Last week, the Senate skipped a legally required roll-call vote for one of the most significant bills of the session – the Panthers incentive legislation.
The Senate frequently does this, agreeing by “unanimous consent” to push amendments – and the roll-call vote – to third reading. Trouble is, the law doesn’t say that at some point, a roll-call vote must be taken. The law requires a roll-call vote on second reading of each bill, without exception, and on third reading if the bill’s been amended.
Why is this so important? Because lawmakers should be held accountable for their votes at every stage of the bill’s development, and most amendments are adopted prior to second reading – as was the case with the Panthers legislation.
And while the Senate is entitled to suspend their own rules at will, breaking the law is breaking the law – unanimous consent or no.
The roll-call voting reform was passed in 2011, after the SC Policy Council revealed that lawmakers voted anonymously 75 percent of the time. This week’s throwback is a reminder of why the law needed to be changed – and that, unless they are made to, lawmakers often would prefer not to record their votes, particularly on controversial issues.
South Carolina’s lawmakers so far this year are voting more anonymously compared to 2009, even after they changed their rules last year to increase roll-call voting.
And a Senate subcommittee appears poised to kill a bill that would require more recorded votes, despite the fact that half of the Senate’s 46 members have signed onto the bill, and even though the House unanimously passed an identical version.
Of 1,756 total votes cast by both the House and Senate through March 31, 251, or slightly more than 14 percent, were roll-call votes, according to analysis by the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve.