General Assembly Has Too Much Power, Says Legislative Delegation Watchdog Don Rogers

September 13, 2012

Investigative Reports

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Editor’s Note: In June, Nerve Citizen Reporter Tom Hatfield of Hilton Head helped launch a new initiative for The Nerve called the “Delegation Watchdog Project.” The purpose of the project is to encourage county legislative delegations to hold regular public meetings with their constituents. Following is a story about another Citizen Reporter’s experience with the project. At the end of the story is an accompanying video by Nerve videographer intern Katie Geer.

If you ask Nerve Citizen Reporter Don Rogers, he’ll tell you that county legislative delegation meetings are a unique opportunity for constituents to voice their concerns and offer solutions.

“We need to take advantage of that,” says Rogers, who lives in Greenville.

The trouble is, however, according to Rogers and other Nerve Citizen Reporters, that many legislative delegations don’t meet often enough with their constituents.

But the Citizen Reporters are working to change that longstanding practice.

In an interview this week, Rogers said the Greenville County delegation typically meets four times a year, noting he attended the last meeting. The next scheduled meeting is Nov. 26.

“And they are public,” he said. “I was able to get on the agenda to speak at the next meeting.”

For this year, Greenville County delegation members on the senatorial side include Sen. Ralph Anderson, D-Greenville; Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville; Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg; Sen. Phillip Shoopman, R-Greenville; Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville; and Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens.

The House delegation members this year are Rep. Karl Allen, D-Greenville; Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville; Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville; Rep. Eric Bikas, R-Pickens; Rep. Thomas Corbin, R-Greenville; Rep. Chandra Dillard, D-Greenville; Rep. Daniel Hamilton, R-Greenville; Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville; Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville; Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville; Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville; Rep. Tommy Stringer, R-Greenville; and Rep. Mark Willis, R-Greenville.

(The Nerve earlier reported that Bikas was absent for most of this year’s legislative session.)

A longtime member of the Greenville Tea Party, Rogers said he will continue to push to have lawmakers’ votes recorded at the subcommittee and committee levels. A state law passed last year requires more recorded votes on bills under consideration on the House and Senate floors, though it doesn’t address on-the-record voting in subcommittees or committees, where much of the work on bills is done.

Having votes recorded at the subcommittee and committee levels would bring more accountability and transparency to the legislative process, supporters say. Rogers, other grassroot advocates and legislators in May held a press conference at the State House to announce that initiative.

Rogers said several senators have voiced support of the proposal, adding that it was “like the committee members were essentially saying, ‘We believe the people should be involved in the lawmaking process.’”

Rogers said other initiatives are needed, noting he and fellow Greenville Tea Party member Bill McShea are working on a proposal that Rogers hopes to present at the next legislative delegation meeting. The basic plan is have five Tea Party volunteers assigned to keep track of certain legislative committees and issues, he said.

As for now, the issues at the forefront of Rogers’ mind are limiting spending, reducing taxes and reducing the power of the legislative branch.

“I am glad that (small business) income tax was reduced from 5 percent to 3 percent,” Rogers said, though he added he would like to see the corporate income tax eliminated.

Rogers is most adamant about reducing the power of the legislative branch.

“The governor doesn’t have too much power,” he said, explaining he would like see more authority and responsibility shifted from the General Assembly to the executive branch.

As for the judiciary branch, “The governor needs to appoint judges, and they need to be confirmed by the Legislature,” Rogers said. “The function of the Legislature should be to ‘advise and consent.’”

Delegation meetings don’t receive nearly the public attention that floor debates in the General Assembly garner. Nerve Citizen Reporters are pushing for more open delegation meetings and to report on those events.

Delegations that do not meet regularly will be encouraged by Citizen Reporters to do so.

Citizen Reporters have attended and reported on other types of government meetings, and have been active in other ways, such as filing requests with government agencies under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

“Journalism has become a part of the democratic process, available to anybody with a camera and a computer,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he looks forward to the next Greenville County delegation meeting. In fact, he said he plans to video the meeting so that it can reach a wider audience.

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org.