By Robert Kittle
Columbia, SC (WSPA) - A bill that would shorten South Carolina's legislative session by a month, saving taxpayers more than $420,000 a year, will be up for debate Tuesday.
The state constitution requires lawmakers to go into session on the second Tuesday in January and meet until the first Thursday in June. This bill would move the last day of the session to the first Thursday in May.
The House and Senate just took two weeks off.
According to the Office of State Budget, the shorter session would save more than $420,000 a year because lawmakers would be meeting fewer days, meaning they would be paid for fewer days of meals and lodging. They get $131 a day for what's called "subsistence." It would also save money on their mileage reimbursement for driving to and from Columbia.
The bill, sponsored by Senate president pro tempore John Courson, R-Columbia, is on the agenda for the full Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
He says besides saving money, the bill would make it easier for more people to run for office in the state House or Senate. "Frankly, if I didn't live in Columbia, live two miles away from here, I wouldn't do it," he says. "If I lived in Greenville, Spartanburg or Charleston, the idea of getting here, coming here and driving that far and spending that much time, I couldn't afford to do it financially."
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, a co-sponsor of the bill, says it would not only save taxpayers money, it would also force lawmakers to spend less time on issues that he says don't matter. "There would be more pressure to focus on the important issues," he says. "I think it makes us more accountable to the public."
John Crangle, state director for the government watchdog group Common Cause, agrees. "Instead of dawdling around and posturing and introducing frivolous bills that they know will never go anywhere, they would get down to business sooner," he says. "I even think, based on my 27 years over here as a lobbyist, that they could cut it by six weeks."
Similar bills have failed in the past in the Senate over concerns that shortening the session would not allow senators to fully study and debate the consequences of important bills. Sen. Courson says, "Well, that could happen. But I think the process would be improved because you would have most of the bills come out of committees, they've been vetted pretty thoroughly in committee and subcommittees, and this will allow the committees and subcommittees to meet in the summer and the fall and be prepared to come in when we come back in January."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the "norm" for part-time legislatures is to meet for 120 days. This year, South Carolina's session will be 150 calendar days.