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Cost of Haley’s Special Session Bid Unclear; Right Remains Intact

 

Gov. Nikki Haley ruffled feathers through much of the S.C. General Assembly late last spring when she attempted to call lawmakers back for a special session to deal with four restructuring bills that she believed were crucial to moving state government forward.

Ultimately, following a lawsuit brought by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled in early June that Haley lacked the authority to call legislators back to work while they were on a break between the regular session and an already scheduled special session, saying her order violated the separation of powers.

Today, more than six months after the Supreme Court nixed Haley’s bid to get legislators to return, it’s still not clear what the effort cost South Carolina taxpayers.

Haley was represented by the law firm of Hall & Bowers LLC, which also represents the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve.

Attorney Kevin Hall of Hall & Bowers didn’t reveal the total charge for defending Haley, but said his firm is paid at the standard state government rate, which is “substantially less” than what Hall & Bowers charges most other clients.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey spoke with The Nerve, but did not get back to The Nerve with information regarding costs related to the suit.

The Senate handled all legal work related to the case through its in-attorneys and therefore did not incur any additional costs related to the litigation, Senate Clerk Jeff Gossett said in an email to The Nerve.

Even so, it’s likely that the work done by Haley’s attorney’s cost taxpayers several thousand dollars, at a minimum.

Lawmakers had finished the 2011 regular session but had not yet begun a wrap-up session, which included a limited list of items lawmakers were to take up, but not key parts of Haley’s agenda, including a government-restructuring bill the governor wanted passed.

The justices ruled 3-2 that Haley couldn’t call legislators back for an extra session when they were technically still assembled.

However, the Supreme Court justices didn’t rule that the governor can’t ever call legislators back for a special session.

The governor may on extraordinary occasions convene the General Assembly in extra session, the state’s high court wrote in its ruling, adding that the term “extraordinary occasion” is not defined by the S.C. Constitution.

In fact, the General Assembly has been called back for a special session by governors a handful of times over the past century, records show.

Most recently, Gov. Jim Hodges did it three times, once each in 2002, 2001 and 1999. Govs. David Beasley, Carroll Campbell and Jim Edwards each called lawmakers back once, in 1996, 1991 and 1976, respectively, while Gov. John West did it twice, in 1973 and 1972.

While many of the above extra sessions were called to deal with items such as budget cuts, reapportionment or to elect leadership in the General Assembly, Campbell’s appears to have been the most “extraordinary.”

He called legislators back into session on Sept. 23, 1991, to deal with the then-pending Ethics, Government Accountability and Campaign Reform Act of 1991, or the Ethics Reform Act, which came in the wake of the FBI sting known as Operation Lost Trust.

Of the smattering of special sessions that have taken place over the past 100 years, perhaps the most famous – at least at the time – came in the early 1930s in response to the so-called “Cotton Crisis.”

In September 1931, then-Gov. Ibra C. Blackwood called the General Assembly into special session to consider outlawing cotton planting throughout South Carolina in the coming year.

The idea of prohibiting the planting of cotton – colloquially called a Cotton Holiday or “drop-a-crop” – for 1932 had been proposed by Louisiana Gov. Huey Long and passed by the Louisiana legislature earlier that summer as a way to raise the price of cotton, crucial to the well-being of many rural Southerners.

An abundant cotton harvest and surpluses from previous years had helped contribute to a sharp drop in the price of the staple, which had fallen from an average of 18 cents a pound in 1928 to less than 6 cents a pound by 1931, wreaking havoc in the region where so many were dependent on the fiber for their livelihood.

“Farmers had no control over the price they received for their product,” according to author Robert E. Snyder in his 1984 book Cotton Crisis. “Cotton farmers found themselves in a take-it-or-leave-it situation. When farmers took the cotton from the field to the gin, they had to take the price offered or store the bales and seed at additional costs.”

The problem rested with the that fact prices offered were not based on the farmer’s cost of production, but on market conditions at the time of harvest, added Snyder, a professor of American studies at the University of South Florida.

Called by Blackwood to meet in extraordinary session for the first time since 1914, when the legislature also met regarding cotton, the General Assembly convened from Sept. 14-24, 1931.

“So great and compelling has been the demand for legislative action in the present crisis caused by the crash of cotton prices that it appeared to be my inescapable duty to give you an opportunity to come to the relief of the cotton farmers before it was too late to afford them the greatest possible remedy that the state can offer by legislation,” Blackwood said in his address to the General Assembly.

South Carolina lawmakers actually passed a bill that would have prohibited farmers from planting in 1932; with the Senate voting 21-13 in favor, and the House 75-22 for the measure.

However, enactment was contingent on 75 percent of all cotton nationwide being taken out of production during the coming year.

When legislators from Texas, which at that time grew one-third of country’s cotton, passed a cotton-acreage reduction bill, rather than a bill to completely eliminate the growing of the staple the following year, it effectively ended any hopes of a cotton holiday plan going forward in South Carolina.

Ultimately, it’s not even clear if the cotton holiday plan would have succeeded had it gone forward. One Southern state court declared the idea of a cotton holiday unconstitutional, and enforcement of an act prohibiting individuals from growing a legal crop on their own property would have been difficult to carry out.

However, the significance of the event wasn’t lost on the news media, which ran numerous front-page stories about the special session and its potential impact on South Carolinians throughout much of September 1931.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.

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