Work in progress
2010 legislative session more effective, by comparison
By Bill Davis, senior editorAPRIL 9, 2010 -- Compared to the past two completed legislative sessions, the amount of work done in the first half of this year’s session has been considerable, several Statehouse sources agreed this week. But will the work-party end when legislators return from their Easter furlough on Tuesday?
There's a concern that with so much completed, that legislators will down-shift and cruise out of town weeks earlier than originally planned with little else accomplished. Why? Because they've been hampered by one of the tightest budgets in years and have a looming June primary and election in November for the House.
So far this year, legislators have tangled with issues they merely poked and prodded the last few sessions: a cigarette tax hike, sentencing reform, spending limits, increasing the general reserve fund, several environmentally-friendly bills and reforming the state’s embattled unemployment agency.
Reforming the Employment Security Commission has already been completed and signed into law by Gov. Mark Sanford, so what’s left for the “second half” of the session other than finishing work on the budget? Here's a list of issues:
Cigarette tax. The Senate recently passed a House bill held over from last year that would increase the tax on each pack of cigarettes by 50 cents. The bill has been sent back to the House, which had also included a 30-cent increase in a separate item in its General Fund budget package this year. Stumbling block: The 50-cent version the Senate sent back expands Medicaid programs, while the original House bill directed the collected funds into small business tax credits, intended to use private business to run health care offerings. But with Sanford threatening a veto if there’s not a corresponding, revenue-neutral, tax cut, the bill may die anyway.
General Reserve Fund. The House and Senate have passed versions of a bill to increase the amount of General Fund money held in reserve from 3 percent to 5 percent, and limit when and how the money could be spent. Stumbling block: Procedural changes. The measure is expected to pass through conference committee, even though some House brass have complained the problem with the state budget has not been the fund’s percentage, but the overall drop in revenues.
Economic development. House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s (R-Charleston) omnibus re-tilling of the state’s economic soil has been passed quickly and easily over to the Senate, where it could see more opposition from senators who are not up for reelection. Stumbling block: While no politician likely relishes the idea of standing against a bill with this title in a down economy, embedded corporate tax cuts could inspire senate Democrats to take a firmer stand, forcing the bill into a conference committee.
Spending limits. Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) fought for this bill to be sent to the House. The bill would tie the annual expansion of the state General Fund budget to historical increase over the previous 10 years. Stumbling block: House Ways and Means chair Dan Cooper (R-Piedmont) has not been a fan of tying budget-writers’ hands in trying economic times.
Sentencing reform. This may emerge as this session’s best bill. Receiving wide and bipartisan support in the Senate, the bill has been praised for its cost savings, keeping prison beds reserved for the most dangerous criminals and cleaning up the state’s “hodge-podge” of criminal statutes. Stumbling block: It is an election year in the House, which now has to vote on it. Politicians hungry for reelection may not want to appear soft on crime. But with Attorney General Henry McMaster calling for a relaxing on sentencing on drug crimes, it is expected to go through easily this year.
Voter ID. This may emerge as this session’s least popular bill, which would require voters to show photo identification before they vote. The Senate passed it with rancor, and the House, which now has it back, has already seen a filibuster and a walk-out of Democratic lawmakers over it earlier in the session. Stumbling block: Democrats largely hate it, but in a numbers game with only technical changes to the bill to mitigate, it likely will clear both chambers and conference committee this session.
Tort reform. Outside of the budget, this may represent the biggest fight in the Senate for the rest of the session. Stumbling block: Timing. Democratic opposition may not be as powerful a foe as the race to get the bill out of committee, where members are tied up on other issues, like the budget, in time to get to the floor to get back to the House before adjournment. (Because it is a House bill, it won’t fall afoul of the May 1 crossover deadline, when bills need two-thirds approval and not just a majority to be sent to the other chamber.)
Crystal ball: Before the ink on the “congratulations” card dries, legislators need to remember what already didn't get done this year. The Taxation Realignment Commission (TRAC) was supposed to have filed its report and recommendations by now. Instead its report has been put off until after the general election in November. All the while, the state’s General Fund twists in the wind. Also, remember last session when legislative leaders were fuming about the need to address K-12 funding? This year, they apparently didn't. Perhaps they'll get to it early next year before redistricting, thanks to the ongoing Census, takes over as the big issue in 2011.
