COLUMBIA - A historic measure that would restructure South Carolina's state government passed the Legislature on Tuesday, overcoming a more than four-hour delay in the Senate where one member staged a lengthy protest because he said the bill doesn't deliver on its promises.
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Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has indicated she plans to sign the bill, although it's unclear when that might occur.
Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, told his colleagues that the restructuring bill, supported by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers, doesn't give appropriate authority to the executive branch, a key tenet of responsible government so that people have someone they can hold accountable, he said.
Other lawmakers praised the bill as a sound compromise, as it hands new powers to Haley and the executive branch, while also providing for a broader ability for the Legislature to oversee, audit and investigate executive branch agencies.
Martin also said that he worried that if the Legislature didn't get it right this time, it may take another 20 years before the slow-moving body would consider sweeping change again.
In an unusual turn of events, Martin demanded - and received - a meeting with Haley to talk about his concerns. Senators who supported the bill, S-22, worried that Martin's delay could spell defeat for the measure if it dragged on for too long.
Instead, members of the governor's staff arranged a meeting with Haley, whose office is on the floor below the Senate chamber. The Senate took a break and Martin and two other senators met with Haley, Martin said in an interview.
Afterward, Martin said his questions had been answered, and that the bill could proceed to a vote. The Senate voted for the measure, 39-4. Martin voted against the bill.
The measure passed 118-0 in the House. "I've worked on this for my entire time in the house, and we're almost at the finish line," Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville, the House bill's primary sponsor, said in a news release.
Martin went with Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Spartanburg, and Sen. Thomas Corbin, R-Greenville, to see Haley, he said in an interview. "She felt like it was a good first step . and she really wanted to get a vote on it tonight," Martin said of the meeting.
He said his primary objectives of the legislative session are to repeal federal Common Core education standards and to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. He said that a delay on the restructuring act would also delay those critical votes.
Martin said he did not ask for the governor's support on those measures in return for allowing the restructuring bill to go forward. "I did not ask for one thing in return," said Martin, who said he received no assurances from the governor on Obamacare or any other issue.
A Haley spokesman did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Still, Martin said, he believes the restructuring effort is a flawed one.
Martin zeroed in on the fact that the bill does not substantially change the Budget and Control Board, which controls state contracts and bonds. The bill proposes a new agency, but the board that controls it has the same membership as its predecessor: the governor, state treasurer, comptroller general and a House and Senate member. The executive branch should control those processes, Martin said.
"We're putting lipstick on a pig," Martin said of the powers granted to Haley. "If you just change the name of something but leave everything the same, what have you really done?"
The restructuring bill allow for legislative committees to investigate, and grants them subpoena power over agencies. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, Haley's likely opponent in the November election, said that currently there is little remedy for legislators to address problems at the state's agencies. "The goal here is really to modernize the legislative branch, to do what other states do. so issues don't go on and on and on like we've seen when we have a crisis," Sheheen said. He said he also hopes that more vigorous oversight would save taxpayer dollars in the long haul.
During the vote, Sheheen, who has worked on the issue for years, walked gleefully around the Senate chamber, thanking his colleagues for their support. Some said that he lobbied them personally over the summer, efforts that were effective, they said.
Sheheen said building relationships with legislators and addressing concerns ultimately secured the bill's success. "We had a better product," he said.
Haley took to Facebook to signal her support. "Carroll Campbell is smiling today as the House and Senate passed the biggest piece of government reform since he was governor almost 20 years ago," Haley said. "South Carolina is showing the world that we are no longer in the dark ages!"