As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, I often repeat a quote from President Woodrow Wilson’s doctoral dissertation: “As important as legislation, is vigilant oversight of administration.”
The process we adopted after passing the legislation calling for oversight of various state agencies mandated the highest level of transparency, not only with the oversight function, but also with all aspects of the committee. Our process was designed to educate the public about our boards, agencies, and commissions with a single set of reality- based, measurable taxpayer facts which can be used to better serve all our constituents.
This bi-partisan, fact-based oversight is serving us well in South Carolina. During the 124th legislative session, 36 of the recommendations from various House Legislative Oversight Committee studies of agencies were enacted into law. These changes reflect the dedication of my colleagues in listening to agency personnel during studies and continuing to act on their requests.
Sometimes, it takes filing a bill in multiple legislative sessions for the change to be enacted. For example, during the study of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the Office of the State Fire Marshal requested changes to the law to clarify the authority to issue separate fines for each repeated fire code violation (i.e., those that remain uncorrected after notice and time to correct) creating life and safety issues for the public.
Legislation was first filed to implement this change in 2018, and a version was ultimately enacted in 2022.
Sometimes legislation can pass rather quickly. For example, the study of the Department of Motor Vehicles included a recommendation to require inclusion of vehicle titles of “brands” (e.g., “salvage water,” “salvage fire,” etc.) that provide information about a vehicle’s history to a potential buyer. Legislation was prefiled on this issue in 2020 and enacted in 2021.
As another example, the Department of Corrections study included a recommendation to lower the minimum age for certification of correctional officers from 21 to 18 years to help address the growing staffing challenges with the agency. In making the recommendation, we noted 23 other states had a minimum age of 18. Legislation on this issue was filed in February of this year and signed into law only four months later.
Further, ongoing and completed studies continue to shed light on agency operations and observations and help inform public policy decisions. Examples include the 2022 studies of the Arts Commission, which identified the arts as having a $9.7 billion impact to the state’s economic and cultural vitality in 2014, based on research from the Darla Moore School of Business; and of the Department of Health and Human Services, which included a finding that nine counties (i.e., Dillon, Marion, Barnwell, Marlboro, Allendale, Williamsburg, Lee, Colleton, and Orangeburg) have a Medicaid population of 40% or more of the total county population; and the recent study of the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, which noted that more than 75% of victims do not receive full restitution.
Currently, the Attorney General’s Office, Department of Commerce, Jobs-Economic Development Authority, and State Library are under review and meetings will continue with these agencies through October.
Our experience will, I hope, continue to inspire other legislative bodies. It is not a huge jump to infer that our era of hyper-partisanship may be a part of our current cynicism and mistrust of our long-evolved institutions of democracy. Cooperative, bipartisan, factual oversight may go a long way to help us understand that we are all in this together.
We have made significant recommendations to improve and make government more efficient. This is powerful, positive change.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov