South Carolina state senators have changed their rules to make it harder for a single senator to hold up legislation.
Senate Republicans said the changes approved Tuesday are designed to ease the chamber’s reputation as a place where major bills usually stall and/or die. Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said the idea is to prevent one senator from abusing their power and halting bills that otherwise have support from a large majority of the chamber.
“It’s a situation we’ve had to deal with a few times,” Massey said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “We’ll be on something, then all of a sudden there will be 200 amendments filed (by an opposing senator) that have nothing at all substantively to do with the bill.”
The rule changes were approved 28-18, with all Republican senators supporting the switch and Democratic members opposed. Senior Democrats were infuriated by what they considered an effort to erase the Senate’s tradition of using compromise to break deadlocks.
“This set of rules… to me, is the mosts dangerous thing I’ve ever seen done in this Senate,” Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said.
Senate rules allow a single senator to place a hold on legislation through filing a minority report once a bill leaves committee or by “desiring to be present” when the bill is debated. Either action effectively moves the bill to the bottom of the agenda. The only realistic path for a bill’s supporters at that point is to compromise with the senator to get them to release their hold or else get a majority of senators to set the bill to “special order,” which moves it to the front of any contested bills on the agenda. No more than six proposed bills can be given the special order designation at any time.
The changes approved Tuesday would move special order bills higher up the agenda so they can be debated earlier in the day. They would also allow the Senate’s presiding officer to block a filibustering senator from filing frivolous amendments that are intended to cause delay and not a serious attempt to improve the legislation.
Another change would eliminate minority reports in exchange for increasing the number of bills a senator could object to once those bills reach the Senate floor.
Massey insisted there would still be plenty of ways for opponents to hold up legislation, but said ultimately the idea is to end the current practice where any moderately controversial bill can effectively be blocked by a single senator.
“The Senate ought to be more deliberative,” he said. “And there is plenty of opportunity for that to still happen here. There is no steamrolling here.”