Game back on at Statehouse
With the House and Senate back from Easter furloughs, meetings will increase, with the House moving quickly to get its next round of bills out and the Senate doing the same while also juggling budget subcommittee and committee meetings.
In the House:
Raffles, more. Several subcommittees will meet Tuesday, with the most noteworthy being held an hour and a half after adjournment in 321 Blatt to discuss, among other bills, a constitutional amendment to allow charitable organizations to hold raffles. More.
Water wars. An Agriculture subcommittee will meet one and a half hours after adjournment Tuesday in 410 Blatt to discuss a Senate bill that would create water draw-down permitting in the state. More.
3M. The full committee will host a short agenda at 2:30 p.m. or an hour and a half after adjournment Tuesday in 427 Blatt. More.
Health insurance, parole. The full Judiciary committee will host a full agenda at 2:30 p.m. or one and half hours after adjournment in 516 Blatt to discuss bills that would block South Carolinians from having to sign up for federal medical insurance programs, as well as a bill that would change provisions in a law governing the paroling of sexual offenders. More.
Timber. An agriculture subcommittee will meet and hour and a half after adjournment Wednesday in 410 Blatt to discuss a bill that would streamline permitting of cutting of timber on DNR land. More.
Insurance. The full LCI committee will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in 403 Blatt to discuss a series of insurance-related bills. More.
In the Senate:
Economic development. A Finance subcommittee will get an early start on the week, meeting at 2 p.m. Monday in 105 Gressette to discuss Speaker Bobby Harrell’s economic development bill. More.
Ag. The full Agriculture committee will meet at 10 a.m. in 209 Gressette to discuss a series of bills. More.
Nursing. The full Education committee will meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday in 406 Gressette to discuss a bill that would create a loan repayment program for geriatric nursing students. More.
The fight over roll call votes will begin heating up over the last months of this year's legislative session. One Senate bigwig, who asked for anonymity, complained that roll call votes on each section of the budget would have taken 31 hours. Considering that the Senate is in session Tuesday through Thursday for roughly three hours each day, it would mean additional days spent in Columbia and a huge chunk of time.
That same senator complained that if roll call votes were such a big deal in the House, where a bill originated calling for them, then why didn’t Harrell test-run roll-calling each section this year in the House? This could get ugly.
Senate to hash out budgetThe Senate will begin hashing out its version of the state budget this week in subcommittee meetings, with the budget expected to hit the floor in the last week of the month. There will be little to fight over, since there is so little money, $5.1 billion, in the General Fund budget this year.
But, senators, used to being able to provide services and perks and programs and projects to their voter base, will likely get heated. Why? Because instead of bringing home the bacon, the financial restrictions will mean offering less services and more to voters. A little bird said this week to watch the fight over Disabilities and Special Needs funding for fireworks in the Senate.
Turnabout is fair play
In the topsy-turvy world of Statehouse politics, a cowed Gov. Mark Sanford has been the most effective Mark Sanford. For years, Sanford rode a wave of populist support, but succeeded little in getting pet bills and projects pushed through the legislature. This year, stung by scandal and beholden to a legislature that could have impeached him, the governor has had arguably his most successful legislative year. Consider that this year he signed a bill giving tax credits (a relative first for him) to Boeing that landed a huge expansion of a plant here, and the overhaul of the ESC. Sometimes an animal is most dangerous when it’s wounded. Which may explain his continued fight against tax incentives for retail shops, like Cabela’s and Sembler.
