COLUMBIA — South Carolina House members backtracked Wednesday on a decision to automatically record all votes as a "yes," and decided instead to require roll-call votes on nearly all legislation.
Requiring legislators to take a public stand on almost every bill will force them to pay better attention and understand what each does, while giving residents an accurate record of how they vote, said Republican Reps. Nikki Haley and Nathan Ballentine, who have taken heat from GOP colleagues for their effort.
"This is exciting!" an exuberant Haley, R-Lexington, said after the motion's unanimous approval. "We've brought true accountability to the people of this state."
Haley and Ballentine's months-long push for greater accountability backfired in December. During an organizational session, the House passed a new rule that all votes would automatically be recorded as "yes," even for legislators not in the chamber at the time.
To be recorded as voting "nay," legislators were supposed to tell the clerk afterward.
The rule, as revised Wednesday, requires House members to push a button, either yes or no, on nearly all measures, displaying their vote on an electronic screen in the chamber and into the public record. Congratulatory and honorary resolutions will still be done on a voice vote.
"It was a long-fought battle but worth it in the end. We've said all along this was a no-brainer," said Ballentine, R-Irmo. "Everybody in their heart of hearts knew we needed to do it. It's a good day for the people."
Ballentine and Haley credited the measure's passage to the hundreds of residents who flooded legislators with e-mails and phone calls. Haley said she received about 400 personally.
Rep. Ken Kennedy, D-Greeleyville, questioned why Republicans fought so hard for the December change, only to undo it.
"Why are we here? We tried to get you guys to not do what you did, and now you're changing it," he said, adding he supported Haley's initial bill.
But Kennedy said he is glad the House changed its mind.
"I'm OK that we no longer have to line up at the clerk's desk to vote the way we want. That didn't make any sense. It was ridiculous that I would be voted yes, even if I'm home," he said.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who pushed for December's change, said it was the right thing to do to strengthen transparency. He had said requiring roll-call votes on all bills and amendments would unnecessarily bog down the process.
"Since then, a number of members said they would like to see a few more items added to the required roll call list," the Charleston Republican said. He said the change "provides for even more true accountability on the major issues taken up by the House."
In making committee assignments in December, Harrell moved Haley to the education committee from the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, which is considered more powerful. Ballentine was moved to Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs, the lone committee headed by a Democrat.
Harrell said the moves had nothing to do with their vocal push for on-the-record voting, but Gov. Mark Sanford criticized them as punishments that go against the democratic process.