Ah, we'll miss the roar of the politicians, the smell of grease. Columbia just isn't the same when the legislature leaves town. Everyone loves the circus.
There were 288 registered lobbyists when the session started. Collectively, they were paid millions of dollars to influence 124 representatives and 46 senators. They hover in the State House lobby like distant relatives waiting for a rich uncle to die.
Asked what he learned in his first session, Rep. James Smith (D-Richland) said, "It takes about $300,000 worth of lobbyists to get a bill passed."
That said, let's look at what the first session of the 112th General assembly did, and what it left undone. Many of the bills will come back to haunt us when the legislature reconvenes in January.
While flag wavers believe that whites, who constitute a majority, would vote to keep the Stars and Bars flying, polls indicate that a slim majority believes it should come down. The House bill called for a vote in November.
"They wanted to call for a referendum at a time when voter turnout was low," said a member of the Black Caucus. "Only fanatics turn out for special elections, and they're banking on having more fanatics than us."
The flag will still be flying over the new dome when the legislature returns next year to further try our collective sensibilities.
One of the most frequently broken political promises in South Carolina is to "do something" about the high cost of auto insurance. Drivers here pay among the highest rates in the nation.
"This bill," complains Rep. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington), "was written by the insurance companies. Both Georgia and North Carolina have lower rates, but we are getting ready to use the Virginia plan, where the rates are higher."
While even proponents admit that insurance rates will increase under the new plan, they are relying on the competition created by letting insurance companies choose their clients to eventually stabilize rates.
When asked whether he thought Carroll Campbell, now the head of the American Insurance Institute and full-time apologist for the industry, had pulled in any favors to get the bill passed, Knotts said, "I don't know whose hand's behind the scene, but it's a heavy hand."
Knotts blocked passage of the bill, but expects it to pass when the legislature reconvenes on June 17 to finalize the session.
PROPERTY RIGHTS PROTECTION
After contentious debate and a $300,000 lobbying campaign by developers, the Private Property Protection Act passed the House. The bill would require taxpayers to reimburse property owners when government rules or regulations devalue their property.
"We can't begin to anticipate all the negative implications of this bill in the future," said Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League. "It deals with every element of land use, from the most benign residential use, to game laws, to nuclear waste disposal. We have set ourselves up to be the guinea pigs of the nation."
Supporters of the legislation poo-poo the Chicken Little scenarios opponents paint. Rep Jim Harrison (R-Richland), however, admitted that he hadn't even read the entire bill when he introduced the legislation last year. Harrison got the prepackaged proposal from the American Legislative Executive Council, a developer-oriented Washington think tank.
Rep. Hunter Limbaugh (R-Florence) was one of the bill's cheerleaders. "I'm getting calls from people who are afraid that this bill would do away with zoning. It wouldn't affect existing zoning, and would only apply to new (ordinances.)"
Since fewer than half of South Carolina's counties and about a third of its cities have zoning, any attempts to regulate growth in these areas are at risk. Communities that want to create historic or residential districts will certainly face more lawsuits.
DHEC, not known for aggressively regulating industry and development, will be even less inclined to protect quality of life if it has to do a cost benefit study on every new regulation and compensate those they "inordinately burden."
Property rights disputes have historically been settled in courts, based on the body of constitutional law developed since the founding of this nation. Rep. Bob Sheheen (D-Kershaw) said that the bill "creates the likelihood of a new body of law, separate from the S.C. and U.S. constitutions. It's a bad idea."
"This bill is nothing less than the surrender of the rule of law to the power of money," said Rep. Joe Neal (D-Richland). The bill will be up for debate in the Senate next year.
RIGHT TO WORK
Fearing that South Carolina workers may someday realize they are being screwed and begin to organize, the House passed a bill to strengthen antiunion laws. The Right to Work bill proposed raising criminal penalties against anyone who would "induce, cause, or encourage" union membership as a condition of employment in a unionized workplace.
The bill, championed by Republican Rep. Harry Cato, a Greenville businessman, called for up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. In a move designed to insure that businesses remain antiunion, the legislation also holds employers liable for punitive and actual damages to anyone deprived of a job because of union "interference."
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) said, "This bill is being offered not because of workers or employers, but because the Director of Labor Licensing and Regulation (Lewis Gossett) wants it. The director comes from one of the biggest union busting law firms in the state (the Ogletree firm in Greenville)."
"Y'all know that this is a union-busting bill," Cobb-Hunter said. "I own up to the fact that I'm pro-union and pro-worker. The average union worker makes $5,000 more than their nonunion counterpart... Some of you may go home and find that you have some real workers, not just country club Republicans in your district.
"You ought not to be proud that business comes into this state because of low wages...how can we put families first if you don't pay them?"
Rep. Neal pointed out that doctors and lawyers belong to necessary professional organizations. "Why shouldn't workers be allowed the same right to organize their professions?"
Labor organizers considered it a victory that the House reduced the fine to $100 before passing the bill. The legislation goes to the Senate next year.
If there is anybody left in the state who hasn't had their trust eroded by the Lost Trust fiasco, y'all stick around. There don't seem to be enough nails to keep a lid on this coffin.
When Federal Judge Falcon Hawkins threw out criminal charges against legislators convicted of selling votes, he cited prosecutorial misconduct and raised the specter of a cover-up in the related capital gains swindle.
The judge posed the possibility that the investigation into the bribery-greased retroactive tax break was dropped because it was leading to then-Gov. Carroll Campbell.
When it became clear that neither the Justice Department nor the state attorney general were going to look into the judge's concerns, the state Senate created a committee to investigate how the tax break was slipped into the budget bill.
Attorney General Charlie Condon, hoping that no one would remember that he had already declined to investigate, said he would wait for the Senate to look into the matter. "The last thing I want," he said, "is to have dueling investigations and have subpoenas flying around."
The committee plans to issue subpoenas, and a fight over the Senate's power to force private citizens to testify under oath is expected. If Campbell refuses to testify, charges of a cover-up are sure to continue.
The committee isn't guaranteed to learn anything from the former governor even if they get him to testify. The last time Campbell was forced to the witness stand, in a 1985 civil suit brought by GROW, he lied under oath. The federal judge in the case wasn't fooled, and directed a verdict of guilty against the governor, et. al.
We suggest that the Senate committee consider using sodium pentathol to get to the truth.
Both the House and the Senate introduced legislation to reestablish the Coastal Council as an independent state agency. The Council was reduced to being a division of DHEC by state reorganization in 1994. Last summer the DHEC board, responding to pressure from coastal developers, downgraded the Coastal Division to bureau within another division.
Bipartisan legislation to return oversight of the coast to an independent Coastal Council will be considered when the legislature returns in January.
Commerce Department Director Bob Royall spent much of this past session working to get his Economic Development Authority Act passed by the legislature.
Royall is the cabinet member who is so civic-minded, not to mention rich, that he only takes a dollar a year in salary. It is this sort of dedication that prompted Royall to demand that the legislature make Royall the first and last word in economic development. Royall wanted to do away with various development boards (Savannah Valley Authority, Aeronautics Commission, Public Railways Commission, Coordinated Council for Economic Development) and replace them with himself.
Royall proposed to create a private, nonprofit corporation that would be shielded from the public disclosure and financial constraints that burden state agencies. Royall, a former Marine with a famous temper, would appoint the board that could pay their operatives unlimited salaries and commissions. Corporate capitalism is a cut-throat business, and Royall wants all the tools to play the game.
Royall's proposal reminded some of Ollie North's "stand alone, off the shelf" operations that circumvented government control.
The bill, up for its final reading in the Senate, was blocked by the objections of a single senator, Phil Leventis (D-Sumter). According to observers, when Leventis left the chamber Royall grabbed him by the throat and called him a "god damned son of a bitch," and put him in a head-lock to make his point.
With the bill expected to return next session, we hope that Royall's tantrum gives legislators second thoughts about allowing him to establish his own rogue operation. Cut-throat capitalism is best left to the private sector.
The legislature approved building two new monuments on the State House grounds. One would honor contributions of African Americans; the other a tribute to the state fossil, Sen. Strom Thurmond.
A proposal to erect another Confederate monument, in lieu of flying the flag on the dome, failed to pass the House.
We suggest that money could be saved by combining the monuments. Thurmond could be portrayed as the Dixiecrat segregationist he was in 1948. The senator could be holding the Confederate flag while standing on the back of a black man.
This session, while arguing that racism is a thing of the past, conservative House members attempted to end affirmative action. Rep. Hunter Limbaugh (R-Florence) led the forces that believe a level playing field is everyone's birthright as well as a done deal.
While no black members and not enough white members of the House supported the flat-Earth concept to get it out of committee, the bill has a chance of passing next session.
It would be instructive for the flat-Earthers to consider why a bill to amend the state constitution also died in committee. H-4303, sponsored by Rep. Curtis Inabinett (D-Charleston), seeks to change the section that proclaims "The marriage of a white person to a negro...or a person who shall have one-eighth or more Negro blood shall be unlawful and void."
This is the second year a bill to decriminalize mixed marriages has died in committee. Some parts of the playing field are more level than others.
A bill prohibiting homosexuals and bisexuals from being foster or adoptive parents passed this session. Rep. Lynne Seithel (Heterosexual-Charleston) convinced her colleges to add gays to the list of unfit parents that included child molesters and others convicted of "certain crimes against morality or decency."
NAME THAT SLEAZEBALL
This month's sleazeball is a former Marine whose can-do attitude makes him a bit pushy. He dreams of heading up an unregulated strike force to get the job done. Be the first caller to name this sleazeball and win a free trial subscription to POINT.
Last month's sleazeball, Charlie Condon, took $8,000 from tobacco companies during his last campaign. When he finally signed onto the lawsuit against his benefactors, he claimed to be protecting the interests of tobacco growers.