S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 3, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1203.studycmtes.htm

Study committees foreshadow future debates
By Andy Brack
Publisher
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 3, 2006 - - If you want to know what big issues will be debated on the floor of the state House and Senate next year, all you have to do is check out the legislative study committees at work during the off-legislative season.

They run the gamut - - from groups of lawmakers that look at precise issues like state boundaries and retiree health funding to those that study crime, restructuring and tax reform.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, the Charleston Republican who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said study committees give lawmakers a chance to delve into complex issues without the pressure of the daily legislative grind.


McConnell

"These issues aren't something you can do in one meeting," McConnell said. "The study committees thoroughly review these complex issues and bring to the table some consensus legislation that can move forward."

That generally saves time during the session on the floor and helps keep it from being clogged for weeks with one issue. An added benefit is that because issues can be more fully aired, researched and debated in a study committee, lawmakers don't rush to pass something that might have unintended consequences, McConnell said.

Examples of past study committee work that led to smoother action include tort reform, general government restructuring and property tax relief. Here's a look at some of the issues that have been in various study committees over the last few months:

Criminal justice. Lawmakers have spent the fall looking at the court system, judges' workloads, gang activity, dockets, parole, probation and more. The comprehensive review is expected to lead to major improvements in how the state deals with crime.

Property. A group of House and Senate lawmakers have until March 15 to deliver a report on eminent domain actions, regulatory takings and slum clearance.

Agency earmarks and restricted accounts. While the state's general fund budget is $6.1 billion a year, various earmarked and restricted accounts total another $6.7 billion. But these things, which include college tuition, agency fees, fines and assessments, aren't part of the annual general budgeting process. A committee is reviewing to ensure that this big but quiet part of government is fair.

Salaries. Another committee has a few weeks to deliver a report on salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.

Energy. A larger committee that includes some executive office input is reviewing energy independence issues and should deliver a report on Jan. 15.

Education funding. A House-Senate committee is reviewing education formula funding.

Computer testing. There's another group looking at whether state assessment testing for education can become computer-based.

Immigration. A review is ongoing about how state immigration laws can be improved in light of federal changes.

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Workers' comp. A Senate group is looking at whether the state workers' compensation laws need to change. Business groups are complaining that premiums are rising too quickly and putting a burden on businesses, but the committee also is working to ensure that any changes would be fair to employees.

Medical malpractice. Another Senate group is reviewing tort reform laws on birth-related neurological injuries.

Department of Transportation. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is organizing a House committee to look into the state Department of Transportation, which is under fire following a critical legislative audit.

Based on the plethora of study committees, two things ought to be clear:

  • Lawmakers have been working harder than you might think when they haven't been in session to ensure the coming session goes more smoothly.

  • The coming session is going to be packed with major issues: restructuring, school funding, criminal justice reform, workers' comp reform, energy initiatives and more.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

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