House Speaker Bobby Harrell said this week that the first weeks of the legislative session were like a duck on the water. Above water, everything looked nice and smooth, but below the water, everything was moving fast. In the span of the three legislative days, there were 24 legislative committees meeting in the House office building to advance legislation.
This week, we approved a bill that puts our state’s opposition to the Obamacare state health exchanges in state law. In last November’s elections, voters told us unequivocally to oppose the implementation of Obamacare. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the states have the option to reject the Medicaid expansion and reject the healthcare exchanges. My Republican colleagues and I have made a commitment to support and uphold both of those Supreme Court rulings. This was a small step in that direction with more coming.
The House Caucus Ethics Study Committee gave preliminary approval to recommendations on restructuring our ethics enforcement system. I’ll write more about this when all of the details are finalized, but in a nutshell, investigations into ethics complaints will be done by the Public Integrity Unit in the Attorney General’s office and findings of fact will be given back to the appropriate ethics body. In the case of the House and Senate, the constitution currently requires each body’s ethics committee to be the final adjudicator, so the Public Integrity Unit will forward its findings to the committees.
The committee also recommended that a constitutional amendment be approved abolishing the House and Senate ethics committees. That will take a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate, and then be put before the voters in 2014.
The final details of the ethics reform legislation have not been finished, and more recommendations are coming. This week’s restructuring of the investigation procedures, coupled with last month’s overhaul of the membership and structure of the House Ethics Committee, is a major move toward reforming the ethics watchdog functions. Our ethics laws are some of the strictest in the country, but they have not been updated since they were first approved in the early 1990s. While the technical realities of how the public process has changed dramatically with the widespread use of things like the Internet (things we find quaint to say), our laws have not changed to manage those new realities.
On our pledge to restructure government, a House Judiciary Subcommittee approved legislation to shorten the legislative session. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
The House Republican Caucus has approved measures shortening the legislative session in every session since voters gave Republicans control of the House in 1994. Some of those proposals were ambitious. All of them, such as the bill last year that shortened the legislative session by a single week, have died in the S.C. Senate.
This year’s bill cuts the first month and last month off of one of the longest legislative sessions in the country. If approved by the General Assembly, the session will being on the second Tuesday of February instead of the second Tuesday in January. The session will end on the first Thursday in May instead of the first Thursday in June. The weeks we cut in January would still be open for legislative committees to debate and move legislation so the full House can hit the floor running when it convenes in February.
The bill is also a constitutional amendment, and will need a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate, and if approved will also go to the voters for approval during the general election in November 2014.
If approved this will be the 10th time the House has approved legislation shortening the session.