S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0206.idea.htm


COMMENTARY
Legislature on a roll that may not be best for everyone
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

FEB. 6, 2005 - - The Statehouse lately has seemed to be a legislative freight train barreling forward with a cargo of a lot of bad ideas.

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 justice system.

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, didn’t get too bogged down this year discussing a tougher seat belt bill. It went through after a couple of weeks of debate.

“I’ve 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 consequences.

Who, for example, is really looking at the big picture? The cumulative effect of many of these proposals could cripple state government. Perhaps that’s 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.”

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: The State of the Home

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews

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It’s almost as if legislators want to pass bills just to claim they’ve 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 elected them.

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 state’s revenue stream in just a few years.

To no avail, they argued the people who needed a tax cut the most wouldn’t 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 income.

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 can’t afford the tuition. Passage of the measure is uncertain as some lawmakers are signaling the furthest they’d go for school choice is a just-passed statewide charter school bill.

  • Constitutional restructuring. The House has approved a plan to take away people’s rights to vote for state superintendent of education and secretary of state, but left in place voting for agriculture commissioner and adjutant general.

  • 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 people’s 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 haven’t gone down, lawmakers are pushing change in spite of facts.

“This is beyond logic,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. “It’s 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 they’ve done.

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
2/6: The State of the Home

A new cartoon from Bill McLemore


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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

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.

Mixed reviews

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 hullabaloo.

Thumbs down

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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