Sunday, April 16, 2006
Shorten the legislative
SC Statehouse Report
16, 2006 - - With two thirds of the 2006 legislative session
already over, it's remarkable how little has really been done:
- Property tax reform. While the House passed a bill
to cut property tax rates significantly by adding two cents
to sales taxes, the Senate is stalled on what was to have
been the major issue of the year.
- Budget. The House, as required by law, started
the budget process in January and passed a $6.5 billion
budget by mid-March. Then the Senate got started and has
moved the bill through committee. It should hit the floor
in a couple of weeks.
- New laws. Of the 32 bills that have been ratified
and become law, only two are significant - a billboard law
that now forces municipalities to compensate owners of billboards
if they are removed and a measure to move school start dates
to the third week of August. Other new laws range from keeping
children under 18 from buying cigarettes to recognizing
the sweetgrass basket as the state's official handcraft.
- Passed the House. Despite the fact the House has
almost three times the number of members, it generally moves
more quickly on legislation. It has approved measures on
regulatory takings, workers' compensation and tuition caps,
but is waiting on the Senate to act.
- Passed the Senate. Meanwhile, the Senate has approved
a "right to farm" bill that would keep local municipalities
from enacting tougher regulations on poultry operations
than enacted by the state.
- In conference. The House and Senate have essentially
agreed on two other measures - - allowing breastfeeding
in public and a statewide charter school district - - but
still have details to work out before sending the bills
to the governor.
- Under debate. Other major measures still being
debated by one chamber or the other include a bill to protect
isolated wetlands, adding money for earlier childhood education,
raising cigarette taxes, banning smoking in restaurants,
family court reform and tuition caps.
- Missing in action. There hasn't been much talk
this year about Medicaid reform or restructuring, a very
hot topic in past years. And little progress has been made
to strengthen the state's Freedom of Information laws.
The point of this laundry list of legislation is there's
a lot to do in the next seven weeks before lawmakers adjourn
for the year. Because this year is an election year and the
end of the two-year session, there will be extra pressure
for lawmakers to show real accomplishments.
In 2005 at this point in the session, about 40 bills were
law, a similar number to this year. But by the end of last
year's session in June, some 222 bills had become law.
In other words, more work got done the closer that a deadline
approached (which seems to happen in home and business life
too). This begs a question:
If the legislative session were shorter, would lawmakers
be more efficient with their time and get the same amount
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We think so. It certainly seems that shorter sessions work
just fine elsewhere.
In nearby Georgia, the session is limited to 40 legislative
days. Its lawmakers are already finished for the year, while
South Carolina's legislators will meet until the first week
of June. With Georgia having twice the population of South
Carolina, there's a pretty good argument that South Carolina
could probably get its work done in a shorter time too.
Across the country, legislatures meet for a variety of lengths.
In Alabama, lawmakers meet annually for 30 legislative days
between early February and mid-May. In several states, they
can meet anytime during 120 calendar days (four months). In
Kansas, lawmakers meet once every two years. New York, New
Jersey and Ohio lawmakers meet all year.
For years, House Speaker David Wilkins, now ambassador to
Canada, proposed shortening South Carolina's session by three
weeks. The bill, which passed the House last year, has been
languishing in the Senate since then.
Lawmakers should consider revamping how they meet. Instead
of meeting for three days a week over five months, meet four
days a week for 10 weeks.
We bet most of the work already being done would get done
anyway. And that which doesn't get done might not need to
be done at all.
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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4/9: Endowed chair program is economic powerhouse
To the editor:
Leatherman is correct (Commentary,
4/9) but where has he been ? The most important program
going to change the state is the Endowed Chairs which is up
to $175 million ($100 million from lottery and $75 million
in pledges) . The Governor has tried to take money from us
Because of the Endowed chairs, you got the Life Sciences
bill, which was approximately $221 million which is to be
matched so you have over $600 million that will go to moving
SC into the 21st century. I will tell you we had to drag Commerce
to our meetings in the beginning. [Former Secretary] Bob Faith
met with us once and the Governor has never been at our meetings.
The difference between the Endowed Chairs and other economic
gimmicks is that we do not give the state away to get some
one to come here . We have the Endowed Chairs which is a match
of Lottery Money and a equal match from the private sector.
Research is a jobs engine . Then after the chair gets going,
there are all the grants that come which create high paying
jobs and that is before any new creative product comes forth.
You need to write about the Endowed Chairs!
-- Samuel Tenenbaum, Lexington, SC
a connection, Butch
Robbins, Hilton Head Island, SC
- 2/24: Block the
sale of national forest land, Elizabeth Bailey, Darlington
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
New CEO. The SC Association of Realtors
has made Nick Kremydas, its well-known lobbyist in the Legislature,
its new chief executive officer to succeed CEO Jim Peters
on July 1. Nick, as he introduces himself, is
often at committee meetings to testify on issues his organization
is interested in.
Shurr. John Shurr, chief of the South Carolina office
of the Associated Press and chair of the Press Associations
FOI committee for 20 years, has been awarded the associations
first Distinguished Service Award. Shurr has helped shepherd
the states Freedom of Information Act through several
Sinclair. Rep. Phil Sinclair, R-Spartanburg, has been
the most outspoken legislator this year in defending the FOIA
and writing bills that would close several loopholes in the
law. His four bills will go before a House subcommittee next
Grooms. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, came up with
a plan for property tax relief that would add $2.4 billion
in taxes to be substituted for $2.4 billion in property taxes.
His plan received several huzzahs for his work in coming up
with a plan, but he also received a boo from those
who felt the plan was too complicated. But, at least, he was
told as he stood at the microphone, he had done something
no one else had done on the floor: Create an amendment that
others could use to inject their own thoughts, meaning the
bill might move along.
Martin. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens and chair of
the Senate Rules Committee, entered a bill to ban the states
courts from setting appropriations for public education to
further a finding of the courts that the state has been forthcoming
to meet a court order. That would mean that the General Assembly
alone could set appropriations, but it would also mean that
the means of courts to enforce its rulings would be cut off.
And that would mean, perhaps, that the third equal branch
of the state government would be weakened constitutionally.
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