Watch Statehouse Week every Friday evening or Sunday afternoon on SCETV  




We encourage your feedback. If you'd like to respond to something in SC Statehouse Report, please send us an e-mail. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. One submission allowed per month. Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:

Legislators slowly churn through proposed bills
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 27, 2003 - - By any objective measure, the SC General Assembly hasn't done much this year.

After working almost four months, lawmakers have passed only one major statewide bill - - a measure to exempt broadband Internet services from regulation by the Public Service Commission, which has already spurred millions of dollars in investment by communications companies.

More than five dozen other measures have become law, but they're mostly local school, administrative or other matters that don't yield big change that affects the lives of most people in South Carolina.

But a closer look at what's going on in Columbia shows lawmakers have been busy. In the toughest budget year in memory, the House has produced a $5 billion budget that includes measures for new revenues. The Senate, which is expected to start debate on its version of the budget in the coming week, is discussing a flurry of other revenue measures to protect Medicaid recipients and more fully fund schools, which face the loss of thousands of teachers.

While the budget, as usual, hogs the limelight, there has been significant movement on several other measures.

The House, for example, has passed a major piece of legislation just about every week of the session so far - - from reforms to the Department of Commerce and Division of Motor Vehicles to lowering drunken driving levels and Medicaid reform.

The Senate, where bills naturally move slower because of rules that allow senators to stall legislation, has approved measures to protect folks from predatory lenders, and reforms to the state Public Service Commission and campaign finance laws (the House approved three similar measures too.)

"Sometimes the mark of a successful session may be what didn't pass, rather than what did," SC Sen. Tom Moore, D-Aiken, noted.

Often in the first year of a two-year session, as lawmakers currently are in, the first year is spent getting legislation on track or through one chamber. If controversial, it often moves slowly to allow lawmakers to consider various ramifications. By the second year, like next year, election-year politics often takes over and may speed through legislation that's been stalled awhile.

"We've got two years to get the job done," noted Rep. Harry Cato, R-Greenville. "Why get in a rush the first year?"

It's a guess to predict what will happen during the five weeks left in this year's session, but look for major measures to pass both houses and become law to include rules to curb predatory lending, Public Service Commission reform, establishment of a state venture capital fund, realignment of higher education supervisory administration, and, perhaps, revised campaign finance rules. There likely will be some increases to state revenues, but it's unclear whether that will come in the form of a cigarette tax hike, sales tax hike or refinancing of tobacco bond monies.

Next year, major initiatives on the front burner that may get legislative approval include Gov. Mark Sanford's restructuring initiatives, multiple education initiatives, a bill to allow bars to dispense alcohol from bottles other than minibottles and more.

Other measures appear to face more hurdles, including tort reform, DMV restructuring and an employment at-will measure that would codify court standards to allow companies to hire and fire at will.

"Next year's an election year for everybody, so that might be part of the strategy too," said House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland.


Learn more about Statehouse Report