By Tom Hatfield
As part of an effort to assess legislators’ views on the length of session, balance of power and roll call voting, citizen reporters from The Nerve are posing questions to lawmakers from around South Carolina. In the following, Citizen Reporter Tom Hatfield interviews Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort:
Q: The S.C. legislative session is the longest in the Southeast and longest in the U.S. among part-time legislatures. Would you support shortening the legislative session to no more than 45 legislative days?
A: I would support shortening the legislative session. I do not have enough specific research at hand to speak to the exact numbers of days at this point but do realize that the length of session can be a deterrent for qualified people to run for office as well as simply using taxpayer funds in a responsible manner. There are many ways to shorten session; a bi-annual budget would be something I would like to explore as well as public broadcast of committee meetings so that the citizens can see this vital part of the process and how they are represented there.
Q: Because so much power is concentrated in the legislative branch, the leadership is therefore powerful through appointments to 250 plus executive branch boards and commissions. The Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tempore, alone, make more than 120 appointments to the executive branch functions. Do you believe there is an equal balance of power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of S.C. state government?
A: There is certainly not an equal balance of power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in our state but we are operating under a system and division of powers that were set and clearly defined by our constitution.
Q: How would you propose changing the current system?
A: I have voted for many different reforms in the past three years, in fact, the House has passed several key pieces of reform legislation only to have them not be successful in the Senate. I support the Governor and Lt. Governor being a joint election and I support Secretary of State, Superintendent of Education and Adjutant General being Governor appointed positions, just to name a few. I also would like to see the existing Gubernatorial appointments to various and sundry committees given high priority by continually filling openings and updating expired appointments. A few I am aware of have too few members to be vital or have so many long-expired members that attendance or even pertinent membership qualifications are not what they should be.
Q: Given that many of the legislative reforms citizens have asked for have not been implemented yet would you support a change in leadership?
A: In order to fully answer this, I need more information on what legislative reforms you refer to specifically and what leadership you are referencing. Without those, I have to state again that I am in favor of many reforms and have voted for several which have passed the House but not been successful as often in the Senate. In regards to leadership being responsible for implementation of reforms, I can only speak to the relationship I have currently with the Speaker, Bobby Harrell. I believe that he and I have an open and positive working relationship. We do not always agree but in the system we work in that is to be expected and is, in fact, part of the process. I believe, however, that we, the Members, have the responsibility to drive reform and make our feelings heard clearly and definitively to leadership.
There are other leadership positions that affect policy, however. Currently, I am a candidate for the House Majority Leader position for the upcoming 119th Legislative Session, so yes, I believe that we can improve. I respect current Majority Leader, Kenny Bingham, but would like to offer my organizational, communication and collaboration skills to this position.
Q: Would you let your constituents know who you will support before the actual vote for Speaker?
A: Of course, I am always communicating with my constituents and will share any information they would like to have.
Q: For the past two years the General Assembly has only recorded 25 percent of votes it’s taken. How would you propose improving the voting record in the House? Would you support a Constitutional amendment requiring recorded votes?
A: I support on-the-record voting and have been a co-sponsor on that legislation for the past two legislative sessions, in addition to voting for the House rule change regarding recorded votes. I will continue to support full disclosure of votes in our General Assembly.
In addition, I would like to see committee meeting votes recorded since all too often vital regulations which include fees, fines and user-charges make their way into law without a vote from the General Assembly at all. This hidden budget has long been a point of concern for me and I filed a bill last session requiring General Assembly votes on any agency regulations that add, change or increase fees, fines and charges on taxpayers. All too often, the only people who know that an agency is raising revenue are the committee members who read the tedious regulatory language or specifically ask about fees, fines and charges specifically.