that ending the exemption for lawmakers is necessarily a bad idea. We should be able to see much of the work that our lawmakers are performing on our dime. But legislators do bring up valid concerns about corresponding with constituents, who may not want their letters and emails open to public viewing. In short, it’s a complicated issue that deserves attention, just not in the little amount of time left in this session, and not when it holds up and threatens needed reforms.
The bill is now headed to the full Senate, where it could come up as early as Thursday. Senators should take out the “poison pill” that is the legislative exemption, as Rogers put it, and pass the rest. Don’t let a whole slate of needed changes disappear because of one hasty mistake.