S.C. legislators won’t return to work Tuesday after the state’s top court narrowly ruled Monday that Gov. Nikki Haley lacks the authority to order them back into session during a weeklong break.
The ruling by the state Supreme Court sided with the Senate’s top officer, President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. McConnell filed a lawsuit Monday before the court, arguing that fellow Republican Haley had overstepped her powers as laid out in the state Constitution.
Haley — who wanted lawmakers to return to work Tuesday to take up four government-restructuring bills — said Monday she was disappointed with the court’s ruling. But she isn’t giving up and still may get her way when lawmakers return to work June 14 for a previously scheduled extra session.
Haley yet could win because the House and Senate could take up additional bills in that extra session, originally called to act on limited subjects, including any vetoes by Haley, the state budget and redistricting the state’s legislative and congressional districts. If two-thirds of House and Senate members agree, they could add the four restructuring bills to the two-week special session’s agenda. Otherwise, the bills will be taken up when lawmakers return in January.
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Haley is pushing McConnell to get the bills on the Senate’s calendar next week and passed. All four bills have passed the House but had not received final approval in the Senate when the Legislature ended its regular session Thursday.
“Senator McConnell now insists that he ‘support[s] the effort to add those items to the Senate’s agenda when [they] return on June 14,’ ” Haley said in a statement. “We expect him to be true to his word, and that as Senate president pro tempore he will ensure the Senate take up — and pass — these critical government reforms first thing next Tuesday. The people of this state have demanded this, and the Senate needs to deliver.”
McConnell said Haley is playing a political game and knows he cannot, on his own, get the bills through the Senate. However, he said he will let senators vote, when they return June 14, on whether they want to take up the bills.
“I support the bills, and we’ll vote (on whether) to put them in the sine die,” McConnell said Monday, referring to the resolution that lays out the bills that senators can consider when they return. “But I’m only one of 46 senators. If (Haley) will use as much energy to get votes as she did to run over the Constitution, she’ll make it. She needs to get out and get the votes. The ball is in her court.”
It was unclear late Monday whether the House would vote to amend its calendar for the special session.
The bills Haley wants passed would:
Create a new Department of Administration under the governor’s control that would oversee many day-to-day operations of state government now overseen by the state Budget and Control Board.
Require the governor and lieutenant governor to run on a single political ticket as the U.S. president and vice president do.
Allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent of education vs. having the public continue electing the superintendent.
Merge the state department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services with the state department of Corrections.
In Monday’s 3-2 vote, the state Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly is still in session, and Haley cannot call them into a second session.
Chief Justice Jean Toal and justices Donald Beatty and Kaye Hearn voted to block Haley’s order to call lawmakers back at 10 a.m. Tuesday, writing that the General Assembly “has not adjourned ... and, therefore, is still in its annual session. Under these specific facts, respondent (Gov. Nikki Haley) cannot convene an ‘extra’ session of the General Assembly since it is currently in session. To do so would interrupt the annual session and would violate the General Assembly’s authority to set its calendar and agenda and would constitute a violation of the separation of powers provision.”
In Haley’s filing with the Supreme Court Monday afternoon, her attorneys wrote that the governor has the right to call lawmakers back even if they are on break: “The governor’s decision to reconvene the General Assembly to take up four transformational bills is unassailable. The South Carolina Constitution gives her, and her alone, absolute power in this regard.”
Haley’s attorneys said past governors also have called lawmakers back into session for similar reasons, adding that the courts allowed those governors to determine when such call-backs were appropriate.
Thirty-seven Republican lawmakers — including Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee; House Speaker Pro Tem Jay Lucas, R-Darlington; and House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington — expressed support for Haley’s position and filed a motion to intervene with the court Monday.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson previously had issued a non-binding opinion saying the governor was within her rights to call legislators back to work.