The House of Representatives continues to work diligently on getting bills passed through subcommittees and full committees for debate and vote on the House floor. As I mentioned last week, the deadline for sending bills to the Senate for action is May 1. This crossover date requires that bills must be passed by either House or Senate and sent to the other by May 1 to be considered in the same year.
The House of Representatives approved dozens of pieces of legislation this week in advance of the "crossover" deadline. Here are the highlights:
• It took nearly five hours of highly energized debate, but in the end, House Republicans won approval for a bill that will provide nine days of
“no excuse” early voting in all elections. In light of the early voting period, the legislation allows absentee voting for nine specific categories for an extended period.
The key groups included in absentee voting are those 65 and over, students, military members and people who are hospitalized. Next stop for the bill is the State Senate.
• The most important piece of legislation on our calendar for next week is a major reform package to our two-decades old ethics laws. Various study committees have spent months holding meetings and have taken public testimony to find the best answers for updating our ethics laws.
Republicans and Democrats have worked together and separately and were joined by the Governor's Office. The result is the legislation that we will consider next week. The legislation abolishes the House and Senate ethics committees and replaces them with a new, bi-partisan commission that includes public officials and members of the general public to oversee ethics violations in the House and Senate. It creates a "Public Integrity Unit" to receive and investigate criminal complaints.
It also strengthens criminal penalties for violations of the Ethics Act, and abolishes "Leadership PAC" contributions to elected officials.
It requires all lawmakers to disclose all sources of income - public and private - to disclose potential conflicts of interest. It requires lobbyists to register if they lobby local governments or school districts, but keeps all of the same exemptions for members of the public and "local" organizations such as PTAs, homeowners' associations, or churches.
Finally, it eliminates the "blackout period" right before an election when candidates do not have to disclose donors, and expands when public officials must excuse themselves from a vote to include all levels of the legislative process down to the subcommittee level.
There has been a lot of misinformation spread about this bill as it was being developed. Ultimately, this proposed legislation is a significant change in how the public will hold their public officials accountable.
The House is on furlough the week of May 6. During this time, the Senate will be working on the bills sent from the House.
As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. Contact me at 553-9288 or at the State House at (803) 734-2951, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.