S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, June 17, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0617.ga.htm


Legislative accomplishments are thin this year
By Andy Brack, Publisher

JUNE 17, 2007 - - Just about any way you look at the 2007 session of the General Assembly, not much got done.

Other than fending off vetoes from the governor, state legislators essentially spent a lot of time squabbling with each other.

From the perspective of whether lawmakers did anything to confront the state's pressing issues of vastly improving education, confronting skyrocketing health costs or creating new jobs, they didn't do much.

Or when you look at the bills that actually became law, there's nothing really earth-shattering there either.

Instead of working on the really important issues, lawmakers frittered away five months in Columbia with reforms to workers' compensation, coastal home insurance and the Department of Transportation.

These so-called reforms really aren't massive changes in the larger context of whether our children will get better education, seniors will get better health care or the working class will get better jobs. On workers' comp, businesses probably will pay slightly less in insurance costs. On the coast, home insurance will be available for some that was taken away. And at DOT, the agency's director may be selected a new way and there may be loads of more money that go to it.

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Yes, state lawmakers get a lot of credit for spending an extra $1.3 billion or $1.4 billion, but as we've written before, the state's needs were unmet for the past few years. This money essentially is fixing things back to how they were before for many agencies.

About the biggest thing to come out of this legislature is the growing fracture between the House and Senate. In years past, there has been healthy rivalry between the two bodies as the House quickly passed boatloads of legislation, much of which stalled in the Senate to ensure it made sense.

This year, House and Senate leaders openly confronted each other in a game of chicken that found the legislature ending the main session without finishing the budget, workers' comp or DOT reform. They'll be back next week to iron out the differences - if they can.

Another change this year was less of a confrontational presence from Gov. Mark Sanford. While he poked his executive finger at lawmakers by vetoing more than 20 measures that they promptly overturned, Sanford seemed more strategic in his interactions. Perhaps he was relishing that confrontations were between House members and senators, not them and him.

So with all of that as a backdrop, let's look at the few things that actually did get accomplished this year:

  • Priority Investment Act. The measure requires communities to start talking more in coordinating regional planning efforts to avoid pitfalls of unchecked growth.

  • Nursing help. The Critical Needs Nursing Act, which was vetoed and overturned, calls for more nursing faculty, scholarships and investment to ensure the state has more nurses in the future.

  • Boats, RVs. A new law would allow qualifying boats and recreational vehicles to be treated as second homes, which means lower property taxes.

  • Buses. Another overturned veto allows the state to replace school buses at least every 15 years - - a measure that should improve student safety.

  • Gangs. Lawmakers approved a new law to make it easier for law enforcement in differing jurisdictions to work together to clean up criminal gangs.

  • Coastal insurance. The state rewrote coastal insurance laws to help homeowners after companies, fearing a Katrina-like future storm, bagged some insurance policies along the coast.

  • Virtual schools. Lawmakers said yes to a measure that allows for virtual school classes. It should provide more opportunities for advanced and interesting courses for rural- and home-school students.

As in every session, there were a host of targeted laws meant to help special interests. For example:

  • The state can invest retirement accounts in non-U.S. companies.

  • Telecommunications companies can now get a statewide franchise to offer video services.

  • Power companies have new rules on funding how they build power plants.

  • People with concealed weapons permits can carry handguns in their cars on their body or nearby.

  • Local governments will be able to have local housing trust funds.

Most of the 160-plus laws passed by the General Assembly won't affect most people. But also keep in mind that most South Carolinians also won't get new help for better education, health care and jobs due to what lawmakers failed to do this year.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary

lighter side
It's the thought that counts

Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:

feedback
6/14: East Edisto would be boon to ACE Basin

To Statehouse Report:

I am the President of a small non-profit organization called St. Paul's Preservation Society in the Adams Run/Parkers Ferry Community. Our members all reside in and around the MeadWestvaco property and the sale of these huge tracts of land has become one of our largest issues. I am heartened by the letters written by Mr. Hugh Lane, yourself and a now growing number of highly respected leaders in our community.

Your sentiments [Commentary, 6/10] regarding the purchase of these vast tracts of forested, pristine land echo our view on the matter and we intend to play an active role in the public process which MeadWestvaco has promised. Our group is having a public meeting next Thursday, the 21st of June, to discuss how best to approach these important issues.

The addition of this property would be a boon to all of South Carolina as an addition to the ACE Basin Project and the Scenic River System if handled properly. In addition to the vast wetlands, fields and forests this area also holds an incredible amount of historic, cultural and archaeological treasures which could be used as a valuable tool in education. Part of our mission is to further research of these important sites.

-- Maggie Ridge, president, St. Paul's Preservation Society, Hollywood, S.C.

6/12: Protect large tracts

To Statehouse Report:

I just wanted to say that I completely support your views [Commentary, 6/10] on the 70,000 acres in East Edisto which you mentioned in your article. I'm actually from the Northeast and happened upon your article searching for something on Google news. As an avid environmentalist, I wish you the best of luck with this development. ... Anyway, such a large piece of unprotected land struck me and I thought I should at least email you to say I'm completely in support.

-- Benjamin Lennon, Short Hills, N.J.

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Just a quick note to let you know how you missed out this week. If you were a subscriber to the paid edition of Statehouse Report, you would have received the information below on Friday AND you would have gotten other special features:

  • NUMBER OF THE WEEK: 53.8 percent
  • NEWS:Sanford shows he's not shy with a veto
  • LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Giving it another try
  • RADAR SCREEN: Gas tax hike unlikely
  • PALMETTO POLITICS: Them's fightin' words
  • TALLY SHEET: Latest bills introduced in House and Senate
  • SCORECARD: Thumbs up and down for the last week
  • MEGAPHONE: Nolo contendere

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Sanford unafraid of veto
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

JUNE 8, 2007 -- Gov. Mark Sanford certainly turned heads this legislative session by showing a new, subtler side by choosing to influence legislators from behind the scenes instead of employing in-your-face publicity stunts.

But after he vetoed kid- and family-friendly bills that would buy more new school buses for the state and extend medical coverage for children suffering from autism, many of those heads snapped back.

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