Tuesday, June 4, 2013
I have written extensively about the timing of the legislative calendar and how it affects the debate that occurs in the House and Senate. Without a doubt, impending time deadlines dictate the willingness of legislators to address certain issues and compromise on points of conflict.
However, problems occur when speed and political pressure override proper scrutiny and debate. Too many times we are forced to take somebody’s word or trust that legislation will not have unintended consequences. Needless to say this often leads to bad results.
It remains baffling to me that the General Assembly has been in session since January and “important” legislation is still pending. If a bill has not been fully vetted by now, there is probably a significant reason. And most certainly these last minute, legislative “Hail Mary’s” do not need to be passed in the waning hours without proper review.
After Sine Die (which is the Constitutionally mandated end of full session on the first Thursday of June), committees and ad hoc groups will continue to meet throughout the summer. In a few months, we will begin work on the budget and the entire cycle will begin again - with legislation maintaining its position on the calendar until the full body meets in January.
So if there is specific legislation of interest to you personally, do not be concerned. It will remain on the calendar in its current position, even though we adjourn sine die, until the General Assembly reconvenes.
As noted, there has been much activity over the past few days. The most important action was that the Senate passed its version of the budget. It will now return to the House where we will further amend it and a conference committee will be organized to work out the final language to present to the governor.
An interesting side note is that this year the Senate and House of Representatives used the same projected revenues to prepare their respective budgets. This is significant because in year’s past the Senate has received different revenue projections than the House and the result has been different funding priorities. But without the Senate utilizing different figures, the conference committees will be comparing “apples to apples”. This should facilitate compromise between the two legislative bodies.
Since last year’s information breach at the Department of Revenue, cyber security has been the topic of much attention and work. Aside from the state’s retention of a monitoring company for its citizens, consulting experts were hired to examine our existing governmental structure and suggest changes.
The Ways and Means committee met last week to review those recommendations and begin the process of reorganizing our agency structure and security measures. I believe this will be a labor intensive exercise as we have a tremendously disjointed system where agencies use dramatically different software and data storage procedures. There is also the added challenge of ensuring that we do not become too “reactionary” - at the expense of being “proactive;” or obligating the state to future exorbitant expenditures.
The short term goals are to protect the public; create a uniform method of operating; invest in additional monitoring; and to establish a central authority for organization and accountability purposes. The overall governance structure will probably be worked on throughout the summer and fall.
In other legislative activity, the House passed a bill that revokes jobless benefits for failed drug tests. This would seem like a common sense approach but apparently some people disagree. Fortunately, those who believe drug users should receive unemployment benefits proved to be a minority.
Also, changes were made to the current “tastings” law that discourages local breweries from having tours and events on premise. Current law restricts beverages from being consumed on premise, but the House agreed with a Senate amendment to allow greater flexibility.
For those who have followed the High School League issue, I have been involved for a number of years in an effort to reform this antiquated organization. Finally, we are seeing substantial movement in both the House and Senate. It is my hope that by the end of this year - or certainly by next year - we will have some degree of common sense, equity and accountability inserted into the process. That way we can avoid the unfair rulings that have affected virtually every school in the area - especially Hanahan and Goose Creek.
This week we will concentrate on finishing the budget, finding a compromise for the potential Department of Administration bill, reviewing ethics reform proposals and working out funding for road and infrastructure improvements. If you are interested in following the debate on the floor just type www.scstatehouse.gov into your browser and click on the live feed of the House or Senate floor.
Rep. Jim Merrill (R) is the former Majority Leader of the S.C. House of Representatives and represents District 99 which covers parts of Hanahan, Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, Cainhoy and North Charleston.