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In unscripted moment, Nikki Haley calls out Senate's lack of progress on ethics bill

Published: Jan. 21, 2016 at 7:00 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2016 at 7:00 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A moment that went completely off-the-script now has set up a fight for ethics reform in the State House.

Wednesday night during her State of the State address before the House and Senate, Gov. Nikki Haley called out the Senate for their lack of movement on ethics reform.

RELATED: Read Gov. Nikki Haley's State of the State address.

"Last year, I told you I didn't know what else to say about ethics reform, that we'd talked about it for years and that we weren't asking that much, just for some simple, common sense, good government changes," Haley said. "Yet here we are again."

In her prepared remarks, the governor was expected to discuss requiring public officials to disclose who pays them and having independent investigators oversee legislators.

However, Haley did not do that. Instead, she paused for a moment and addressed House members directly first.

"House members, we're not going to talk to you right now," Haley said before turning her attention to other side of the aisle.

"Senators, we see an opportunity," Haley said. "We see an opportunity because the state is watching. We see an opportunity to show where you stand."

Haley then asked for an impromptu vote on the issue to see where each senator stood on ethics reform by having them stand. Only a handful of the state's 46 senators stood in favor.

Lawmakers reacted with a mix of disappointment and delight at Haley's action.

"We were a little bit disappointed that as she talked about bringing everybody together, she did ask the Senate to stand up if they supported something that she did without the ability to defend themselves or talk or speak on why it is they may or may not have supported it," Rep. Todd Rutherford said. "So that was -- looked like kind of a childish trick."

"Gov. Haley was exactly right," Sen. Tom Davis said. "Senators in the Senate have blocked that from coming up for a vote, and as she said tonight in asking those senators that stand with her in regard to those two items to stand up, that may be the only chance voters get this year to see where we stand on that issue."

"This idea that somehow it's all the Senate's fault, she needs to look in the mirror," Sen. Brad Hutto said. "She wants to somehow stand in front of the podium as the poster child for ethics reform? She's not."

Haley's office did point out that she was cleared of wrongdoing in each ethics case brought against her.

Many members of the Senate did express a willingness to bring an ethics reform law to the table this year. Senate Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman says the Senate is at work.

"The Senate's working on it," Leatherman said. "We'll see if we can come up with something."

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