S.C. Statehouse Report
May 23, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0523.racetrack.htm


COMMENTARY
Legislature shouldn't be a race track
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 23, 2004 - - House Speaker David Wilkins was so mad he looked like he was going to have a stroke.

On Wednesday, Wilkins took the floor to blast the Senate for frustrating the legislative process by moving slowly on House bills.

"Their rules that allow one person to block the process don't work very well any more," he sputtered to a rapt House.

Wilkins said the Senate was holding onto or delaying 64 bills passed earlier this session by the House. He was fighting mad that a lot of his chamber's work seemed to be spinning down the drainpipe.

What prompted Wilkins's outburst was remarks from the Legislature's other top Republican, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, who criticized the House for adding non-germane bills to measures returning to the Senate.

You might recall from high school civics that before something can move to the governor to be signed into law, the exact same measure has to be approved by the House and Senate. When one body finishes with a piece of legislation, it goes to the other, which then takes it up and sends it back. When it returns to the initiating body, members can agree to the version amended by the second chamber or they can vote to "non-concur," or disagree. If this happens, both versions go to a conference committee to get a compromise. If three members from each side come up with an agreement, both bodies vote on the final version. And if they agree, the measure goes to the governor.

As you can see, there are a lot of steps for something to become a law. What McConnell was irked by is the House took a "teacher protection" bill and added previously-passed House bills to try to get the Senate to act. In this instance, the House added a ban on same-sex marriages, probate judge rules and changes to lobbying rules.

"You've got to have an imagination greater than the Star Wars writers to be able to link those four things to the subject matter," McConnell said.

In essence, the House "bobtailed" gay marriage, lobbying and judicial proposals onto an education bill. Earlier in the year, Gov. Mark Sanford waxed poetic about the vices of adding extraneous measures to legislation. That, in part, prompted the House in April to pass a measure to stop the practice of bobtailing.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: The perils of online shopping

FEEDBACK: Letters on property taxes, gay lifestyle

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week

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Guess who introduced the measure? Wilkins - - the same guy who was complaining about the Senate not moving things along after the Senate complained about House bobtailing.

Wilkins defended the practice by saying it was the only way to get the Senate to act if the House was going to continue "to be the hardworking members of the body that we are."

The speaker, however, seems to get quantity and quality of legislation confused.

For the last few years, the Republican-controlled House has acted as a legislative racetrack - - seemingly racing to get as much legislation to the Senate as possible. The House appears to value quantity, as evidenced earlier this year in dealing with property tax reform. Instead of sending the Senate a well-considered property tax reform option, the House voted - - and approved - - three different ways of changing property tax rules.

And that, in our view, is wrong. It allows House members to say they've done the work on property tax reform, which provides political fodder for them at election time. But what they've done really isn't the hard work. As in many instances, they leave the heavy lifting to the Senate to sort out the merits of the competing proposals.

Since the Senate characterizes itself as the more deliberative body, having extra work certainly doesn't help speed things along.

So what needs to happen? Part of the problem is lawmakers find themselves under increasing pressure as the session draws to a close. Rules won't ever be able to fix that.

But the House could start acting more responsibly in the initial passage of legislation to ensure there is fuller debate at the subcommittee, committee and floor levels. That will result in stronger bills that have fewer errors for the Senate to clean up.

Similarly, the Senate could try to make things move a little more smoothly. Senators could stay in session longer. They could face reality during filibusters. There was no reason, for example, to stay stuck on something like stronger seatbelt legislation for eight weeks when it was crystal clear after three weeks that nothing was going to happen.

Yes, the Senate has problems with timeliness. But when the House rushes legislation, the chances are greater for bad laws.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
5/23: The problem with online shopping

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
5/18: Politicians should look at taxes differently

To the editor:

You made some good points in your article (5/9, Statehouse Report) on state income taxes. I do not know enough about the state of the budget to comment technically, but I immediately considered arguments against taxes using your same logic.

You write "individually, the cuts don't seem like much-$6 million here, $40 million there. But added together they are draining the state budget." Couldn't this also be used in the context that individually taxes don't seem like much, 7% of income here, 15% of income there, 6 cents on the dollar here, 10% of property value over there, etc., but added together they are draining families' budgets. Also to refute John Land's assessment of tax cuts: if higher taxes strengthen an economy, why would an increase from 7% to 15% on our state income tax boost our economy? If taxes benefit the economy, politicians should advocate no limit on taxes, but history doesn't show that higher taxes help individuals at all.

You're right $68 a year isn't going to affect a family much, but such figures quoted by politicians and higher-tax advocates are never in a vacuum in reality. They are added to $100 school bond, $800 for car taxes or property taxes, an increase in water and sewer, etc, etc.

These taxes should not be looked at and analyzed alone but as part of a whole percentage a family pays in taxes and fees. Then politicians should ask a question, "how much of a family's income is too much (morally) to pay in taxes? 15%, 25%...75%?" I think that should be a required question and answer for politicians.

-- Craig Stephans, Charleston, SC

5/18: Deceiving people on gay lifestyle

To the editor (in response to 5/16 commentary):

The arguments used against integration 50 years ago cannot be compared to the gay lifestyle agenda today. African Americans say that there is a fundamental difference between the civil rights struggle of the last century and the "gay rights" position: You cannot change your skin color, but you can change your behavior.

The fact that the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong is a good enough reason for it to be wrong! No other culture in the history of humanity has recognized marriage between members of the same sex. Numerous studies have shown that the best environment for nurturing children is in a family with a male father and a female mother. You are deceiving people if you put the efforts to normalize the gay/lesbian lifestyle in the same boat as racial discrimination.

-- LynnEllen Lang, Florence, SC


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Budget conferees. Congrats on timely work on the budget.

School supporters. Hats off to 2,500 people who marched on the Statehouse last weekend to push for better, more equitable school funding.

Thumbs down

Grover Norquist. The state would be better off if Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform kept their noses out of the SC legislature. Isn't there enough dumb stuff going on in Washington to keep them busy?

Bobby Harrell. The Palmetto Bowl is special-interest spending at its worst. But the House Ways and Means chair didn't deserve getting attacked like he did in the last week.

Kuhn, Sanford. Both Sen. John Kuhn and First Lady Jenny Sanford need to learn to control their tempers.


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