Checks and Balances

Proposed reforms in recent years seem to primarily deal with the shifting of power to and from the Legislative or Executive branches of state government.

While those battles may subside over the next few months (one can hope, right?) , I have always felt the focus should be on real reform regarding the way we do business in Columbia. Reform that actually shifts the ultimate power back to the PEOPLE instead of continuing these “insider battles” for power between two of our three branches of government.

Battles that sometime remind me of what some folks call the political “Golden Rule”: Those that hold the gold, rule.

Is that what we want in SC? Is that what is best for the more than four million residents of our state?

Should a small handful of politicians hold ultimate control and the people of our state have none – other than a vote every two or four years at the ballot box?

I have been reviewing recent pre-filed legislation as well as legislation that has been stuck in committees during the past year. I’ve also continued talking with “real people” in our community and around our state and it seems that most people think like I do. Power in the hands of a few may not be the best at any level – local, state, country.

Do the people have any say after elections are over?

Here are just two bills I plan to co-sponsor when we return. Bills that curtail the absolute power of the few, and ultimately return more power to the people (as I believe our fore-fathers intended).

House Resolution 4108 (Ballot Initiative) – Gunn (D – Richland)

The bill is currently stuck in committee and it’s one that I hope will be debated when we return this year. I will join Representative Gunn in a bi-partisan attempt to have this heard. How many times do you sit at home asking “what are they thinking” (in Columbia or Washington)? One recent example is the cigarette tax here in our state. Overwhelmingly the majority of our friends and neighbors agree we should pass an increase to this tax. Why haven’t the politicians in Columbia done this for years? What is keeping this issue from passing? With any issue that has so much public demand, there needs to be a way for the people to take back control and circumvent any political pressures that force gridlock instead of action. This bill is a start.

House Bill 4251 (30 day consideration with 65 sponsors) – Bill Wylie (R – Greenville)

Pre-filed earlier this month, this bill would require that legislation sponsored by at least half of the members of the House of Representatives be heard within 30 days of being assigned to a committee. I have seen bills buried that had this level of support. If representatives of half our state’s population support the bill, surely it deserves to be considered in committee in a timely manner.

Neither of those two bills is the cure-all for what ails state government but they do start the process of allowing those “outside the chamber” to have more influence. People, not politics, should drive debate and policies in our state.

Along those lines, there is unfinished business for additional reform measures from last year.

House Resolution 3833 (Recall from office) Boyd Brown (D- Fairfield)

For the record, HR3833 was filed in April last year prior to much of the national attention our state received. I would propose we take this a step further and allow the people of our state to remove ANY elected official (not just statewide officials) and also include judges as well. Along with the ability to remove judges by public recall, I support House Bill 4119 which would change the way judges are appointed in our state. This bill does not give power back to the people but I do believe it helps create more of a check-and-balance in state government. Again, allowing public removal of “bad judges” would help should the need arise during the course of a term. Presently, we must wait until a judge is up for re-election before (in essence) removing a judge.

House Bill 3166 (Campaign Disclosure Reform)

One of my primary bills last year is still in Judiciary Subcommittee and must be passed when we return. Simply put, it requires many more officials and candidates to file campaign reports online – where the public can easily see the reports. It also provides a window of sunshine during the current “blackout period” immediately before an election. People should know who contributes to candidates at all levels of office, not just the statewide officials, Representatives and Senators.

House Bill 3213 (Term Limits) has never been heard. I knew filing this would not be popular inside Columbia but we should at least have the debate. Does “institutional knowledge” outweigh any of the possible perils with life-long politicians holding office? Yes, the people still have a voice every election cycle; but, as we all know, some politicians are re-elected because they serve their constituents well; other politicians are re-elected because there is little or no competition or the public’s perceived invincibility of incumbency is too large to overcome. Is this keeping good people from serving?

A signature piece of reform is House Bill 3047 (Spending Accountability Act) Nikki Haley (R-Lexington). The bill is in committee and has been discussed but it has yet to become law. Representative Haley did successfully work to change House rules in January; but a law is needed in the House and Senate to restore more public confidence in our state’s political system. The people should be allowed to know our votes on all matters. After all, our votes are for the people we represent and the seat we hold belongs to them.

During my few years in office, I have worked towards changing the “status quo” in state government and am proud to continue that push next year.

Will you help? Let me know your thoughts on these or other items important to you in state government.

We will obviously work on reforming the Employment Security Commission and our state’s tax structure; but I feel strongly that reforming the way we do business in Columbia is important to keeping the focus on people, not politics.