COLUMBIA, SC — A bill to give South Carolina’s governor new powers starting next year won House and Senate approval Tuesday but not without a bit of last-minute drama.
Both candidates for governor this year, Republican incumbent Nikki Haley of Lexington and Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, claimed victory. Haley made government-restructuring one of her legislative priorities, while Sheheen was the main sponsor of the bill.
The House passed the bill unanimously after 10 minutes of discussion Tuesday. But state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, brought debate in the Senate to a standstill.
Martin said he had concerns the bill did not reform government enough. The proposal eliminates the state Budget and Control Board and transfers most of its administrative functions to the Department of Administration. But purchasing would go to a new state agency run by the same state leaders who now oversee the budget board.
Martin held the floor for much of the afternoon, saying he wanted to know what the governor thought about the bill. He didn’t want to leave the podium because lawmakers could hold a vote in his absence.
Martin tried to adjourn the Senate for the day before a vote. But senators chose to remain in session by a 21-20 margin.
Finally, Martin visited Haley, while the Senate agreed not to vote on the bill.
He said they discussed the restructuring bill as well as his other legislative priorities, including proposals to nullify portions of the federal Affordable Care Act and end the state education standard called Common Core.
Martin said Haley understood the Senate would not give procurement powers solely to the governor, adding the face-to-face meeting with the governor satisfied his questions. “I could tell that she was passionate about wanting to get something done,” he said.
After 20 minutes with the governor, Martin returned to the Senate, thanked Haley and relinquished the floor.
The Senate approved the bill by a 39-4 vote. Martin voted against it.
Any delay in voting would have denied Haley a key legislative victory to tout in her State of the State address Wednesday.
“Carroll Campbell is smiling today as the House and Senate passed the biggest piece of government reform since he was governor,” Haley posted on Facebook. “South Carolina is showing the world that we are no longer in the dark ages!”
Sheheen tweeted, “We’ve built a bipartisan coalition around my bill to overhaul state govt & increase accountability. Today it finally passed the legislature.”