If you think state lawmakers are being mindful of their time on the taxpayers’ dime, think again.
A review by The Nerve of bills and resolutions introduced since the start of this year’s legislative session on Jan. 8 found that the 124-member House and 46-member Senate together have introduced more than 300 congratulatory resolutions, recognizing everything from constituents’ birthdays and anniversaries to students’ achievements in the classroom, sports and other activities.
And there are at least two months left in the regular legislative session.
Lawmakers love taking time on the House and Senate floor – even interrupting debate on important bills of the day – to recognize those honorees who visit the State House. Some visitors are asked to stand in the chamber balconies to be recognized; in the House, certain guests are allowed on the chamber floor for recognition.
Individually, such recognitions typically consume just several minutes, but collectively, they easily add up to hours. Critics contend that the practice wastes valuable time during a legislative session that is one of the longest in the nation.
South Carolina’s typical 21-week annual session is the second longest in the Southeast and 14th longest in the country, according to a 2010 study by the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve. Shortening the legislative session is part of an eight-point reform agenda announced last year by the Policy Council.
The General Assembly voluntarily furloughed itself this week and next, though no permanent law has been passed to shorten the session.
Contacted this week by The Nerve, Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, said Senate rules do not allow senators to hold the floor for longer than five minutes on a point of personal interest. But he acknowledged the rule usually isn’t enforced unless “you look like you’re using it as a delay tactic.”
Asked whether there are too many congratulatory resolutions, Bryant replied: “I would agree they (critics) have a legitimate point. Whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it on the taxpayer dime.”
Still, Bryant, who is chairman of the Senate Invitations Committee, said although the practice shouldn’t be abused, it shouldn’t be completely eliminated, either.
“When my constituents do something worthy of being recognized, I think it’s important to show my appreciation for their accomplishments,” he said.
Bryant said recognitions generally don’t take up a lot of time, noting that Senate rules don’t allow guests on the Senate floor during session.
In February alone, the House offered 106 congratulatory resolutions, The Nerve’s review found.
“Being a legislator means you represent all the people of your district (schools, churches, organizations, individuals),” said Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, in an e-mail to The Nerve. “And it’s important to recognize those who have achieved success in their respective field.”
This can be accomplished by filing a resolution and simply having the title read, which usually takes 10 to 15 seconds per resolution, said Ballentine.
“The only individuals allowed to be recognized on the floor of the House are State Championship teams which provide the opportunity for student athletes to come to Columbia and visit their State House as well as provide elected officials the opportunity to share the accomplishments of the student athletes as ‘best in state’” he said.
“I believe recognizing and sharing positive news about our citizens is better than having outsiders focus only on the negative in our state,” he added.
“It’s important to recognize accomplishments, whether individual or in the form of an athletic team,” said Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, when contacted by The Nerve, though he acknowledged, “The biggest problem is that members can get carried away; I know I can.”
“But I think it’s important. Should it take less time? Sure,” said Smith, who is chairman of the House Operations and Management Committee.
“Many of my colleagues would agree that we could spend our time more efficiently,” Ballentine said. He disagreed, though, that congratulatory resolutions are a problem.
“I’d also point out,” he added, “the House, as a body, and me, as an individual, have sponsored legislation that would shorten the legislative session to help us be more efficient with our time and save taxpayers money. As often happens, that legislation dies in the Senate, our state’s ‘deliberative body.’”
Critics contend that there would be more deliberation in both chambers on serious issues if there were fewer congratulatory resolutions introduced during session.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry and the House Rules Committee chairman, for example, introduced 61 separate resolutions on Feb. 28, each of them recognizing a newly ranked Eagle Scout, the highest-attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America.
Clemmons could not be reached for comment this week.
Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.