Sanford signs unemployment agency overhaul law

Columbia, SC - COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has signed an overhaul of the troubled Employment Security Commission into law.

Sanford's public bill signing Tuesday for legislation that transforms that agency into a Cabinet-level Workforce Department gives him the authority to appoint a temporary director who will run the agency through early next year when Sanford leaves office. His successor will then approve the director.

The new law also compels the agency to undergo periodic audits, mandates that the agency provide regular information on employment trends and the Unemployment Trust Fund's balance, and prohibits the agency from giving unemployment benefits in instances of gross misconduct.

"As we've made clear for more than a year and a half now, the ESC's ineptitude and disturbing lack of accountability have had real world consequences - from $171 million in inexplicable payments to people who were fired for good reason and a failure to even investigate fraud since 2008, to an estimated Unemployment Trust Fund shortfall of nearly two billion dollars," Sanford said. "This legislation both increases accountability to the taxpayers and restores the core mission of connecting people looking for a job with employment opportunities. For that reason, I'd give real credit to legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle - especially Senators Greg Ryberg, Nikki Setzler and Joel Lourie, as well as Representatives Kenny Bingham and Jim Battle. Also, I'd single out Senator Chip Campsen for ensuring that the legislation protected taxpayers and the Unemployment Trust Fund by taking the commonsense approach of denying benefits to those fired for gross misconduct."

Sanford says he expects to name the agency's leader within two weeks.

The agency has faced criticism for more than a year. Auditors found the commission didn't do enough to head off the need to borrow $838 million to keep unemployment benefits paid. Auditors also said the agency lacked accounting skills and didn't pay income taxes on benefits last year.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.