Capitol Update


June 16-20

“Ethics” Bill Dies on Last Day of Session

The infamous “ethics reform” never got a final vote in the Senate. Members couldn’t get enough votes to end debate. In short, Sen. Tom Davis spoke on it until the clock ran out. We’ve been consistent in pointing out the flaws in H.3945 since it was first  introduced in the 2013 legislative session. We’ve pointed out, among many other things, the several “Speaker Protection” provisions thrown in throughout the process. An even closer look at the final version of the bill validated that it would have taken the state backwards on ethics reform. Next year, if lawmakers are serious about ethics reform, they won’t do it in complicated “omnibus” bills. Too often these bills slowly (or sometimes quickly) morph into the opposite of what they’re meant to be.

Lawmakers Override Bulk of Haley’s Budget Vetoes

This week, both chambers took up Haley’s already miniscule $18.5 million in budget vetoes. After the House and Senate were through with their overrides, just over $4.5 million of the budget vetoes were sustained – roughly 25 percent of the total amount of Haley’s vetoes and .018 percent of the entire $25.5 billion state budget.

Senate Barely Sustains Haley’s Veto of Lawmaker Pay Raises

The $1,000 per month increase for lawmakers’ in-district expenses (equating to a $12,000 per year raise) that was originally introduced in the Senate’s version of the budget and eventually passed by both chambers was vetoed by Governor Haley last week. The House overrode the veto on Tuesday and the Senate came close to overriding it Wednesday.

Although the final vote tally was 10-32 to override, the real vote was much closer. After the first round of senators voicing their vote, the tally was 22-18. Apparently, once they realized they didn’t have the two-thirds threshold to override, senators quickly switched their vote to “no” so as to make it appear they were against the pay raise for themselves.

University of Charleston/Clemson Enterprise Division bill Dies in Conference Committee

S.535 reached the end of its road in a conference committee on Tuesday. The bill originated as an attempt to create an “enterprise division” for Clemson University that would have been exempt from the state procurement code and would have eminent domain like powers. Later the house amended the bill to remove the enterprise division language and inserted language easing the approval process for all universities that wished to engage in permanent improvement projects. Finally the Senate amended the bill once more with a provision that would create the University of Charleston, an institution that would churn out graduate degrees in fields useful to a certain aerospace company in North Charleston.

All these changes proved to be irreconcilable once the bill reached a conference committee. Senator Alexander (R-Oconee) proposed a compromise in which the original enterprise division language and the University of Charleston provision would both be included in the conference report, but this was not accepted. Ultimately, Senator Peeler’s (R-Cherokee) concern over the University of Charleston provision as well as other differences prevented any compromise legislation from forming.

The fight isn’t over however. Legislators will no doubt seek to reintroduce similar bills next session.

Senator Leatherman Elected Senate President Pro Tempore

On Wednesday a chain of events that began when Glen McConnell was chosen as the next President of the College of Charleston and announced he would be resigning his post as Lt. Governor culminated with the election of Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman as the new Senate President Pro Tempore. Several weeks ago when then Lt. Governor McConnell resigned his position, the President Pro Tem John Courson (R-Richland) resigned his position as President Pro Tem. that would have constitutionally required him to assume the position of Lt. Governor.

Following Senator Courson stepping down as Pro Tem, the Senate began searching for a candidate to assume the role of Pro Tem and then immediately ascend to the position of interim Lt. Governor until the coming November election. The Senate ultimately found a willing candidate in Yancy McGill (D-Williamsburg).

Wednesday saw Senator McGill elected Senate President Pro Tem and then immediately ascend to the office of Lt. Governor. Following his election the Senate turned to the business of nominating a new President Pro Tem. Only one name was submitted for nomination, that of longtime powerhouse Senator Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence). Leatherman’s name was submitted by Senator Luke Rankin (R-Horry).

After the nomination was submitted, Senator Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) gave an impassioned speech in opposition to the nomination of Senator Leatherman. Senator Massey correctly pointed out as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (which also guarantees a seat on Budget and Control Board and BCB successor body the State Fiscal Affairs Authority), and as a member of the Infrastructure Bank Board, and as a member of the Joint Bond Review Committee, Senator Leatherman already possesses an inordinate level of power. The position of Senate President Pro Tem includes numerous board appointments and appointments to legislative conference committees.

Senator Massey also commented on the highly questionable and secretive method by which Senator Leatherman and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) effectively authored a conference budget while avoiding a public budget conference committee.

While Senator Massey voiced many legitimate concerns – concerns many lawmakers share, although they may be too scared to voice them – his words went unheeded. Only Massey and Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) voted against the nomination. With the election of Senator Leatherman as President Pro Tem, legislative power just grew more concentrated.

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