MY LAST NERVE: Speaker May Call Lawmakers Back to Columbia . . . But Why?

August 15, 2014

Inside Insight

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A COSTLY SPECIAL SESSION TO CONSIDER TWO INSIGNIFICANT BILLS? I’M NOT BUYING IT.

A sense of urgency has suddenly struck House Speaker Bobby Harrell more than 50 days after the legislative session ended. According to a report by the Post & Courier, Speaker Harrell is considering calling the House back into session on August 27 to address gubernatorial vetoes on two bills.

And what are the pressing subjects of these bills: Medicaid expansion? Government restructuring? Ethics? The ongoing disaster that is the Department of Social Services?

Uh . . . not exactly.

The first would criminalize entering a library after having been warned not to by library officials (S.813), and the other that would allow a tax increase in Murrells Inlet (S.293). So we’re talking about calling 124 legislators back to Columbia to consider the pressing matters of entering libraries and Murrells Inlet’s tax structure.

There’s something else weird about this, too. The library bill sat in committee for more than a month before the House began taking it up on the floor. And while work was done on it there (debate and some amendments), the body agreed twice to adjourn debate on the bill, putting off a vote on the bill to the following day.

Both bills originated in the Senate, allowing the Senate to consider the vetoes first. The governor’s veto of S.293 was issued on June 3, 2014 and read across the desk in the Senate on June 5. It was ordered to be considered the next day, but members knew the chamber wouldn’t take the veto up until they returned on June 17 because the legislative session ended at 5 p.m. on the 5th.

The veto wasn’t taken up until June 18, in fact (lawmakers returned on June 17). By that time the House had adjourned, as senators knew. If the sense of urgency to address these vetoes wasn’t present among the initiating chamber during regular session, or even the first day of extended session, why is the Speaker so determined to consider them now – at the cost of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and (we can safely assume) the irritation of many recalled lawmakers?

The other veto was issued June 13, 2014 and considered by the Senate on June 19 – again, after the House had already adjourned.

Are we supposed to believe these bills were a legislative priority? I don’t buy it. Want to know what a legislative priority looks like? Look back at the 2013 approval timeline of the $120 million Boeing bond bill. Legislators were falling all over themselves to get that bill passed. It took them nine days to get it through – from its introduction in the Senate to its final approval in the House. Nine days.

The Post & Courier reports that the taxpayer tab for all House members to return to Columbia for one day would be $34,000. Well, here’s a thought. If lawmakers really think they neglected to get important business done for the people during the regular half-year session, let them come to Columbia without per diem pay. Why should taxpayers give them overtime pay for doing what they were supposed to get done already?

The real question here is: What’s really going on? If it is to genuinely address these two vetoes, what took the Speaker so long to bring the crew back together? Or is there some other agenda here?

Jamie Murguia is Director of Research at the S.C. Policy Council