Written By Tim Smith, Greenville News
COLUMBIA - Senators have agreed on a proposal to fix last year's election mess that would prevent candidates from being removed from the ballot because of glitches in the way they filed paperwork.
The proposal would send the statement of economic interest, the financial disclosure form at the heart of last year's controversy, to the State Ethics Commission and not to election officials. The form would be filled out online by challengers and incumbents alike by March 30.
The proposal could be voted on today.
Legislation approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee would have required the financial disclosure form, along with the candidate's intention of candidacy, to be filed with party officials, who would then give the candidate a receipt to show they had filed their paperwork properly.
But Sen. Larry Martin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said party officials are "adamantly opposed" to the idea of taking responsibility for a candidate's paperwork. So he said the new proposal would only require that party officials accept the basic filing paperwork and filing fee.
Anyone not filing the financial disclosure form, or not doing so properly, could be subject to a fine by the Ethics Commission but not the "death penalty" of being removed from the ballot, Martin said.
"I think it's important that we send a signal to the people of South Carolina that we recognize that what happened last year is behind us; it's over," he said. "We're not going to let it happen again. We're going to resolve it in a way that is candidate-friendly."
Last year more than 200 candidates were removed from primary ballots after rulings by the South Carolina Supreme Court required candidates to file paper financial disclosure forms at the same time as they file their candidacy paperwork.
Debate on the legislation was suspended for about an hour Wednesday after Democrats asked for a conference on two points of contention - where the candidates' forms will be filed and whether someone intentionally not filling out financial disclosure forms could be removed from the ballot.
Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow filings to be made with party officials but at local election commission offices.
Sen. Nikki Setzler, leader of Senate Democrats, said Democrats do not want to delay the legislation.
"We want the bill passed now," he said. "There is no effort to kill this bill."
Martin announced after the closed door meeting that an agreement had been reached and the Senate would likely vote on the matter today.
Sen. Chip Campsen, a Charleston Republican who chaired a subcommittee on the bill, said the law already prevents someone from taking office if they do not fill out a financial disclosure form.
But others argued that voters should not be given the choice of someone on a ballot that intentionally does not want to fill out the form.
The committee bill also had shortened the time period for filing but Martin said the new proposal goes back to the filing period used now to avoid having to subject the legislation to the U.S. Justice Department for review.