Lawmakers pushing for more power in home counties

April 21, 2021

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By RICK BRUNDRETT

State lawmakers are continuing to push bills that would increase legislative delegations’ powers over local K-12 schools and other public agencies in their home counties.

Today, for example, the House Education and Public Works Committee, chaired by Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, is scheduled to consider a Senate bill that would allow a legislative delegation – made up of senators and House members in a county – to control the appointment of an interim local school board if a popularly elected board is dissolved following an approved “state-of-education emergency.”

Since 2017, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who is popularly elected, has declared states of emergency in the Allendale County, Williamsburg County and Florence District 4 school districts, allowing the state to take over the management of those districts, though current law doesn’t allow the state to fire elected local school board members.

Under the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, if a local school board is dissolved after an approved “state-of-education emergency” declaration, a five-member interim board would govern the affected school district for at least three years.

Three members of the interim board would be appointed by the local legislative delegation, one member by the governor, and one member by the state superintendent of education “in consultation” with the delegation.

If the S.C. Board of Education votes to end a “state-of-education emergency,” the state education department, “in consultation” with the school district and interim board, “shall develop a transition plan and timeline for returning management of the district” to a local board, under the bill.

The bill, which has been amended since it was prefiled in December, passed the full Senate in February.

Hembree didn’t respond to a phone message Tuesday from The Nerve seeking comment. In a written response Tuesday, Allison cited a related House bill co-sponsored by her and now before the Senate Education Committee.

Under that bill, the main sponsor of which is House speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, three members of the five-member interim board would be appointed by the state superintendent of education “in consultation” with the local legislative delegation, one member by the delegation, and one member by the governor.

“In the end, the (state) superintendent (of education) is the person who has to work with them (the delegation) through the entire process,” Allison said.

The Nerve previously has reported about proposals to increase legislative delegations’ control over local schools, including bills that would give the delegations in Clarendon and Barnwell counties the power to appoint interim school boards in proposed consolidated school districts in their respective counties.

Hembree’s bill isn’t the only delegation-related proposal making its way through the Legislature. A bill, for example, sponsored by Rep. Mike Burns, R-Greenville, would increase the number of Renewable Water Resources Board of Commission members nominated by the Greenville County legislative delegation from seven to eight, while reducing the number of members recommended by the Spartanburg County delegation from two to one.

The House in March passed the bill less than two weeks after it was introduced, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it later that month. It’s on the full Senate’s calendar for this week.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Nikki Setzler of Lexington County and Dick Harpootlian of Richland County, would increase the number of Midlands Technical College Commission members nominated by the Lexington and Richland County delegations by one each. The bill, introduced on March 31, was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

As The Nerve repeatedly has pointed out, legislative delegations exert considerable control in their respective counties. Until the mid-1970s, delegations generally governed counties, including approving county budgets. The 1975 Home Rule Act was supposed to give counties more control over their local affairs, though it didn’t end lawmakers’ control over other local matters.

Delegations, for example, appoint most County Transportation Committees statewide, which determine what local road projects to fund with part of the state gasoline tax.

In 2019, The Nerve revealed how one senator in 12 counties can control the appointment of that county’s magistrates. Last week, The Nerve revealed, citing S.C. Judicial Department records obtained under the state’s open-records law, that 42 magistrates statewide as of earlier this month were allowed to serve past the end of their official terms, including magistrates in at least four counties where one senator has the sole nominating power.

Bryce Fiedler, a policy analyst with the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, contributed to this story. Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,