There’s good news; there’s bad news; and there’s no news at all.
Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Finance Special Subcommittee for S.22 had a bit of all three.
S.22, the massive government restructuring bill that is a priority of both Gov. Nikki Haley and the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved it, took a potentially perilous detour on Tuesday when the bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee, the lair of Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, whom many consider the bill’s chief obstacle and most powerful enemy should he choose to oppose it.
Leatherman is on record saying he won’t block it. Haley is on record saying he will.
Thursday morning, the Finance subcommittee, comprised of Sen. Thomas Alexander (chairman), R-Oconee; Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland; Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington; Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York; and Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, took up the bill for the first time. Committee members were briefed on the basics of the bill by Mike Shealy, budget director for the Senate Finance Committee.
The result was only a decision to meet again next week to review specifics. For those concerned about the bill’s future, no news was good news.
“I feel good about the Finance Committee reviewing the bill with the parameters we established,” Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield and a co-sponsor of the bill along with Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, told The Nerve in a written response Thursday.
“The bill will be up for debate by the full Senate on February 20th, and it will be in the status of ‘interrupted debate,’ which is the highest priority for debate in the Senate,” Massey continued. “This ensures that every Senator will have an opportunity to review the bill, and, most importantly, it guarantees that the Senate will debate the bill on February 20th.
“I actually think this will speed up the process and, hopefully, allow the Senate to pass a better bill in the end.”
The bill’s primary purpose is to eliminate the state agency known as Budget and Control Board, as well as a five-member governing board with the same name, and replace it with a new Department of Administration under the authority of the governor.
What worries bill supporters is its fate now rests in the hands of the Senate Finance Committee whose chairman, observers suspect, will try to make changes to the bill dealing with control of the state procurement process.
Further discomfiting reform proponents was how S.22 landed in Leatherman’s lap in the first place – during debate Tuesday on the Senate floor about the bill, the chamber went into recess out of public view to strike the deal that sent the bill to its finance committee.
As of Thursday, Alexander said his committee is under no orders to assassinate S.22.
“We certainly need a Department of Administration,” Alexander told The Nerve at the conclusion of the subcommittee meeting. “So we’ll be working to get to that point.”
A year ago, a nearly identical restructuring bill, H. 3066, passed the House and Senate, but posturing and ill-will between the Senate and Gov. Nikki Haley’s office resulted in a cruel, last-minute death for a bill two years in the making.
Now, it appears again as if politics again could stand in the way of progress. For S.22 co-sponsor Massey, the issue is one he hopes will rise beyond the political and provide citizens with meaningful reform.
“Government restructuring is not the most exciting conversation topic, but it is extremely important if you’re interested in good government,” Massey said in his written response. “This bill would create, for the first time, a real separation of powers in South Carolina. It would give the Governor – the elected chief executive – responsibility for nearly all executive functions in the state.
“It would ensure the legislature sticks to making policy and providing oversight of executive agencies, an essential check and balance. And it would let everyone know who’s accountable for decisions.”
Alexander said those afraid of wholesale changes to the bill are making much ado about nothing.
“We’ll be dealing only with those parts that fall under the purview of (the Senate Finance Committee),” Alexander said. “We’ll be taking a close look at it; the work has gotten started, and we’ll continue it next week. That’s all I can say.”
What precisely that work will look like come Feb. 20, however, remains anyone’s guess.
Reach Aiken at (803) 200-8809 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken.