MY LAST NERVE: 2015 Legislative Session Demonstrated Need for Shorter Session

July 17, 2015

Inside Insight

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

state house statue

IGNORED SENATE BILL WOULD BE A GOOD START

This year our Legislature met from January to July, extending session beyond even the normal allowance in years past. During that time, 1,336 bills were filed between the House and Senate. Of those, 131 were passed by lawmakers. Additionally, 950 resolutions (those not having the force of law) were filed – most of which were honorary or congratulatory in some manner – and only 64 of those were not passed. The question that remains, however, is, what did our Legislature accomplish this year? What issues did they address that they set out to at the beginning of a new session?

We know they spent much of the session drafting a number of bills to raise our gas tax and other taxes and fees for the supposed reason of “fixing our roads.” We know that in the wake of the state’s then-most powerful politician’s admission to corruption our Legislature fell far short of changing the system that allowed that to occur. We know that our Legislature dragged out the annual appropriations process for so long that they had to pass a continuing resolution (temporary funding mechanism until the budget is passed) to fund state government until they were able to get their act together.

So what can we take away from this session? Clearly the extended session could have been avoided – just as those in year’s past could have – had our lawmakers been focused on truly reforming the many areas of government that require it, rather than crafting legislation that pretends to solve a problem, which in the best case scenario only perpetuates the system and worst case makes our system of government more problematic. What’s needed is a shift in thinking at our State House – a shift toward prioritization of protecting people’s right and liberties, and away from a system that preserves legislative control over every faction of our state. What’s needed is for lawmakers to spend less time in Columbia imposing on our freedom, restricting the free market, and enriching themselves. What is needed is a shorter legislative session.

A bill pre-filed in December by Sen. Lee Bright (R- Spartanburg), and currently sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would accomplish that very reform. However, the bill has yet to receive any consideration – not even a subcommittee hearing. The bill would shorten the legislative session by requiring the General Assembly to adjourn the second Thursday in March in even-numbered years, and the second Thursday in April in odd-numbered years. As an example of how significant this reform could be, if it were law in 2014, session would have been cut by 12 weeks; and if it were in effect this year, it could have cut session down by eight weeks.

While House members may argue that they pass a bill every session to shorten session and the Senate ignores it, their effort this year to accomplish this goal fell far short of the reform needed. Their bill – H.3014 – would have shortened session one month by constitutionally requiring the legislative session to convene in February rather than January. They would still meet until the first Thursday in May. Further, the House bill would have explicitly permitted committee meetings and other legislative activity to occur prior to the convening of the General Assembly, essentially rendering the reform ineffective if the goal is to truly restrict the time our lawmakers spend in the capitol and force them to prioritize reform.

While undoubtedly the Senate bill will fail to receive the necessary committee attention it requires without pressure from citizens, it does not mean the reform is not worthwhile. In fact, I think it is one of the most critical reforms necessary for the citizens of this state to take back the near total reign over our daily life our Legislature has acquired. For this reason, you’ll find S.123 featured in this year’s Best and Worst of the General Assembly published by the South Carolina Policy Council (The Nerve’s parent organization).

Jamie Murguia is director of research at the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve.