COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) –The South Carolina Senate voted Tuesday to change its rules to limit ways one senator, or a few, can block bills. The Senate and House met to get organized for next year’s session that starts in January.
One Senate rule change eliminates minority reports on bills. That was when a bill would get passed in committee but one senator could add a “minority report” to it, which meant the bill wouldn’t come up on the full Senate floor without that senator’s approval.
Senators also voted to put new limits on filibusters, which is when one or more senators who oppose a bill speak against it and keep the floor to keep the bill from passing, or at least delay it. In recent years, filibusters have stopped ethics reform bills and a plan to raise the gas tax to fix state roads and bridges.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, was one of the senators who filibustered to block the gas tax bill, but he thinks the rules change is fair because it still allows senators to speak against bills they oppose. “The way it used to work is you can invoke cloture and sit somebody down on a filibuster but that was only for the day and the next day somebody could get back up and start filibustering again. Now, with the rules that we’ve passed, once you invoke cloture and cut off a filibuster, that filibuster remains cut off until you give that bill a second reading,” he says.
Senators also moved the most important bills, ones they set for “special order,” earlier on their calendars so they’ll get to them earlier in the day.
All of this is designed to make the Senate more efficient, since the legislative session will be three weeks shorter starting next year.
Senators also re-elected Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, as president pro tempore. What’s still unknown is who will be the next lieutenant governor if Gov. Nikki Haley is confirmed as U.N. ambassador and Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster then becomes governor.
Under current law, the Senate president pro tem becomes lt. governor if that office becomes vacant. But Sen. Leatherman has said he will not become lt. governor, since that would mean giving up his Senate seat.
The state constitution is also not clear. Voters agreed to change the constitution so that, starting in 2018, the governor and lt. governor will run together as a ticket. After that, if the office of lt. governor becomes vacant the governor will choose a successor.
But when lawmakers ratified that change and put it into the constitution, they left out the part voters approved saying “beginning with the General Election in 2018.” So some lawmakers think if McMaster becomes governor he would choose a new lt. governor, while others think that, since the constitutional amendment that voters passed specifically said “beginning with the General Election of 2018,” the current law still applies.
Sen. Davis says, “I suspect that what’ll happen is when Gov. Haley is confirmed as U.N. ambassador and when Lt. Gov. McMaster then becomes governor, I think that Sen. Leatherman will resign the office of pro tem and have somebody elected in his stead for the sole purpose of ascending up and becoming lt. governor, and then I suspect he’ll offer himself to the body again to be elected pro tem. And I just think a game of musical chairs like that really doesn’t reflect credit upon the Senate.”
He thinks the state Supreme Court may have to decide how the process will work.