COLUMBIA — The state House reacted Tuesday to public demand for more accountability in government by requiring roll call be taken more often on legislative votes.
This means for the first time, residents will be able to directly and consistently identify how individual legislators voted on matters, including key amendments and bills that spend money.
The House voted 77-34 for the change but spent three hours debating it during what is typically a routine organizational day in the chamber. Opponents argued that portions of the rule change were unconstitutional and characterized it as a power play by leadership to avoid true transparency because too many actions are exempt.
South Policy Council President Ashley Landess said in a statement: "They scammed the public by pretending to pass transparency; they didn't, and no responsible elected official should go home and say otherwise."
The Policy Council, a conservative think tank, first raised the issue in August and revealed in a later study that the state Legislature is one of nine in the country that fail to record how individual legislators vote on every bill that becomes law.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell strongly defended the rule change.
"Making every vote we take a recorded and identifiable vote is the farthest reaching transparency and accountability measure ever proposed by the General Assembly," Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, both Charleston Republicans, said in a joint statement.
The Senate is expected vote on the matter when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Roll will now automatically be called in the House for:
-- Bills that increase or decrease the salary or benefits for legislators, constitutional officers or judges.
-- Budget amendments that spend $10,000 or more.
-- New taxes or fees or the reduction of taxes or fees.
-- Adoption of the budget.
-- Amendments to the Ethics and Accountability Act or the Campaign Finance Act.
Roll will continue to be called for bills that amend the constitution and vetoes issued by the governor, among other requirements already in place.
Another element to the rule change that caused the most controversy is the automatic recording of a "yes" vote by members on bills and amendments passed by a voice vote. To be recorded as voting "no," members must ask the House clerk to be recorded as such. The only exception applies to members who have notified the clerk that they will not be in the chamber when the vote is taken.
Critics argued that the automatic recording of voice votes is unconstitutional because it could include a vote by a member who is not present, among other concerns with the way the rule change is worded.
The Policy Council claimed that the rule change will allow the Legislature to continue to pass millions in pork-barrel projects under the public's radar by not requiring recorded votes on every section of the budget and second reading of bills, along with other steps in the process.
Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, has been leading the call for more roll-call voting and pledged Tuesday to push for a stronger bill as soon as session starts.
"The people we represent deserve to see every vote we take," Haley said.