Too Much Time on Their Hands?

 

SC LAWMAKERS SPEND MORE THAN HALF THE YEAR IN COLUMBIA. TIME TO ABBREVIATE.

THE BACKGROUND

South Carolina has one of the longest legislative sessions in the country. Legislators spend almost half the year in the capitol – that’s far more time than their counterparts in other states spend in their capitols.

  • South Carolina has the 6th longest legislative session in the nation (tied with seven other states).
  • We have the longest session in the Southeast (tied for 1st with Tennessee). Southeastern legislatures meet for an average of 94 calendar days out of the year. Our General Assembly sits from January to June or about 143 calendar days a year.
THE CONSEQUENCES

The length of South Carolina’s legislative session has a lot to do with our state’s distorted political culture.

  • Studies have found that professional, full-time legislatures pass more bills catering to special interests and spend more taxpayer money than part-time legislatures. In other words: professional legislatures are more prone to pressure from lobbyists – and this translates into higher spending.
  • Longer sessions mean legislators spend more face time with lobbyists and less with constituents. In South Carolina there are about 350 lobbyists representing almost 500 companies, including around 80 taxpayer-funded lobbyists. That makes more than two registered lobbyists for every one legislator.
  • Longer sessions also mean higher administrative costs and more per diem expenses.
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

Shortening legislative sessions would encourage lawmakers to use their time – and our money – more wisely. There are at least three ways to accomplish that goal:

  • Require sessions to end by 5 p.m. on the second Friday in April – making each session last roughly 90 calendar days.
  • Cap session at no more than 45 legislative days within the above calendar limit.
  • Keep the current January-to-June session, but make it biennial – every other year. That would not only save taxpayer dollars and limit the influence of lobbyists – it would force legislators to take a longer view on important budgetary decisions.

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