S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 5, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1205.walk.htm

COMMENTARY
When "taking a walk" may have whole new meaning
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 5, 2004 - - The phrase "taking a walk" may get a whole new meaning if the South Carolina Senate changes a rule dealing with filibusters.

In large part, the Senate is considered the home of more collegial, deliberate and thoughtful debate than the S.C. House because a minority of senators has the ability to hold up measures pushed by the majority. In other words, the minority on any issue can talk a bill to death until someone in the majority wises up and realizes the proposed measure is too radical or softens it to deal with concerns of the minority.

While some folks don't like the power this tool provides the minority, it has been useful because it often leads to better laws. Why? Because it forces opposing sides to compromise.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Technology's downside

FEEDBACK: More on education vouchers

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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Filibusters aren't used all that often, but have been used more in recent years after the Senate reorganized from a non-partisan seniority system to a partisan system. Currently, members of a minority on any issue can hold it up when it gets to the Senate floor for debate by continuing to talk and talk about it - - to filibuster. To stop the debate, at least 28 senators currently are needed to close off the filibuster.

Over the years, this so-called cloture number, which has varied from 27 to 30 or so, has been sacrosanct. That's because senators from both parties and sides of various debates have known that they one day might want to use a filibuster for something they viewed as bad. So over time regardless of their position on an issue, many have been hesitant to vote for cloture to sit down a filibustering senator. Because of the fear they might face a halt to debate on something they wanted badly, the filibuster has been an effective threat and tool to bring people together on tough issues.

Now, however, a handful of editorial writers, some Senate Republicans and Gov. Mark Sanford desperately want change so they can "get things done." They want to change the formula on how to curb debate from the simple number 28 to "three-fifths of members present."

In other words, they only would have to get 60 percent of the people in the Senate chamber to vote to close debate to move forward. It might not sound like a big deal, especially when the 28 is 60 percent of the state's 46 senators.

But it is a big deal because it means if one senator is filibustering in the middle of the night and all of his colleagues in the minority are elsewhere, then just two senators in the majority could pass a motion to cut off the filibuster's debate. (Two out of three is 67 percent.)

It also means senators will start "taking walks." When a vote to close debate arises, some senators will leave the chamber so they're not "present" and can't be counted in the percentage to close off debate. In other words, weak-willed senators who don't want to "sit a colleague down" just won't participate and will be able to safely say that he or she didn't vote to cut off debate. Their walk, however, affected the outcome. And that's not good for the process and accountability.

Critics say the filibuster has been abused too much recently and they can't move legislation they want through the chamber. They say the very process that helped Republicans preserve their rights and have a voice when Democrats controlled the Legislature needs to change so they can get important legislation passed.

Hogwash. First, when did Republicans seek to pass more laws? They traditionally have been opposed to more laws, more government, more bureaucracy.

Second and perhaps more importantly, changing the cloture rule will change the historic role of the Senate - - to cool off firebrand legislation that comes from the House.

It's remarkable that during the eight-year gubernatorial term of GOP Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. - - one of the state's most successful governors - - a startling amount of legislation Campbell wanted got passed with a Democratic-led General Assembly. By using compromise and working with lawmakers, Campbell successfully pushed a gas tax increase, corporate tax cuts, restructuring and more.

In other words, Campbell didn't need a rules change to get things done with a legislature of another party. Now Sanford, who hasn't had a major piece of legislation passed in two years, wants to change the rules even though his own party is in control.

"For the Senate to kowtow to a governor is as bad as a governor having to kowtow to the Senate," said Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon. "Neither should be subservient to the other."

"The filibuster rule is the rule that makes the Senate what it is…If we do [change] it, we will have two houses of representatives without deliberate debate."


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
12/5: What technology may do

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
12/3: Filibuster actually promotes gridlock

To the editor:

I disagree with your recent commentary (Commentary, 11/28) that the filibuster encourages compromise. Lately it's used to intentionally gridlock the Senate so some bill, usually not the one under consideration but one further down the line, won't be voted on before the session expires. I'm all for reasoned discourse, but this is ridiculous.

I agree with you that the legislature, particularly the Senate, has done remarkable little since Sanford was elected. My guess is they don't like him and fear fundamental reform. They see him as an outsider with wild ideas who never served in the State Legislature. I see him as an outsider with good ideals uncorrupted by service in the State Legislature.

