Shorter Sessions Could Mean More Focused, Less Intrusive Legislature

September 2, 2014

Inside Insight

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SC state houseGET TO WORK, GUYS

South Carolina has one of the longest sessions in the nation, yet somehow our lawmakers are still incapable of accomplishing their tasks in the 20-week-long session. So, after they adjourn the first Thursday in June (as required by law), lawmakers often have to come back into session. Over the last 10 years, with the exception of 2004, the House of Representatives has returned to Columbia for state business at least one day beyond the “last” day of session.

This year is no exception. The House reconvened on June 17 to address gubernatorial vetoes, and again on August 27 to address two vetoes they didn’t consider while in Columbia for the first special session. One veto was quickly overridden with no debate. The other – S.293, which would have raised taxes for the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District – received more debate than one might have anticipated, given that it had passed the House in May on a 22-18 vote with 81 legislators present and not voting.

Legislators seeking to sustain the governor’s veto of S.293 raised several valid points. In addition to calling attention to the nearly $1.5 million in reserves already held by the special purpose district – which would be the beneficiary of the additional revenue raised from the tax increase – a number of legislators pointed to a law already on the books that representatives of the special purpose district could have used. This law allows certain special purpose districts to request that their county election commissioners schedule and conduct a referendum for a proposed tax increase within the special purpose district.

The thing is, this isn’t a new law – it’s from 1998.

During the debate, one representative asked the chairman of the subcommittee that considered the bill if the current law allowing for a referendum was considered when the bill was in the subcommittee process. The answer was no. It’s not saying much, however, that one individual wasn’t aware of the law, given that it didn’t seem this point was raised by any other House member during floor debate. Remember, 81 members didn’t initially vote on the bill at all.

That lawmakers had to return to Columbia a second time after session had ended, and that one reason for the return was a duplicative and highly unnecessary bill, highlights the need for lawmakers to use their time more efficiently and effectively while in Columbia. When hours are spent welcoming bands, football teams and beauty queens in both chambers each legislative day, and session ends early so that lawmakers can attend receptions hosted by lobbyists, time to do the people’s business is wasted, and what business is done is often unnecessary, hasty, and/or with incomplete knowledge. Exhibit A: S.293.

If our legislative session were significantly shortened, giving lawmakers less time in Columbia on the taxpayer’s dime, perhaps lawmakers would be more inclined to accomplish their purpose more effectively. The majority of bills considered each year do more harm than good anyway. So, if there were less time to overregulate business and overburden taxpayers and citizens, and less time for photo ops with beauty queens and basketball teams, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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