SC House to consider proposal to make state lawmakers’ records public

jself@thestate.comFebruary 18, 2013 

— The S.C. House will consider ending part of the exemption that lawmakers have from the state’s sunshine laws.

The state’s Freedom of Information Act, which outlines the information that public officials and government bodies must make available to the public, exempts members of the General Assembly and their staff from disclosing memos, correspondence and working papers.

State Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, wants to narrow that exemption to give the public access to that paperwork once related legislation or amendments have been introduced.

A similar proposal died last year in the state Senate.

Trying to find out why that bill failed, Newton said he heard concerns from lawmakers who wanted to keep private communications and working papers involving not-yet-introduced legislation.

Newton also wants to allow all elected officials to shield from disclosure any letters and emails from constituents, regardless of content, an exemption only legislators have under current law. Constituents could request legislation or an action and that communication could be withheld, for example. But any response from the legislator to that constituent could be released.

Having served on Beaufort County Council for 14 years, Newton said most people do not realize their letters to elected officials could be considered public records.

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