This is the last week of the session for the South Carolina legislature, although lawmakers will likely pass a resolution to return again in two weeks to finish work on both the budget and redistricting.
The agenda will be busy this week, as the House will have to quickly address $600 million in additional spending the Senate made during its four weeks of handling the budget. That long amount of time frustrated House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston), who has been calling for a shorter session for years.
It points to the absurdity of our not being able to shorten the session… We are finding ourselves trying to get a lot of things done in the last few weeks of the session. But that’s always the case and I don’t think it would matter whether that last few weeks was after three months of the session or five months of the session. You always still seem to have all the work to do.
Every session for the past decade, the House has passed bills to cut the amount of time legislators spend in Columbia. However, the bill has never cleared the Senate. In fact, Harrell said it has never even been taken up for debate there.
The Senate, which has long been known as the “more deliberative” body, often accuses the House of passing legislation too quickly. They point out that the House spent only two days working on the budget this year, which was one of the shortest debates in recent memory.
Legislators traditionally spend five months in session, adjourning after the first Thursday in June. However, lawmakers will likely adjourn sine die this year, meaning they can return for a special session at a later date— which leaders expect to be in mid-June.
The six-month commitment is a lengthy schedule for the part-time legislators, most of whom also have jobs outside the Statehouse. Harrell said the half-year commitment scares away many people who would otherwise run for office.
The whole idea (shortening the session) is to make it easier for people to serve in the House and the Senate by not requiring as much of a time commitment from people. We want people to remain part-time legislators and full-time people back home. I don’t know why the Senate hasn’t debated it. They just haven’t.
Harrell said he would like to see a 14 or 15 week session, but thinks even four months would be an improvement.
The House passed a bill last month that would end the session by Memorial Day each year. However, the legislation has gone nowhere in the Senate.
South Carolina has one of the longer sessions among state legislatures across the country. Only a handful of states meet longer than five months every year.