Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Here is my Legislative Update for January! On Tuesday, January 13, 2015, the House of Representatives convened in Columbia for the commencement of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly. We started off getting straight down to business byoverwhelmingly passing certain provisions of the Ethics Reform Act. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation and further to be elected by my colleagues to serve on the 10-member House Ethics Committee.
Last week, Representative James Smith and I held a press conference in honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month highlighting our prefiled bill, the “Cervical Cancer Prevention Act.” This is a bipartisan effort aimed at educating and providing access to the HPV vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer if administered properly. I should note that the bill is not a mandate requiring the vaccine but provides for information and access to parents of young adults about the vaccine. You can see the press conference in its entirety at this link, http://youtu.be/a4MLv128DVI.
As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts and concerns on the issues.
Thank you for electing me to serve you and our community at the State House.
HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
January 13, 2015
As the House begins its legislative session, the body operates under the rules it adopted (H.3001) at last month’s organizational session. The membership adopted REVISIONS TO HOUSE RULES recommended by the bipartisan Ad Hoc Rules and Procedures Committee which the Speaker of the House appointed and charged with examining current practices and rules, holding public meetings, and seeking input from House Members and the public in order to identify ways the legislative body can be more transparent and accountable. These House Rules revisions include:
Authority for the Speaker Pro Tempore to assume the duties of the Speaker should a conflict of interest arise involving the Speaker and the performance of his duties.
New term limits imposed upon the offices of House Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore so that those who are elected to the offices by the body may serve in these leadership positions for no more than five consecutive terms.
A prohibition on leadership PACs that disallows the use of these political action committees by prohibiting a House Member from, directly or indirectly, establishing, financing, maintaining, or controlling a non-candidate committee or any other sort of arrangement that receives or makes campaign contributions.
Provisions that require the Speaker to consult with the majority and minority political party leaders when making appointments to the conference committees and free conference committees that are formed to address differences with the Senate over legislation and to appoint at least one member of the minority political party to these conference committees.
An alteration in the procedure that allows a newly-introduced bill to bypass the committee process with the unanimous consent of the body. Under the revised rules, such unanimous consent requests for a bill to go without reference to a committee can only be made after the day’s roll call has been taken and the Speaker has determined that a quorum is present.
A new requirement for all House committees and subcommittees to take roll call votes when deciding whether to give a favorable report on legislation so as to record the names of those voting and how they vote.
A requirement for House Members to receive explanations of all the legislation they consider which provides that, whenever a bill or joint resolution is up for second reading approval before the House, the legislation’s sponsor, the chairman of the committee that has reported out the legislation, or some other House Member must explain the legislation for at least ten minutes or until all questions from House Members are addressed, whichever comes first.
Mandatory waiting periods established at key phases of the state government budget-writing process that afford House Members more time to see what alterations might have been made since last they considered the budget legislation.
A requirement for House committees to review legislation that has been substantially rewritten by Senate amendments.
The creation of the Legislative Oversight Committee formed to fulfill new legislative duties under the “South Carolina Restructuring Act of 2014” to conduct periodic reviews and launch special investigations for the purpose of determining which state government programs continue to serve worthwhile purposes and which should be scaled back or eliminated altogether.
The creation of the Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee which is established to receive all proposed state agency regulations submitted for legislative review under the Administrative Procedures Act rather than having these proposed regulations divided up among the various standing legislative committees for review according to their subject matter.
A revised composition for the Operations and Management Committee whose members are elected by the House to advise the Speaker on matters relating to personnel, administration, and facilities management.
Revisions concerning the House of Representatives Legislative Ethics Committee, which is elected by the House membership to address allegations of unethical conduct.
HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
January 19, 2015
The House and the Senate adopted S.345, a concurrent resolution requesting that the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources RENAME THE JAMES R. METTS LANDING ON THE SALUDA RIVER in Lexington County the Hope Ferry Landing.
The House adopted and sent the Senate H.3389, a concurrent resolution to express gratitude for those who stood guard both in the uniformed and covert services during the Cold War era, recognizing both their sacrifices and their role in the fall of the Soviet Union, and to recognize the importance of the victory of freedom over communism in many nations as a result of the successful conclusion of the Cold War. Through the resolution, South Carolina joins the States of Kansas and Maine in officially recognizing the first day of May as “COLD WAR VICTORY DAY”.
The House adopted and sent the Senate H.3387, a concurrent resolution to celebrate the unique American dance form called the shag, since 1984 the official state dance of South Carolina, and declare 2015 THE “YEAR OF THE SHAG DANCE” in the Palmetto State.
