Members of the S.C. House of Representatives will make it clear Tuesday whether they are serious about reducing the power of their leaders.
Representatives will adopt new rules that aim to prevent the corruption that led to the downfall of former longtime House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
They also will elect new leaders.
Acting Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who stepped up when Harrell was charged with public corruption, is expected to be elected speaker of the GOP-controlled House.
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After Lucas pushed for term limits for the speaker, a House rules panel approved limiting the speaker and speaker pro tempore to five terms, or 10 years. The full House will take up that proposal Tuesday.
Whether the term limits will have any real impact is unclear. Only three speakers have held the post for more than 10 years, according to House records.
More say for Democrats
The House also will take up a proposal to give Democrats, the body’s minority party, a stronger voice in conference committees that meet with state senators to hammer out compromises on legislation.
Under that proposal, the speaker – a position Republicans have heldfor more than 20 years – would be required to consult with the majority and minority House leaders before appointing representatives to conference committees. The proposal also would require a member of the minority party be named to each conference committee.
Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said another proposed rules change – requiring an explanation of a bill before it can be voted on – also could benefit Democrats.
In the past, Republicans would not explain or answer questions about a bill, which would pass simply because the GOP overwhelmingly controls the House, Smith said.
“What it signals is a more bipartisan and more transparent House of Representatives,” Smith said.
Too much money and power?
House members also will decide whether to ban themselves from operating leadership political action committees, which contribute money to other representatives’ campaigns.
“From an appearance standpoint, having leadership PACs erodes the confidence of the citizens in our government,” Lucas said.
Lucas said banning leadership PACs is important because they allow representatives to exceed the legal limit on donations to a campaign that other citizens must follow. “The concentration of money, in the minds of the citizens of this state, is equivalent to the concentration of power,” he said.
Lucas said one of the most important changes to House rules will be establishing a committee to provide oversight to state agencies.
The Department of Administration Act, passed this year, gives control of more executive agencies and functions to the governor. The additional House committee would provide oversight of those agencies.
The creation of an oversight committee will give the House a chance to be proactive in dealing with state agencies, Lucas said. “No longer will we be put in a position that we have to react to crisis in state agencies.”
Pope seeks House’s No. 2 post
House members also likely will elect state Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, as speaker pro tempore.
Pope, who first gained national attention when he prosecuted Union child murderer Susan Smith, said Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester, called him last week to say she was dropping out of the race for speaker pro tem, so he could be unopposed.
Pope said he is comfortable with the proposed House rule changes, adding they support openness and spreading power.
Lucas said he expects to work well with Pope.
“I’ve had a working relationship with Tommy over the last few years that has been extremely productive,” said Lucas, who appointed Pope to be chairman of a special House committee to propose ethics reforms.
Pope said his candidacy for speaker pro tempore is not a launching pad in his 2018 bid for governor, which he announced earlier this year. “I’m there to do whatever job ... when I’ve got it,” he said.
“I don’t need to be governor or pro tem ... I don’t need that to complete my life or complete my career,” Pope said, saying he had his “15 minutes” of fame during the Smith trial.
That allows him to focus on the job at hand, he said.