Can Our State Legislature Function?

Can Our State Legislature Function?

By Robert Scott

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views  and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser. 

A crisis has a way of focusing the mind. Or at least, it should. All our minds seem to be focused on “winning the war against Covid-19.” All our minds, that is, except for those our South Carolina legislators.

The Legislature departed Columbia precipitously the week of March16 as the coronavirus crisis was unfolding, without completing the state budget required before June 30. They knew they would need to return to complete that work; the only question was when. After seeing that the contagion would likely only be getting worse in April, May, and perhaps June, the Legislative leaders debated and decided to return to Columbia one day last week. The goal: to enact the minimum necessary for the state to continue functioning, and then to adjourn on the same day. 

Here is what happened. The SC House of Representatives unanimously approved a continuing resolution to enable the state government to function deep into the summer with nothing newly funded to address Covid-19, promising to complete the details later. The bill was passed and then sent to the Senate. The House then adjourned, and its members went home. Having received the bill, the SC Senate decided to amend it. The amendment did not address needs made obvious by Covid-19. Instead, a change was introduced castigating Santee Cooper for their fiscal mismanagement, and constraints were put on that organization as to what they could do next fiscal year. That amendment passed and then the amended bill passed – which meant it would automatically be sent back to the House to approve. The constitution requires both houses pass an identical bill before the Governor can sign it and the bill becomes law. But the House had adjourned and gone home, and the Senate then did the same. As a result, there was no bill passed last week by both houses, and now the SC House will need to go back to Columbia as the Covid-19 crisis deepens. As of this writing, the House has no scheduled return date, and there is no state budgetary authority beyond the last day of June. Unless the House returns, the state will just run out of money then, with all the disruption that entails.

What about the June primary, did either house approve expanded voting by mail to avoid what just happened in Wisconsin? What about expanded health care coverage – Medicaid – to enable our just-above-poverty citizens without medical insurance pay large Covid-19 treatment bills? What about expanded rural internet, so students and their parents struggling this spring and summer to learn online in counties like ours could actually do so? These are not new issues, but they are newly important; neither the House nor the Senate addressed any of them.

So now the SC House of Representatives must go back to Columbia to vote again. Will they just accept the Senate’s work, vote, and go home? Or will they decide enough is enough: let’s address those unmet Covid-19 needs and require the Senate to return for another vote? What should we in Edgefield expect of our elected representatives? Should we expect our State Legislature to function even minimally during this, the summer of Covid-19?