THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE REALLY REALLY BAD
With less than a month to go before the start of the 2015-16 legislative session, lawmakers have begun to “prefile” bills for consideration in January. They’re about as you would expect: some good, some bad, some just flat-out egregious.
Among the best Senate prefiled bills are a few that would enact crucial reforms the Policy Council has promoted for years:
S.123 would shorten the legislative session and implement a biennial budget process. South Carolina’s legislative session is among the longest in the nation, which means lawmakers have more face-time with lobbyists and special interests and more time to dream up bogus government “solutions” to problems better solved in the private sector. S.123 would help. In even-numbered years the General Assembly would adjourn the second Thursday in March, and in odd-numbered years it would adjourn the second Thursday in April. If this were state law in 2014, it would have cut the session by 12 weeks – and it could cut the 2015 session down by eight weeks.
S.111 and S. 112 are two bills that would take significant steps toward creating an independent judiciary. Collectively, the two bills would eliminate the unilateral power of the legislative to control the judicial branch by requiring the governor to appoint judges with the advice and consent of the Senate.
S. 134 would take a huge step toward ending the state’s secret incentives dealings by requiring all taxpayer-backed incentive agreements to be considered as standalone legislation, subject to a recorded vote on second and third reading, subject to public input during a mandatory waiting period, and subject to an independent analysis (not by a state employee). Further, this bill would implement a five-year sunset provision on all targeted incentives unless specifically renewed by the General Assembly in a public process. In an effort to create even more accountability, the bill also establishes reporting requirements and mechanisms on the back end of these deals to hold both the state and the businesses accountable.
Four prefiled bills would encourage accountability in the executive branch by eliminating the constitutional offices of the superintendent of education, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state, and comptroller general. Instead these offices would be appointed by the governor. As was the case with the adjutant general legislation, however, the legislature would still be permitted to set qualifications for office, essentially allowing lawmakers to maintain some control over these positions.
Now for a few regressive and government-expanding bills.
S.1, S.14, S.74, and S. 202, are four omnibus ethics bills – “omnibus” meaning all-encompassing. S.1, whose lead sponsor is Sen. Larry Martin – chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – was prefiled on December 3 and had a hearing on December 10. The bill contains some provisions that would actually make existing ethics law worse. While the bill does attempt some genuine reforms, the most significant provisions of the bill closely match provisions from last session’s failed ethics reform bill that was repeatedly used by former speaker Bobby Harrell and his allies to try to protect the Speaker from prosecution. The bill also contains a provision nearly identical to last session’s bill that would force many non-political groups to disclose their top donors – thus exposing private citizens to harassment and intimidation merely for writing checks to nonprofits that lawmakers don’t like.
S.264 is a Senate resolution that would create a Senate rule to allow bills and joint resolutions that have 27 or more cosponsors in the Senate to go “without reference” and be placed directly on the calendar. Should this rule pass, citizens would no longer have the ability to speak on the proposals during public committee meetings. This appears to be nothing more than an attempt to make it easier for the legislature to rush through unpopular and/or controversial legislation – as some members of the House did earlier this year.
S.194 is the same as 2012’s deplorable dilapidated buildings act, with a few caveats. The bill would empower government to seize private property, give it to a court-appointed receiver to repair or demolish, then either bill the original owner for repairs or, if the owner is unable to pay, sell it. This idea remains a flagrant violation of property rights.
Why do I have the terrible feeling that these egregious power-grabs will go further than any bill aimed at making South Carolinians freer?