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Greenville Citizen Reporter: Committee Chairmen Agree to Record Votes

Fully 70 percent of the chairmen of key S.C. legislative committees have agreed to record votes taken at the committee and subcommittee levels, according to an Upstate transparency advocate.

Don Rogers, a member of the Greenville Tea Party and a Citizen Reporter for The Nerve, said he’s secured on-the-record voting pledges from chairs of 14 of the 20 major committees in the General Assembly, adding that he’s optimistic the remaining committee heads will sign on.

Rogers said he is planning a press event at the State House in Columbia in the coming days to make a formal announcement, and was told by Gov. Nikki Haley that she would take part.

“Communication is the essence of a representative government,” Rogers said. “To deny a citizen the knowledge of how their elected representative is voting on the issues that affect their lives is totally unacceptable.

“It’s the people’s business, and they deserve to know where their legislators stand on issues,” he added.

The Nerve’s parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, began a push in 2008 to require roll-call votes on each section of the annual state budget and on any bill or joint resolution having the force and effect of law.

After that, grassroots organizations took up the cause and helped it gain traction before then-Rep. Nikki Haley made it her signature issue during her 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

The Legislature passed the roll-call voting legislation last year; however, the measure does not apply at the committee or subcommittee levels.

Rogers and fellow Greenville Tea Party member Bill McShea began an effort in February to get committee chairmen in the Legislature to agree to record committee and subcommittee votes.

Both thought it was crucial for voters to get a better understanding of how legislators stood at those often little-noticed points in the legislative process.

“This is the place where legislation is created and crafted,” McShea said. “Constituents of elected officials need to know how their lawmakers are acting at these critical stages of the process.”

In the Senate, those who have pledged to record votes include Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Martin took over for Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and the Senate President Pro Tempore, after McConnell was elevated to lieutenant governor following the resignation of Ken Ard earlier this year. McConnell had also agreed to record all Judiciary Committee votes, Rogers said.

Rogers said the other Senate committee chairs who have made a similar pledge are: Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, Agriculture and Natural Resources; David Thomas, R-Greenville, Banking and Insurance; Mike Fair, R-Greenville, Corrections and Penology; John Courson, R-Richland, Education; Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, Fish, Game and Forestry; Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, General; Jake Knotts, R-Lexington; Rules; and Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, Medical Affairs.

As of last week, three Senate committee chairmen had not pledged to require the recording of all votes in their committees and subcommittees, according to Rogers.

They are: Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence and chairman of both the Finance Committee and the Interstate Cooperation Committee; Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, Labor, Commerce and Industry; and Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, Transportation.

Grooms told Rogers that he “will do what the other chairmen do” regarding the recording of all votes, Rogers said.

Rogers added that Leatherman, one of the state’s most powerful legislators, declined to so much as discuss the subject with him.

“He wouldn’t even communicate with me – no call back, no email, no anything,” he said.

In the House, five committee chairmen have pledged to record all votes: Phil Owens, R-Pickens, Education and Public Works; Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, Labor, Commerce and Industry; Garry Smith, R-Greenville, House Operations and Management; Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, Rules; and Nelson Hardwick, R-Horry, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.

Three other committee heads – James Harrison, R-Richland, Judiciary; Leon Howard, D-Richland, Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs; and Brian White, R-Anderson, Ways and Means – have not pledged to record committee votes, Rogers said.

Rogers said he did not query the chairs of the Senate Ethics Committee, the Senate Invitations Committee, the House Interstate Cooperation Committee, the House Invitations and Memorial Resolutions Committee or the House Ethics Committee because all of those meet infrequently.

Rogers said the next step will be for legislators to change their rules to make the chairmen’s pledges regarding on-the-record voting at the committee and subcommittee level more than just a verbal commitment.

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

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