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      House raises lobbyist fee, muzzles ethics panel

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Statehouse lobbyists would pay more in fees and South Carolina's ethics watchdogs would be able to talk less about cases under proposals the House has included in the state's $5 billion spending plan.

      The House on Monday agreed to raise the lobbyist fee to $200 and bar State Ethics Commission staff from giving personal opinions on issues that may become ethics cases.

      The higher fee would generate up to $150,000. Half the money would go to the Ethics Commission to ease budget cuts.

      Commission director Herb Hayden says the other measure would bar the commission from expressing personal opinions.

      Legislators said the commission's lawyer went too far earlier this year when she responded to questions about Lt. Gov. Ken Ard's ethics reports.

      (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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