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Caucus Report 15 – Shortening the Session

This year, the South Carolina House of Representatives took two weeks off, saving taxpayers roughly $50,000 each week and at least $100,000 total.

But those two weeks off are just a temporary patch for the larger issue of shortening our much-too-long legislative session. One major solution for a leaner, more efficient legislative process is to permanently shorten the number of weeks we are in Columbia each year.

South Carolina is one of the smallest states in the United States with one of the longest legislative sessions.  We are mandated to meet for five months each year.  Compare that with a few of our neighbors: Florida meets for two months.  Georgia meets for 40 days.  The Tennessee legislature meets for 90 days – over a period of two years.

The House has supported shortening the session at least nine times since you gave us control of the House of Representatives in 1994.  Only once has a bill made it through the House and Senate – a bill that allowed each chamber to take up to 30 days off without the “permission” of the other chamber.

This week, we approved legislation that moves the end of the session from the first Thursday in June to the last Thursday in May. One week is not as much as we would like – but it’s a baby step we hope will engender the support of the Senate.

There are many days in Columbia where neither chamber of the General Assembly has much work to do as a full body.  Calling all 170 Representatives and Senators to Columbia each week costs the taxpayers money.  With a shorter legislative session, smaller numbers of members could go to Columbia and meet in committees, taking testimony on legislation and crafting legislation.  Then the entire General Assembly could meet to approve the legislation only when it needs to – saving time and money.

We can cut down on the number of days we are in Columbia while saving taxpayers money.  It’s the right thing to do, and it reflects our Republican philosophy of smaller, less intrusive government.  A 1995 study by professors at George Mason University and the University of Connecticut showed that the longer Congress was in session, the longer and more complex legislation became. Their conclusion? The growth of government can be traced, in part, to the length of a session of Congress.

In 2009, the four weeks the House took off proved we can have a dramatically shorter legislative session while still completing the people’s work in an efficient and timely manner.  There is no reason why we need a five-month legislative session.  It’s wasteful to your time and your tax dollars.

The other major item in Columbia this week was the process of redistricting the House, the Senate, and our Congressional lines. This is a constitutional requirement that we go through every 10 years after we get Census data. Both the House and the Senate held public meetings throughout the state in April – after we received the official numbers back from the Census Bureau. This is a complicated process that will require a review by the U.S. Department of Justice before we can finalize new House and Senate district lines.

Adding to the complexity of the task is the addition of a new Congressional district in our state. The official notice that we will have a Seventh Congressional District means we will have additional clout in Washington, and gain an additional electoral vote for President. This is very good news for our “small” state.