Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005
Legislature on a roll that may not be best for everyone
SC Statehouse Report
6, 2005 - - The Statehouse lately has seemed to be a legislative
freight train barreling forward with a cargo of a lot of bad
Already, the House has passed legislation to cut income taxes,
change charter schools and change statewide voting choices.
Both bodies are poised to make sweeping changes to the civil
After a month, major bills are passing that once would have
stalled lawmakers for weeks. The Senate, now free of the threat
of extended debate because of a change to rules, didnt
get too bogged down this year discussing a tougher seat belt
bill. It went through after a couple of weeks of debate.
Ive never seen anything go as fast as this year,
said Rep. Thayer Rivers, D-Jasper.
The danger, of course, with this legislative runaway train
is that some bad proposals are likely to become law. Without
extended debates in subcommittees and committees, without
compromise, state lawmakers increase the likelihood of unintended
Who, for example, is really looking at the big picture? The
cumulative effect of many of these proposals could cripple
state government. Perhaps thats what many in the S.C.
General Assembly want. Republican leaders appear to be blindly
following the lower taxes, less government mantra
popularized by conservative thinkers like Grover Norquist,
widely known for his quote, My goal is to cut government
in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can
drown it in the bathtub.
WORLD: The State of the Home
Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews
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Its almost as if legislators want to pass bills just
to claim theyve done so, allowing them to put another
notch on a legislative bedpost. They seem more enamored by
the zeal for accomplishment of passing bills than considering
the merits and demerits of bills that affect the people who
Take the one-day House floor debate on an income tax cut proposed
by Gov. Mark Sanford, a Norquist aficionado. Democrats provided
a bunch of charts, diagrams and data from the state Board
of Economic Advisors about how the tax cut would take $1 billion
out of the states revenue stream in just a few years.
To no avail, they argued the people who needed a tax cut the
most wouldnt benefit from the Sanford income tax plan.
They said a family with two children with a $35,000 annual
income would get a $52 tax cut - - a dollar a week - - compared
to a tax cut of $1,507 for a family with $100,000 in annual
Other bad ideas floating around:
- School vouchers. A plan pushed by Sanford would
take public money away from public schools to subsidize
private school tuition. But most people cant afford
the tuition. Passage of the measure is uncertain as some
lawmakers are signaling the furthest theyd go for
school choice is a just-passed statewide charter school
- Constitutional restructuring. The House has approved
a plan to take away peoples rights to vote for state
superintendent of education and secretary of state, but
left in place voting for agriculture commissioner and adjutant
- Same-sex marriage. Lawmakers are poised to approve
a measure to seek a constitutional amendment on same-sex
marriage, despite the obvious: institutionalization of discrimination
against gays and lesbians.
- Civil justice reform. In a battle heating up in
coming weeks, lawmakers are expected to change rules of
the civil justice system that would restrict peoples
rights to redress grievances. One of the biggest issues
is capping pain and suffering and other non-economic damages,
particularly for medical malpractice lawsuits.
A couple of years ago, doctors and business interests argued
damages had to be capped because of runaway verdicts. When
that turned out to be false, they said lawsuits needed to
be capped to stem the rising costs of malpractice insurance.
But even though a review of surrounding Southern states with
caps shows premiums havent gone down, lawmakers are
pushing change in spite of facts.
This is beyond logic, said state Sen. Brad Hutto,
D-Orangeburg. Its a phenomenon of its own. It
seems like part of a national push to minimize government.
If state leaders continue down the track of radical reforms
to state government without considering the cumulative effect
on schools, services state employees and taxpayers, they may
create enough political hot water to find themselves out of
power when people feel what theyve done.
2/6: The State of the Home
A new cartoon from Bill McLemore
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Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
Tougher seat belt law. People might not like ceding
some of their independence to allow police to pull them for
not wearing a seatbelt, but the proposal, which passed the
Senate, should lead to more lives saved.
Black Caucus. Hats off for walking out of the House
chamber when more white judges were elected. More needs to
be done to ensure the judiciary is more diverse.
Senate Transportation. The committee should have backed
away from a Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate in
any shape or form, instead of moving a proposal forward. It
sends a bad message to business about South Carolina.
Smith, Pinson. Congrats to Republican Reps. Garry
Smith and Gene Pinson, both of the Upstate, for having the
courage to remove their names from the governor's voucher
proposal. Their defection signals lawmakers may be becoming
wiser about the proposal. Let's hope they remain opposed.
Tort reform. Many of the things in a sweeping tort
reform bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee may
be needed -- venue change rules, curbs on frivolous lawsuits,
changes to the statue of repose -- but implementing non-economic
damage caps seems unjust. Critics say the bill will be held
up for weeks.
Washington-Williams. We think it's good that the biracial
daughter of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, Essie Mae Washington-Williams,
has written an account of her life. But everywhere we turn
in the papers, she's showing up. We don't want to believe
it, but it seems like she's trying to profit from all of the
S.C. House. Thumbs down to the House GOP for pushing
through the governor's income tax cut without full consideration
of the long-term consequences. It's time for the House to
become more considerate and less of a runaway train.
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