COLUMBIA, SC — When the state Senate adjourned for the year in June, it left behind 80 pages of bills that were never debated.
“It’s just absurd,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Richland. “We need to get that under control.”
Today, Courson and his fellow Senate Republicans will try to pass rule changes they say will speed up the Senate’s notoriously slow process of passing laws. But some Democrats say the proposals are a Republican power grab in disguise, designed to make Senate Democrats “more a commentator than a policymaker,” said state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington.
One proposed change would make it easier for lawmakers to fast-track certain bills. Now, that requires 31 votes in the 46-member. The rule change would require only 28 votes.
“There are 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats (in the Senate),” Malloy said. “Isn’t that a coincidence?”
Another rule that Republicans want to change, unique to the Senate, is the ability to object to bills. If a single senator now objects to a bill, it cannot be debated on the Senate floor. As a result, lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — often hold bills hostage, or an entire day’s agenda, as a negotiating tool.
“That concerns me more than any of them ... the idea of one senator (objecting) and tying up all of the calendar,” Courson said. “This would perhaps expedite the business of the Senate being conducted.”
Republicans want to limit objections to three a day.
But some Democrats say the Senate is slow for a reason: the extra scrutiny it gives reduces the chances of lawmakers passing a bad bill with unintended consequences.
“I object to some bills, and a lot of time the bills are bad bills, and the net result is we are able to work those bills out,” said state Sen. John Scott, D-Richland. “You cannot speed the process up. That’s why we are the deliberative body.”
Courson said other rule changes the Senate will consider include limiting senators’ personal floor speeches to five minutes and limiting to three minutes speeches on the introduction of new bills. Currently, those speeches have no time limits.
Still, the Senate can do anything with “unanimous consent,” meaning lawmakers can suspend the rules at any time so long as no one objects. That is why Malloy said that, while he opposes the proposed rule changes, he is not making stopping them a priority. He won’t even be in Columbia today.
“I give you a great example of the Good Book (the Bible): We know what the rules are, and we break them every day,” he said. “The rules are there to set the gauge. The question is implementation.”
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.