S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 16, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0416.shorten.htm

Shorten the legislative session
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 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 done?


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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.

lighter side

4/16: Taxing times

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.

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

Recent feedback:


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

Thumbs up

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 Association’s FOI committee for 20 years, has been awarded the association’s first Distinguished Service Award. Shurr has helped shepherd the state’s Freedom of Information Act through several “significant” improvements.

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 Wednesday.

In the middle

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.

Thumbs down

Martin. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens and chair of the Senate Rules Committee, entered a bill to ban the state’s 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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