Session Had Special-Interest, Weird Bills

July 30, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe recently ended session of the S.C. General Assembly featured no shortage of special-interest bills and legislation of the weird.

Among the offerings from state lawmakers, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed at least two that he charged were narrowly crafted to benefit a single entity.

But in a signing ceremony Wednesday, Sanford did go along with one measure from the far side of the session – a bill naming the marsh tacky of the Lowcountry the official state heritage horse of South Carolina.

The new law, Act 0240, also designates the mule as the official state heritage work animal of South Carolina.

Seemingly innocuous, the legislation was opposed by some lawmakers, including Rep. Herb Kirsh, D-York, who attributed his objection to the fact that the thinks the marsh tacky is a “crappy looking horse.”

Sanford also signed off on legislation, Act 0264, “to clarify that the property tax exemption for recipients of the Medal of Honor and prisoners of war in certain conflicts applies to Medal of Honor recipients regardless of when the Medal of Honor was awarded or the conflict involved.”

A raft of measures that did not make it to the governor’s desk, meanwhile, included everything from a “study committee study committee” to a limit on balloon releases.

Such bills might raise many questions to legislative onlookers, but one in particular comes to mind with regard to the session:

Do state lawmakers have too much time on their hands, such that the session ought to be shortened to curtail foolishness at the State House, make the legislative process more efficient and save taxpayers money?

Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, sponsored a joint resolution to that effect this session.

Rose’s measure, S. 1003, calls for amending the S.C. Constitution so that the state’s legislative session is held every other year instead of annually.

Five states – Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas – have such biennial sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Based in Washington, D.C., the National Conference of State Legislatures charts the length of each state’s session on the organization’s website:

South Carolina voters would have to approve Rose’s proposed constitutional amendment in a referendum, if the Legislature voted by two-thirds majority to place such a question on the ballot of an election.

But the senator’s joint resolution did not make it out of committee.

Similarly, legislation in 2009 called for shortening the Palmetto State’s session by one month (H. 3405) or two months (S. 209), and neither proposal got out of committee.

Although South Carolina has a part-time Legislature, its yearly session is among the longer ones in the country – from January into June.

By contrast, Georgia limits its session to 40 legislative days; Florida, to 60 calendar days.

The General Assembly’s operating budget for the current fiscal year is about $29 million.

Lawmakers earn $10,400 annually for serving in the Legislature, plus:

  • $12,000 yearly for expenses in their districts;
  • $131 per session day for hotel and meal expenses;
  • a $35 per diem for attending a legislative meeting on a non-session day;
  • mileage reimbursements; and
  • health insurance

In addition to saving money, a shorter session arguably would reduce the opportunity for lawmakers to float superfluous proposals, which they do most every year. This session was no exception, as the following rundown demonstrates:

  • House bill 4468 called for creation of the “South Carolina Study Committee Study Committee” to evaluate “the state’s past and future uses of study committees for assessing and developing state policies and related legislation.”
  • H. 4501 would have provided “that silver and gold coin shall be legal tender in payment of certain debts.”
  • H. 5042 was aimed at prohibiting “the release of 20 or more balloons en masse or over the period of one hour,” with provisions for a criminal penalty, exemptions and authority for people “to seek an injunction against such activity.”

Not useless, but clearly narrowly intended, H. 4112 was a proposal to “add active members of the General Assembly, active public defenders and assistant public defenders and active clerks of court and deputy clerks of court” to the list of people who can legally carry a concealed weapon in the state.

Then there was a carload of proposed specialty license plates for, among others, raccoon hunters, largemouth bass, coroners, beach music, library supporters and eagle scouts.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@scpolicycouncil.com.