Haley signs legislative roll-call bill

Governor Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA -- In the moments before Gov. Nikki Haley took the podium to sign into law her hallmark issue on recorded legislative votes, Pat Benatar's "Hit me with your best shot" played to a crowd of about 100.

TV crews, a photographer for the New York Times and South Carolina reporters squeezed into a Statehouse corridor along with "patriots" from across the state, Haley's parents and her husband, Michael, for what the governor called a historic day.

Haley was riding high on her big win, perhaps the biggest so far as she approaches 100 days in office. The new law, effective with her signature, promises that lawmakers' votes will be recorded by roll call and published in legislative journals, which are available online.

Haley said the law changes the face of South Carolina, but her critics said the law is nothing but a bunch of hype.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said the law is not meaningful. Plus, he said, it's unconstitutional.

Rules in the House and Senate already require recorded votes, and lawmakers have traditionally voted on the record for matters that divided the chambers. What's more, long-standing rules allowed five of the 46 senators and 10 of the 124 House members to order a roll call. And in some cases, the current House and Senate rules go further than the new law.

"This bill doesn't create any jobs or help educate our children," Hutto said. "It doesn't change the way we live in South Carolina. It's an illusion to fill a campaign promise."

"We've been voting on the record and this bill doesn't change that," Hutto added.

Criticism is nothing new for Haley, whom some political insiders have taken to calling "Teflon Nikki" because she has been able to dodge mudslinging and sidestep fallout from any alleged missteps.

For Jeff Reuer of Goose Creek, he likes "just about everything" about the governor and traveled to Columbia with grass-roots activists, including self-described patriots, from across the state to see her sign the bill into law.

The new law is called the "Spending Accountability Act of 2011." It requires roll-call votes before any bills or joint resolutions pass the Legislature and for the approval of individual sections of the budget.

Demanding more roll-call voting is the issue that put Haley on the political map. During the three-year fight she and other lawmakers took on with former Gov. Mark Sanford and the S.C. Policy Council, the Legislature has gradually increased the required number of recorded votes.

Haley said putting the roll-call voting standards into law protects the public. She said the new law helps South Carolina build a reputation nationally for transparency, leadership and accountability, although most every state already has some requirement for legislative roll-call votes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"This would not have happened without the will of the people," Haley told her supporters gathered for the bill signing. "This is what happens when people care about their government. Because when people care about their government and they do something about it, elected officials listen.

"Your elected officials listened. They heard you. You were persistent. ... This is your day. ... You have changed the face of South Carolina forever and I am thankful."

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her at @yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog.