Legislative session frustrates leaders

House members went home frustrated with the Senate, after many bills failed to advance because of filibusters.

South Carolina lawmakers returned home Thursday with little to show for the past six months.

Despite starting this year’s session with new leadership committed to taking care of business, many of the same problems of prior years crept up — disagreements between the governor and Legislature, and different priorities.

“All the big-ticket items are still left undone,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia. “The priorities seemed to be Shariah law, radical abortion bills and open carry and constitutional carry. It was not educating children, fixing roads, and improving the state.”

Republicans, who control the House, Senate and governor’s office, were also pointing fingers in explaining the futility.

“The House passed a great criminal domestic violence bill,” Charleston Rep. Chip Limehouse said. “And we passed a great transportation bill. It’s not our fault that the Senate couldn’t pass the bill.”

The legislative session came to a halt with the banging of the gavel at 5 p.m. Thursday, but that isn’t the final curtain for lawmakers. They’ll be returning for a special three-day session beginning June 16 that could be a whirlwind of activity compared with the regular session.

At the outset, they’ll finalize votes on the state’s $7 billion budget, whether to spend a rainy day fund on college projects or roads, and what to do with an extra $415 million in revenue.

“I hope that the Republican leadership will realize that we have a state to run,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford. “And that we have a roads issue that we still have yet to address.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said lawmakers will pass a budget when they return, but Gov. Nikki Haley could bring them back if she vetoes any part of it. Haley has five days after the budget is ratified to reject broad areas of expenditures, which the Legislature can then try to override by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Regardless of what lawmakers accomplish in special session, they’ll still be faced with finding consensus on roads funding when they come back for the second year of the legislative session in January.

That’s a conversation Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he’s looking forward to. He spent the past three weeks filibustering to prevent a vote on any contested bill, including one that would have hike the gasoline tax to pay for road and bridge improvements.

Instead, Davis wanted to allocate the bulk of the state’s rainy day funds to roads. Davis was criticized by many lawmakers for keeping the Senate from passing bills sent over by the House.

Despite infuriating many of his colleagues, Davis said it was worthwhile sharing information with the public on how the government spends taxpayer money.

“I think that we’ve moved the debate a great amount forward,” Davis said. “I think the people of South Carolina are now engaged. This bill isn’t dead. This bill is first up to be debated when we come back in January.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.