S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, May 22, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0522.shroundup.htm


COMMENTARY
Little time left, but still lots to do at Statehouse
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 22, 2005 -- With more than 90 bills passed by the General Assembly this year and sent to the governor for his signature, you'd think lawmakers would be all worked out.

But with two weeks left in the session, there's still a lot of work. It might not be the major work of tort reform, vouchers and budgeting that took up most of the session, but there's going to be a last-minute frenzy as the June 2 end of session looms. Here's a snapshot of major issues still in the hopper:

Vetoes. One of the best stories we heard this week was that of a Republican state senator who said something like the following during a blessing: "Lord, please bless this food and help us override all of these dad burned vetoes." The sentiment in the House and Senate, for a second year in a row, is that GOP Gov. Mark Sanford has been far too free with his veto pen (163 this year). Lawmakers plan to send him a message in the coming weeks by overriding most of the spending vetoes.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said lawmakers likely would override the vetoes because they're trying to bring a little balance to all of the program and service cuts suffered by state government in recent lean years.

"He [Sanford] has probably enjoyed all of these cuts we've had over the last few years because it downsized government," Ott said. "All we're trying to do is restore some of the needs of the citizens of South Carolina."

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Free-pour liquor. House and Senate conferees are bickering over final details of a measure that would allow bars and restaurants to serve drinks poured from regular bottles, instead of mini-bottles. The sticking point appears to be a House idea for liquor wholesalers to be able to sell to bars and restaurants, while the Senate says distributors - middlemen - ought to have the job. The Senate plan seems more reasonable because otherwise, wholesalers (who also sell to distributors) would undercut distributors and run them out of business. If lawmakers can't make a decision, they need to remember that voters in November asked for free-pour liquor, not new rules on liquor distribution.

State retirement. House and Senate conferees are also working on a measure to upgrade the state retirement system to boost its stability. A House bill would boost worker and employer contributions to help pay for a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees. A Senate version instead would require retirees who return to state employment would have to resume pension payments. Both measures would make it less attractive to participate in TERI, a retirement plan that allows workers to retire and return to work at full salary, while banking their retirement checks.

Domestic violence. Senators hope to move forward with a measure to toughen penalties for domestic violence. The House passed a bill recently after fallout over comments involving Rep. John Graham Altman, R-Charleston.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: More on filibusters

KEEPING TRACK: Right on Sanford's strategy, Santee Cooper

SCORECARD: Thumbs up and down

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Santee Cooper. Lawmakers say there's a lot of support for a measure that's on the governor's desk to rein in directors at the state's public utility. They think they'll override an expected gubernatorial veto.

Anti-stalking bill. A bill dubbed "Mary Lynn's Law" would make it easier for stalking victims to know when stalkers are let out of jail. The measure, which this week got a key second reading on the Senate floor, may move before the session ends.

Jobs Creation Act. A bill being pushed by House Speaker David Wilkins made it through a critical Senate vote this week, which sets up the possibility for a conference committee to work out differences in the coming week, if needed. The proposal would provide tax breaks to small businesses that create jobs.

Other measures. It's unclear whether a charter school reform bill and a measure that would allow local governments to regulate or ban casino boats will make it through the General Assembly in the final six days of the session.

It is clear, however, that lawmakers will take up some restructuring efforts next year - - a key component of Gov. Mark Sanford's reform agenda - - as an election year looms for the House and state office-holders. More than likely, the Senate will also take major steps next year to deal with property tax rates in many counties across the state.


RECENT COMMENTARY


NEAT PHOTO
Another kind of animal at the Statehouse

This young hawk -- perhaps a red-tailed hawk or a red-shouldered hawk -- was flapping its wings around the Statehouse on Thursday and caught on film by Budget and Control Board photographer Bryan Stone.

It's much better to see this kind of creature than the pigs brought to the Legislature last year by the governor. Wonder if we'll see more farm animals in the coming week as the Legislature takes up gubernatorial vetoes.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
5/22: Another look at filibustering

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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KEEPING TRACK
Right on Santee Cooper, governor's strategy

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

11/16/03: Sanford may be using legislature as tool: "A high-ranking Republican senator is just one of several who say the poll-popular Sanford seems to be trying to build a case that he is being thwarted from what he wants to do by an obstructionist General Assembly - - even though it is controlled by fellow Republicans."

In other outlets:

5/18/05, The State: Election 2006: Sanford vs. Legislature: "With 163 budget vetoes Tuesday, Gov. Mark Sanford began to lay the groundwork for his re-election next year — a campaign that could pit him as much against fellow Republicans who control the General Assembly as any Democrat who challenges him."

5/15/05: Public service has one master, not two: "While all of this has been going on, some members of the Santee Cooper board (i.e., Gov. Sanford's appointees) have become increasingly activist in nature. Charges are flying that board members are micromanaging on everything from corporate contributions and power contracts to working intimately on a privatization study." 5/20/05, The Post and Courier: First Lady's involvement questioned: "'It's worse than we expected," [State Sen. Luke] Rankin said Thursday. "I had seen a few e-mails and heard rumblings of some of these issues, but I didn't realize there were so many documents that call into question so many things.".


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

S.C. House. Hats off to the House for passing a tougher seat belt bill that will end up saving lives. Hope House and Senate members can get to a compromise and get the bill to the governor soon.

Rail safety. Kudos to US Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta for unveiling a new federal rail safety plan in South Carolina, which saw nine people killed in January in a terrible accident in Graniteville.

Thumbs down

Mark, Jenny Sanford. The governor is in hot water over hotrod Santee Cooper appointments and dissing the Legislature with 163 vetoes. The First Lady is in hot water over her involvement with a Santee Cooper study.

Santee Cooper board. Hotrod board members are a case study in how NOT to be a member of a public board.

Sales tax collections. A new study shows South Carolina's collections are below the national average, which indicates we're not getting out of the slump as quickly as everyone else. More.


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