The Senate needs to get out of his way and help him accomplish real reform. If they don't, voters won' t think he's a failure; they'll think the Senators are obstructionists!

-- Shell Suber, Columbia, S.C.


12/1: Districts should get bus contracts

To the editor:

I read recently that our state government is considering privatization of school bus services in an attempt to improve the budget. Based on their past record regarding the awarding of contracts for various services and products to contributors, cronies and even themselves, I would hate to see the sort of contract that might result following such legislative action.

As ours is the only state which assumes full responsibility for these vehicles and their upkeep, and they are acknowledged to often be outdated and sometimes dangerous, perhaps that itself is a clue that something does need to be changed, however. I would suggest that granting our state's school districts the autonomy from legislative interference in their budgets and daily operation found elsewhere, a workable equal funding plan based on enrollment and then the giving of bus responsibility to the districts would be a better proposal to consider.

-- Jon R. Heckerman, Garden City Beach


11/30: Private education should get tax credit

To the editor:

I have just read your article in the Business Journal (Commentary, 11/14) and I am puzzled by your logic on the subject of vouchers. Please tell me why for the 12 years my kids are not sitting in a public school, I shouldn't get a credit for educating them somewhere else? If they aren't sitting in a public school they aren't costing the school system any money. Every parent of a public school student recieves [sic] money from the state for their kids education in the form of that education. The amount of money the goverment pays for each public school student is far more than the $4,000.00 credit that we would get. This means that the school system would still recieving part of my kids funding even if we recieved a voucher from the state. (Keep in mind it's not the "state's money", it's our tax money that we paid in.)

So my family would get a credit for only 12 years and we still pay to fund public education until we retire. This only seems logical to me. I am a general contractor. Using your logic, If I choose to use a certian electrical firm, I am taking money away from all of that electrical contractors competitors thus treating them unfairly. You don't take into account that I chose contractor A over the others because I am looking for a better quality job.

Competition works to spur improvement in every other business in the world. What logical reason can you provide that excludes education from this universal truth. Please give me a reason to see your side of this or why my side is wrong. I am a businessman and I deal with logic, not emotion. Your rich getting richer line is nothing more than class baiting. We pay more taxes and usually contribute more to society than "the poor" so calling a voucher program "subsidizing private education" is an incorrect term in my opinion. Even with a voucher you are still keeping part of my kids state education money in the public system for free.

-- Name withheld upon request, Wando, S.C.


11/28: Brack's right on voucher plan's impact

To the editor:

I agree with your previous State House Report concerning an effort by the naysayers of our Public School system to privatize it (Commentary, 11/14). Especially those who want to get their foot in the door by taking some public funds for private education as our Governor is proposing with his "Let The Parents Choose" vote getting program.

This program, along with other similar programs is, in my opinion, simply a sneaky way of resegregation our school system. The Public School system is certainly not perfect but it does not warrant privatization, be it partially or otherwise.

The run-up to such privatizing efforts was, in my view, triggered by the Bush Administrations underfunded "No Child Left Behind" program. A program that all public school systems are struggling with. That program accentuates the negative instead of enumerating the positives of Public education.

Again, if the truth were known, talk about using public funds for private education only tends to refuel the resentment many folks had at the dawn of School Integration. Private funds should only go towards Private services and Public funds to Public services. It's the American way. All Public School Systems should continue to work to improve but that does not include carving out the funds needed to do so simply to please some who don't like the mix their darlings have to face in the classrooms.

The 'Separate But Equal' Public School System once used in the South did not work and neither will the Governor's vote getting attempt to take public education back the days before the Civil Rights movement. Senator Graham is correct in coming out against Sanford's proposal.

-- Bob Logan, Horry County


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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

Aircraft jobs. Thumbs up to Vought Aircraft and a partner for picking the S.C. Lowcountry as its new home for more than 600 jobs.

Teachers, schools. The state ranks third nationally in the number of nationally certified teachers. Also during the week, more SC schools were rated average, good or excellent than in years past.

Wilkins, Ott. Hats off to S.C. House Speaker David Wilkins for his reelection and to new House Minority Leader Harry Ott, who has his work cut out for himself.

Thumbs down

SC prisons. With news that the state's prisons have missing or broken metal detectors and contraband is flowing into prisons, confidence in the system is going down.


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