On Tuesday, January 13, 2015, the House of Representatives convened in Columbia for the commencement of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly.
As the House begins its legislative session, the body operates under the rules it adopted (H.3001) at last month’s organizational session. The membership adopted REVISIONS TO HOUSE RULES recommended by the bipartisan Ad Hoc Rules and Procedures Committee which the Speaker of the House appointed and charged with examining current practices and rules, holding public meetings, and seeking input from House Members and the public in order to identify ways the legislative body can be more transparent and accountable. These House Rules revisions include:
• New term limits imposed upon the offices of House Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore so that those who are elected to the offices by the body may serve in these leadership positions for no more than five consecutive terms.
• Authority for the Speaker Pro Tempore to assume the duties of the Speaker should a conflict of interest arise involving the Speaker and the performance of his duties.
• A prohibition on leadership PACs that disallows the use of these political action committees by prohibiting a House Member from, directly or indirectly, establishing, financing, maintaining, or controlling a noncandidate committee or any other sort of arrangement that receives or makes campaign contributions. This prohibition does not apply to a candidate committee or a legislative caucus committee.
• Provisions that require the Speaker to consult with the majority and minority political party leaders when making appointments to the conference committees and free conference committees that are formed to address differences with the Senate over legislation and to appoint at least one member of the minority political party to these conference committees.
• An alteration in the procedure that allows a newly-introduced bill to bypass the committee process with the unanimous consent of the body. Under the revised rules, such unanimous consent requests for a bill to go without reference to a committee can only be made after the day’s roll call has been taken and the Speaker has determined that a quorum is present.
• A new requirement for all House committees and subcommittees to take roll call votes when deciding whether to give a favorable report on legislation so as to record the names of those voting and how they vote.
• A requirement for House Members to receive explanations of all the legislation they consider which provides that, whenever a bill or joint resolution is up for second reading approval before the House, the legislation’s sponsor, the chairman of the committee that has reported out the legislation, or some other House Member must explain the legislation for at least ten minutes or until all questions from House Members are addressed, whichever comes first.
• Mandatory waiting periods established at key phases of the state government budget-writing process that afford House Members more time to see what alterations might have been made since last they considered the budget legislation. The revised rules do not allow the General Appropriations Bill and other appropriations legislation that has been returned from the Senate with amendments to be considered until their number and title have been printed in the House Calendar and their contents, as amended, have been made available online to the public for at least forty eight hours. A Conference Committee or Free Conference Committee report on appropriations legislation may not considered until the report has been printed in the House Journal and made available online to the public for at least twenty four hours. The House may, however, waive this mandatory waiting period for budget conference reports with a two thirds vote of the membership present and voting, a quorum being present.
• A requirement for House committees to review legislation that has been substantially rewritten by Senate amendments. The revised rules require, rather than simply allow, the Speaker to send to a committee any bill, joint resolution, or concurrent resolution returned from the Senate with an amendment that has so materially changed the legislation’s contents as to make it no longer substantially germane to the legislation as it passed the House. The House may, however, waive this requirement with a two thirds vote of the membership present and voting, a quorum being present.
• The creation of the Legislative Oversight Committee formed to fulfill new legislative duties under the “South Carolina Restructuring Act of 2014” to conduct periodic reviews and launch special investigations for the purpose of determining which state government programs continue to serve worthwhile purposes and which should be scaled back or eliminated altogether. Under the committee’s review cycle, each agency, department, and office of government will be scrutinized every seven years, and special investigations may be performed as needed.
• The creation of the Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee which is established to receive all proposed state agency regulations submitted for legislative review under the Administrative Procedures Act rather than having these proposed regulations divided up among the various standing legislative committees for review according to their subject matter. This committee must be composed of at least two members from each of the House’s six standing legislative committees.
• A revised composition for the Operations and Management Committee whose members are elected by the House to advise the Speaker on matters relating to personnel, administration, and facilities management. The revisions provide for an eight-member committee that is divided equally between the majority and minority parties and chaired by one of the majority party members.
• New procedures for hiring House staff under which the Clerk’s Office receives and reviews all applications for employment vacancies and then submits a list of the most qualified applicants to the appropriate committee chairman or other supervisory authority for consideration. The supervisory authority’s selection is then submitted to the Speaker for final appointment as a member of the House staff. Provisions are also included for conducting House employee salary reviews.
• Revisions concerning the House of Representatives Legislative Ethics Committee, which is elected by the House membership to address allegations of unethical conduct. Provisions are included under which the committee addresses alleged violations of Ethics Act provisions and provisions governing the conduct of lobbyists and refers any matters, regardless of a finding of probable cause, that are violations of law not under its jurisdiction to the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency. New transparency requirements are included which provide that, unless otherwise indicated by rule or statute, all meetings, deliberations, actions, issuance of advisory opinions, debates, recommendations, and other activities of the committee are subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Provisions authorize the committee to obtain outside assistance when needed and to employ counsel who is not employed by any other House committee or office other than the House Clerk’s office.