BRINGING THE General Assembly back to town between sessions — even outside the current fiscal and political climate — is never a riskfree venture. Bills can mount up quickly, and there’s no guarantee that the Legislature will do what it came back to do — or that it won’t do other things. It’s even dicier when the state is bleeding red ink and legislators are salivating over the prospect of opening impeachment proceedings against the governor.
But that risk is limited in this case and in any event pales in comparison to the devastating effects of a justdiscovered blunder that is causing more than 30,000 laidoff South Carolinians to lose up to 20 weeks of unemployment benefits that wouldn’t cost our state an extra dime. Every day that goes by without fixing this problem is another day that people who can’t find a job are not receiving federal funds that could help them stay out of foreclosure or keep purchasing health insurance that can keep them out of the emergency room. It’s another day that they’re not receiving the money — which S.C. taxpayers are paying for, whether people in our state receive any of it or not — that can remove a tiny bit of the stress that could tip the balance on alreadystrained marriages or other relationships, with the resulting social costs that we all pay. In some extreme circumstances, it could be the difference between eating and not.
Indications are that the Congress isn’t in the mood to once again come to the rescue of a state whose people are so clearly in need and whose governance is so clearly inept, and so House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell really had no option but to bring the Legislature back to town next week to correct one of the most colossal examples of bureaucratic incompetence and political dysfunction we can recall.
Under rules the Legislature passed for itself before adjourning in May, lawmakers won’t be able to deal with anything other than problems relating to federal stimulus funding (which this is) without a twothirds vote in both bodies. But even as they jockey to meet that goal, lawmakers must keep focused on their most essential duty, which is to get the federally funded unemployment benefits flowing as soon as possible to those who are otherwise eligible. Even if they can’t find any procedural shortcuts, there is no reason this cannot be accomplished in five days. While lawmakers aren’t eligible for the $260perday pay they would receive during an actual “special session” called by the governor, they do receive daily subsistence payments, which, with a budget as tight as ours is, can mount up if too much speechifying occurs.
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Sen. McConnell and Rep. Harrell noted that this blunder is yet more evidence of the need to overhaul the state Employment Security Commission. They’re right, although there is enough blame that the Legislature and the governor can share some. But they need to rein in any temptation by their colleagues to try to fix the agency next week — or even to dial up the rhetoric too much. It was, after all, a politically charged and personalitydriven debate over that very topic that resulted this spring in the House ignoring the one warning lawmakers got about the pending problem.