Senate leader files roll call bill
By SEANNA ADCOX Associated Press
COLUMBIA -- A continued push to increase the accountability of South Carolina lawmakers and cap government spending were among 180 proposals senators filed Wednesday for the upcoming legislative session.Republicans who control the Senate said the two issues will be a priority next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler filed a bill calling for more roll call votes in the Senate, mirroring one filed a day earlier in the House. Both chambers are allowing members to introduce bills ahead of the Jan. 13 start of the two-year session. Roll call votes record every lawmaker's decision on a proposal. That's in contrast to voice votes. Peeler says he's lined up 20 Senate co-sponsors and expects to get four more votes needed to get the bill out of the Senate and included in the chamber's rules."Transparency is clearly needed in South Carolina," the Gaffney Republican said.But he faces resistance within his own party.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said he'll fight the bill "with every bit of energy I've got," calling it a waste of time and money. The Charleston Republican, who heads the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will push instead for a change to Senate rules, requiring roll call voting for budgetary and contested measures. The specifics are still being worked out.
The House adopted rules last week that have come under question because they record every lawmaker as voting yes. Those who shout "nay" or those absent at the time must head to the clerk's desk to be properly recorded. Critics say it creates an inaccurate picture of support for legislation. Peeler said the Senate won't adopt anything like that. McConnell said that while Peeler's plan plays well publicly, roll call voting on every bill, including those without disagreement, would create gridlock in the Senate. He also called Peeler's proposal a "lawyer employability act," saying it would lead to lawsuits in which people claim procedure wasn't followed on laws they don't like.
Peeler said it may be time to consider electronic voting. In the Senate, roll call votes are handled by voice, with each of the 46 names called and those present answering. In the House, 124 members push a button and vote electronically."That's the main pushback I've received," Peeler said. "This thing is really going to take up time." But McConnell countered that made no sense."In a recession, with all of state government suffering, is not the time to be buying a voting machine for the Senate," he said.
McConnell refiled a proposed constitutional amendment that would curb state spending in surplus years and sock away extra money for lean times. Under the legislation, state spending could grow by no more than the 10-year average of the growth in population and personal income. Earlier this year, the amendment fell short of the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate by one vote."The beauty of it is in good times, it does not allow you to go on a spending binge," McConnell said. "In down years, the money is flowing back into coffers to pay the bills, rather than us hiring one year and firing the next."Other bills refiled by McConnell include one requiring state and local governments to print documents only in English, a proposal that won approval in the Senate earlier this year but died in the House.Democratic Sens. Darrell Jackson, of Hopkins, and Joel Lourie, of Columbia, proposed separate bills allowing residents to vote early in person, without needing an excuse. Jackson also wants to bar students from dropping out of school before they turn 18, instead of before age 17. But it was Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who prefiled the most proposals, with 65 -- accounting for more than one-third of measures filed so far. Those include bills that would bar smoking in bars and restaurants -- an idea that died last session, prohibit restaurants from selling food containing trans fats, allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, and make it illegal for people to wear pants that sag more than 3 inches below their hips.