S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 26, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1226.define.htm

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COMMENTARY
2005 legislative session will be defining
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 26, 2004 - -Whatever happens in the General Assembly from January to June next year, one thing is for certain: it will be a defining session for state lawmakers.

  • Sanford. Gov. Mark Sanford needs some legislative victories in his third year as governor. So far, he’s not won much. If he can persuade legislators to go along with his controversial income tax reduction plan or school voucher proposal, he’ll have some meat on which to run for re-election in 2006.

  • GOP leaders. Not only has Republican Sanford had a hard time with a General Assembly run by his own party, but Republican leaders have had a hard time playing together. If the House and Senate don’t work out differences in moving through major legislation, there will be serious questions about whether the GOP can effectively govern even though the party can win elections.

  • State Senate. In the opening week of the session, Senate Republicans may push through rules to limit filibusters, which will make it easier and quicker to push legislation through the chamber. If this is accomplished - - and is the only thing done in 2005 - - the legislative process will become remarkably different. Instead of the Senate being a safety valve to stop bad legislation, bills that otherwise might be derailed may pass and cause damage to the powerless.

  • Democrats. Just as Sanford needs some wins, Democratic lawmakers need cohesion. If Democrats in the House and Senate don’t pull together to become an effective minority party, their fortunes may continue to wither.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Rumsfeld Christmas

FEEDBACK: Good on yo-yo approach

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This month, lawmakers have prefiled scores of bills so that they’ll have some work to do when the session starts in January. So far, most of the bills are a continuation of unfinished business from past years. Here is a short list of major issues to be considered by legislators in 2005:

  • Income tax reduction. The governor is calling to reduce income tax rates slowly as the state grows, although the complicated plan hasn’t picked up much steam.

  • School vouchers. The “Put Parents In Charge” proposal would allow tax credits for parents who have their children in private schools or home schools. The measure is getting a big push from the governor and interests from outside the state, but word is some GOP lawmakers are on the fence about its effect on public education.

  • Restructuring. There are more than a dozen proposals to make some elected officials, such as adjutant general and state superintendent, become appointed officials. Other proposals would change the structure of government agencies to achieve efficiencies and make government more effective. Of the three major measures pushed by Sanford, restructuring may be easiest.

  • Tort reform. New rules on medical malpractice lawsuits and trial venues may be just around the corner. Lawmakers almost reached a decision last year. This year, the pump may be primed for reform of the civil justice system.

  • Tax code. While income tax reform may be ahead, lawmakers likely will revisit the whole tax code, including a proposal to cap property taxes that passed earlier in the year but was recently vetoed by Sanford.

  • Minibottles. Voters said they wanted minibottles retired. Now lawmakers have to pass enabling legislation to make it happen.

  • Hog farms. A controversial measure to allow local governments to regulate things like hog farms more strictly than the state will again make headlines.

  • Wetlands. Look for another round of battles on isolated wetlands rules that pit business, development and Realtors against conservationists.

  • Business development. A new issue that moves to the forefront is an effort by GOP leaders to do more to give incentives to small businesses to grow jobs.

The 2005 legislative session will be a year of “ifs.” If the GOP gets its act together, the way the state operates and people fund government could change remarkably. If they don’t, Democrats may get an opening to campaign on Republican effectiveness.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
12/26: A Rumsfeld Christmas

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
12/20: Good on the yo-yo factor

To the editor:

Very good commentary (12/19, Commentary) on the "yo-yo" factor of state policy. CONSISTENCY is important, especially in the basic and essential functions of state government. Could the same concept apply to the management of the state's public service authorities, including Santee Cooper and the SPA, (he asked rhetorically)?

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

12/20: Shifting priorities commentary rings true

This so true (12/19, Commentary). As a retired government worker I can testify to what these ups and downs do to literally paralyze an agency. When a downsizing occurs, employees turn their total attention to "who's next" since the firings are based on seniority. I was one of those who stayed during a downsizing and waited for two years for the agency to recover some sense of forward motion!

Unless you've been in bureaucracy, you have no idea what these ups and downs do to morale, and overall effectiveness of an agency.

-- Dwight Fee, Murrells Inlet


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