South Carolina Lawyers
The State Integrity Investigation conducted the study and ranked states by their corruption risk. The study found that both North Carolina and South Carolina failed to provide an appeals process for request that were denied and failed to impose penalties for agencies who violated public records laws. The study also evaluated state budget processes, lobbying disclosure and judicial accountability.
North Carolina came in at 43rd on the list, with South Carolina pulling up the rear at 50th. Both states received an “F” in public access to information.
The study defined a public record as any information, document or electronic data that a government agency must maintain and must be accessible to scrutiny by the public. These records can include police reports, court documents or autopsy reports among others.
Proponents for open government warned that withholding public information creates a culture of secrecy. This creates barriers for both citizens and media organizations seeking public records and can result in lengthy, drawn-out lawsuits.
This is not the first time that these states received an “F” in regards to public records. A 2007 study by the National Freedom of Information Coalition and Better Government Association gave both states an “F” for responsiveness to records request. People like Joann Hager, an animal rights activist, understand the frustration that comes along with requesting public records. “You can ask, but you probably won’t get public records,” Hager said. “That’s pretty much the way it is. They know there is no enforcement.”
North Carolina provides no oversight for requests and lacks efficient measures to appeal denied requests in a timely manner. South Carolina failed almost every category of the study regarding public access to information.
Just last week, a South Carolina judge ruled that autopsy records might be withheld, even though taxpayers fund autopsies. The lawsuit filed by the The Item newspaper of Sumter, claimed that autopsy records regarding a suspicious death should be released. Jay Bender, attorney for the Item and professor at the University of South Carolina, credits South Carolina’s public information failures to the culture and not to the laws.
“I don’t think we have a bad law,” Bender states. “We have a political culture that has never been supportive of democracy.”
The records request process in South Carolina is costly and of poor quality. South Carolina also seems to have trouble enforcing violations. Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, states, “There is no realistic penalty for violations, and violations are more and more common.”
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