Senate Leadership Gets Taste of Own ‘Rules’ Medicine

Medicine“Veterans” of the South Carolina Senate know the Senate rules and Jefferson’s Manual like the back of their hands. To the untrained eyes and ears, the legislative “code” used in the Senate can seem perfectly harmless, while in reality, it’s being used to cut someone’s speaking time short, filibuster an amendment, push a bill through without debate, or kill a bill altogether.

The latter happened two weeks ago during the final Senate debate of H.3101, the bill aimed at slowing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina. After three weeks of debate on Sen. Tom Davis’ (R- Beaufort) strike-and-insert amendment, and a successful cloture vote (prohibiting further amendments from being filed and putting time limits on debate for remaining amendments), Sen. Brad Hutto (D- Orangeburg) raised a “Point of Order” under Senate Rule 24A that the amendment was not germane (similar enough) to the original bill. Despite deeming several corporate welfare deals attached to bills as amendments to be germane in the past, the Lt. Governor presiding as Senate President sustained Hutto’s point of order, even though Davis’s amendment was clearly germane to the original bill.

In the end, Senate veterans were able to utilize the rules to their advantage to make sure they could retain political cover by not actually having to vote on Davis’s amendment.

The tides were turned Tuesday, when Sen. Shane Martin (R- Spartanburg) – only in his second term of the SC Senate – used the Senate rules against Senate leadership.

Sen. Larry Martin (R- Pickens) made a motion to put S.866 – a bill to eliminate County Election Commissions and registration boards and replace them with a joint Board of Voter Registration and Elections, on special order Sen. Shane Martin took the floor to speak against the motion after Sen. Larry Martin spoke in favor. Speaking against the motion, Sen. Shane Martin argued that there are bills much more pressing than S.866 like S.300, the bill originally written to end Common Core in South Carolina, that deserve to be taken up beforehand. After speaking for several minutes, Sen. Shane Martin asked for unanimous consent from the body for more time to take questions from the two senators standing (Sen. Malloy (D- Darlington) and Sen. Bright (R-Spartanburg)), and there was no objection.

After taking questions from the two senators for several minutes, Sen. Shane Martin made a Point of Inquiry (just a fancy way of saying he asked the presiding officer a question) as to how many minutes remained in the motion period. Lt. Governor McConnell responded that 8 minutes were left.

And, here’s where the leadership got a dose of its own medicine:

Sen. Larry Martin: “Point of Inquiry; did we give up our right to object to this continued apparent filibuster now with a simple unanimous consent request to allow him to answer a question? I would object to him continuing to be heard.”

Sen. Shane Martin: “Mr. President, can I be heard? I have unanimous consent…”

Sen. Larry Martin: “I would object.”

President McConnell: “Senator I hear your objection, but there was a unanimous consent request and it was stated to answer question from the two who were up, and I cannot myself take him off his feet and I’ll have to go ahead and recognize the senator from Spartanburg (Sen. Shane Martin).”

Sen. Larry Martin: “I thought it was a simple request because he had already spoken for a few minutes to answer those questions not to attempt, and he can stand up there and laugh if he wants to, but he’ll never get that chance again to filibuster the 30 minute time frame of the motion period…”

Sen. Shane Martin then continued on.

Sen. Shane Martin clearly used the rules to his advantage – in this case to make his objection known on a motion that would delay debate on many other bills in the Senate in order to address a local bill – and there were some upset senators. It’s clear that some members of the body don’t like when the rules are used contrary to their desires.

In the end, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to put the bill on special order.

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