Green Party enters the fray
The South Carolina Green Party has put forward 10 different candidates for state and federal office this year:
U.S. Senate: Tom Clements
U.S. House Dist 1: Robert Dobbs
U.S. House Dist 4: Faye Walters
U.S. House Dist 6: Nammu Muhammad
Governor: Morgan Reeves
Attorney General: Leslie Minerd
Superintendent of Education: Doretha Bull
S.C. House, District 24: D.C. Swinton
S.C. House, District 74: Christopher Jones
S.C. House, District 115: Eugene Platt
Learn from the Civil War to move forward
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher
APRIL 9, 2010 -- One hundred and forty nine years ago on Monday, Confederate troops bombarded Fort Sumter to open a national gash that oozed for more than a century. By the time the bloodiest of American wars ended in 1865, more than 662,000 Americans lay dead. While the total number of Union troops killed was greater (364,511), the South’s wound cut deeper because the estimated 258,000 Confederate dead came from a smaller regional population. One in four white Southern males between the age of 15 and 40 died in “The Lost Cause.”
Our War Between the States tested America and its notion of freedom. In the broadest sense, the war grew out of regional insecurities about slavery that evolved since the earliest days of the republic. Southerners felt they needed slaves to work the land in their agrarian-based economy. They long championed states’ rights and self-government to prop up a social, economic and political structure based on race. As the North industrialized, it sought a more centralized system that promoted economic development and expansion without slavery.
In the midst of two increasingly different outlooks, some sought compromise to bring people together. The war, historian Avery O. Craven wrote, “did not come simply because one section was agricultural and the other industrial; because one exploited free labor and the other slaves; or because a sectional majority refused to respect the constitutional rights of the minority.” Rather, he said, “politicians and pious cranks” ratcheted up the rhetoric on issues that could have been compromised (sound familiar today?) and whipped up the South against the North, and vice versus.
The war devastated the South. As Mark Twain observed in 1883, “In the South, the war is what A.D. [anno Domini] is elsewhere; they date from it.” Reconstruction rubbed salt in the war wounds of the white elite to the point that they figured out a way – Jim Crow laws – to constantly pick at scabs from the war and keep the free black man down for decades. Only after millions of Americans fought overseas during World War II did GIs returning to a segregated South start questioning America’s peculiar apartheid. “I fought the Nazis and returned home to find this?” many wondered.
The landmark Brown v. Board of Education case drove a stake into Old South segregation in schools. Then black leaders from the South led the civil rights movement to help America better realize its true dream of freedom and equality for all.
|"So when it comes to the Civil War, let’s avoid the bitterness that tore the country apart 149 years ago, be respectful, pull together and focus on how our great divide from the past can make us stronger now." |
Today, despite huge leaps of progress, the country is still suffering from a Civil War hangover. Almost mimicking the spirit of those Pace salsa commercials on television, Southerners routinely are distrustful of new ideas and policies that emanate from New York City, Washington or places that are “off.” In turn, Northerners seem to still have caricatured impressions of Southerners and their values of faith, duty, honor, tradition and respect for the past. The residual effect is that there’s a lot of hollering and little listening, much the same as there was just before the start of the Civil War.
Throughout this next year, America has a choice on how to remember the Civil War. In one path, we honor the dead from both sides who gave their lives. We embrace a full, open discussion of what happened a century and a half ago. And we learn from it so we can take steps to make our democracy stronger. Or the country can go down the familiar path of vitriol and hatefulness, needlessly fighting old battles that can only cause more division, more problems and more pain in our over-partisanized, media-saturated America that is hurting more each day.
As Americans, we know what the right thing is – to engage in spirited, respectful discussions on issues to move forward to a common goal, a stronger country. So when it comes to the Civil War, let’s avoid the bitterness that tore the country apart 149 years ago, be respectful, pull together and focus on how our great divide from the past can make us stronger now.
S.C. Policy CouncilThe public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring SC Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This issue's underwriter is the South Carolina Policy Council. Since 1986, the Policy Council has brought together civic, community and business leaders from all over our state to discuss innovative policy ideas that advance the principles of limited government and free enterprise. No other think tank in South Carolina can match the Policy Council's success in assembling the top national and state experts on taxes, education, environmental policy, health care and numerous other issues. That ability to bring new ideas to the forefront, lead the policy debate and create a broad base of support for sensible reform is what makes our organization the leader in turning good ideas into good state policy. For more information, go to: www.scpolicycouncil.com.
Who's on the stump?
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"Something's in the air ..."