Resolutions: Wasting Away Again in Legislative-ville

March 20, 2012

Investigative Reports

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ClockIf South Carolina taxpayers think that the state Legislature uses its time and money merely to address important issues, they might be surprised.

The Nerve did a two-week review of legislative actions from Jan. 31 through Feb. 10 and found that lawmakers spend an inordinate amount of time passing resolutions that congratulate or honor certain constituents. In fact, it averages more than eight hours during a legislative session.

Members of the Legislature use resolutions to formally express their opinions on issues of the day, or to initiate some sort of action. For example, they used a resolution to send their formal opinion to Washington that Congress should enact the same lobbying regulations that South Carolina has.

While a small number of resolutions carry the force of law or convey messages to Washington, they are primarily designed to recognize or congratulate constituents.

There were a total of 62 of these types of resolutions over the two-week period studied by The Nerve.

John Crangle, director of Common Cause of South Carolina, thinks that while these resolutions have their benefits, they also take away from the productivity of the Legislature.

“They take time, and time might be better spent for other purposes,” Crangle said. “You have the 124 members of the House and the 46 members of the Senate listening and voting on these resolutions and not doing something else.”

Here are some examples of resolutions introduced into the Legislature from Jan. 31 to Feb. 10:

  • There was not only a Senate resolution to honor the Abbeville High School varsity football team for its 2011 Class A state championship, but also a resolution asking the Department of Transportation to erect a sign in the team’s honor.
  • Feb. 8 was “York County Day” in South Carolina. Lawmakers saw fit to take time out of their session to recognize York County as a “vital part of the Palmetto State,” according to their resolution. Although there is no explanation as to why York County was chosen to be honored, Sens. Wes Hayes, R-York; Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee; Chauncey Gregory, R-Lancaster; and Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield, who proposed the resolution, all represent York County.
  • House resolutions on Feb. 2 recognized Sheila Crawford and Margie Ann Hammond on their 60th birthdays. How legislators choose which birthdays of constituents they want to honor is unclear.
  • There was also a resolution to honor Miss South Carolina 2011, Bree Boyce, and Miss South Carolina Teen 2011, Caitlen Patton, during the House’s session on Feb. 9. A separate resolution invited them both to the State House.

The Nerve conducted another study determining the amount of time these resolutions take in a given legislative period. On average, a single resolution takes approximately 50 seconds of the Legislature’s time. There is an average of 10 resolutions introduced on any given day, and the Legislature meets three days a week. There are 21 weeks in a legislative period.

This means that a total of eight hours and 45 minutes of the Legislature’s time is used to introduce or adopt these resolutions each session. That does not include the amount of staff time involved in drafting resolutions.

The South Carolina legislative session is one of the longest in the nation according to a 2010 report by the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve. South Carolina has the longest session in the Southeast and the sixth longest session in the nation in terms of months. The General Assembly meets three days a week for five months, while the national median is four months.

In terms of productivity, the report also found that the S.C. Legislature passed one bill a year per legislator during the 2009 and 2010 sessions. Despite the long session, legislation does not get passed or introduced on a larger scale than in other states, according to the report.

Some lawmakers think that resolutions are an important part of serving their constituents.

Hayes, the Senate Ethics Committee chairman, says that “York County Day” is a tradition that is important to uphold.

“This is our 25th year for York Country Day,” Hayes said. “We do it every year. It makes a statement that the topic is at least important enough for some lawmakers to make a resolution.”

But Crangle thinks these resolutions ultimately contribute to ineffectiveness of the Legislature as a whole.

“The whole process is very inefficient” Crangle said. “They spend far too much time dealing with legislative matters than they need to. It’s far too large of a Legislature.”

Reach Beggs at (803) 254-4411 or laura@thenerve.org.