The House adopted and sent the Senate H.3054, a concurrent resolution to urge federal, state, and local governments, along with churches and neighborhood associations, to accelerate their EFFORTS TO ASSIST THE HOMELESS in light of the nation’s economy and adverse weather conditions.
HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
January 26, 2015
The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3184, a bill establishing ENHANCEMENTS TO ETHICS LAWS by providing for more independent means of investigating alleged misconduct of public officials and by systematically reorganizing which ethics violations are considered civil matters and which are criminal violations of the public trust. The legislation discontinues current practices of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government each exclusively investigating the alleged ethics violations of their own members, and instead provides for all allegations of public misconduct to be investigated by panels made up of members selected by all three branches of government. To that end, the State Ethics Commission is reconstituted and expanded from a nine-member body, composed exclusively of gubernatorial appointees, to a twelve-member body made up of four selections by the Governor, four selections by the Supreme Court, two selections by the Senate, and two selections by the House of Representatives. Provisions are included to structure the legislative and gubernatorial selections in a bi-partisan fashion and to exclude from service on the commission legislators, judges, and other public officials, recent lobbyists, certain employees, and the family members of those who make the selections. A commission member serves for a term of five years and, afterwards, is not eligible for reappointment. Under the legislation, the State Ethics Commission is set up to conduct investigations of alleged ethics violations of those in the executive and legislative branches. If a State Ethics Commission investigation determines that a legislator has committed an ethics violation, the commission’s report is relayed to the appropriate legislative ethics committee to pursue the matter and decide if it is appropriate to take such actions as imposing penalties, issuing reprimands, or recommending that the legislative body expel a member. The Commission on Judicial Conduct is established in statute to address allegations of judges’ misconduct or incapacity. The twenty-four-member commission is composed of eight judicial members elected by the Supreme Court, four selections by the Senate, four selections by the House of Representatives, and eight selections by the Governor. Provisions are included to: require representation of attorneys and non-attorneys in the membership; specify how the various courts are to be represented by the members of the commission who are sitting judges; preclude current legislators, executive branch employees, and members of the Governor’s staff from serving on the commission; and, structure the legislative and gubernatorial selections in a bi-partisan fashion. Commission members serve four-year terms and are eligible for reappointment. The investigations of both the State Ethics Commission and the Commission on Judicial Conduct are to be conducted in strict confidentiality, with penalties provided for improper disclosures, but, should a commission make certain findings regarding misconduct, reports and various documents and materials become public. Whenever either commission finds evidence of a criminal violation the matter must be relayed to the Attorney General or other appropriate authority. The legislation also revises which Ethics Act violations are considered civil matters and which are criminal violations. Under the revisions, criminal penalties are reserved for wilful actions of public officials, public members, and public employees, while unintentional actions such as late filings or inadvertent lapses in required disclosures are subject to civil penalties. In many instances, the legislation establishes graduated penalties for violations where penalties become more severe as the sums of money involved increase in amount. The legislation establishes an array of criminal ethics violations, some of which are felony offenses, addressing such wrongdoing as bribery, nepotism, and the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3188, a bill PROHIBITING LEADERSHIP POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES under the statutory provisions that govern campaign finance in elections. Because of their status as noncandidate committees, these leadership PACs have not been subject to limitations and requirements that the Ethics Act imposes on the finances of individual candidates’ campaign accounts. The legislation eliminates the statutory provisions that have authorized a public official or candidate to form and operate a political action committee in order to raise funds for making contributions to the campaigns of other candidates. The legislation also prohibits a candidate from accepting campaign contributions from a noncandidate committee that is directly or indirectly established, financed, maintained, or controlled by a candidate or public official or any other sort of arrangement maintained by or affiliated with a candidate or public official. This provision does not apply to legislative caucus committees or political parties and it does not prohibit a candidate or public official from making a contribution of their personal funds to a candidate for another office.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3187, a bill REVISING LEGAL DEFINITIONS OF COMMITTEES UNDER CAMPAIGN FINANCE PROVISIONS by eliminating language that was struck down in federal court for being overly broad and putting in its place descriptions that are geared towards fitting within the parameters laid out in court rulings. Broad references to influencing the outcome of elections are removed from definitions of committees, including party committees, legislative caucus committees, and noncandidate committees, and are replaced with more narrowly focused references to a committee having as its major purpose the nomination, election, or defeat of one or more candidates. The definition for a ballot measure committee is similarly revised.