THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Legislature: Lawmakers share job's frustrations with GOP club
By Jackie R. Broach
A meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club this week turned into what some members said was one of the most open conversations about the legislature they had ever heard.
Having announced his intention not to seek re-election in 2012 last week, S.C. Rep. Kevin Ryan spoke frankly about his first session in the legislature and problems that hinder House members from being as effective as they might be.
“I was very frustrated this year,” he said. “There are a lot of things wrong in Columbia. A lot of time is wasted. That’s something we hear a lot, and it’s so much the case.”
Ryan and S.C. Sen. Ray Cleary were the guest speakers for the meeting, and Ryan’s straight-forward speech led Cleary to vent some of his own vexation with the system.
It left some members of the audience wondering how anything at all gets accomplished in Columbia.
According to Ryan’s description of a day in the House, members start wandering in at around 10 a.m. and “sit around for an hour” for roll call and matters such as the introduction of a sports team that won a state championship, a former House member who is in attendance or “the doctor of the day.”
They look over the calendar at around 11 a.m. and then “there’s maybe 20 minutes of debate” on a bill before its time to adjourn for lunch. When they come back, they get another hour of work in “if you’re lucky” and adjourn for the day.
It’s an issue Ryan and a lot of his colleagues feel strongly about, he said, and it’s something he hopes to take steps toward repairing before his term ends next year.
He said he would like to see the legislative session shortened, perhaps following a biannual model like the one used in Virginia, which has one of the nation’s shortest sessions. The session there runs 60 days in even-numbered years and 30 days in odd-numbered years, with an option to extend annual sessions for a maximum of 30 days.
“Over the next 13 months, you’ll see me introduce a lot of legislation and bring up a lot of these issues,” Ryan said. He might not be able to get anything changed before he leaves office, but “at least it will start a discussion and I’ll be another voice added to the fight to try to get things done,” he said.
Ryan and Cleary noted that things in the House move quickly compared to the Senate. Ryan said that is also disappointing at times. He mentioned a bill that would require the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket.
“I thought it was a very common sense bill,” he said. It’s nonpartisan and passed overwhelmingly in the House, but is still sitting in a Senate subcommittee, he added.
“If you’re going to work hard, you can get things done, but it is very, very frustrating,” Cleary acknowledged.
He talked about his repeated efforts to get a bill passed that would give counties the right to step in and clean up properties that become eyesores or safety hazards when the owners refuse to do so, and charge the owners for the work. It’s a right cities already have and counties would have it too if not for two senators who have blocked the legislation.
It only takes one senator to keep a bill from passing, something that can lead to great frustration, Cleary said.
Ryan said his dissatisfaction with the system is part of the reason he decided not to seek a second term, but his age and career goals also presented a challenge.
“It was a very, very difficult decision to come to,” said Ryan, 23. “One of the challenges of my age, and any age, is serving in the legislature three days a week, January through June. I knew that going into it, but I didn’t quite understand the effects on a career. At 23, I cannot and do not want to be a full-time legislator.”
Additionally, Ryan and Cleary gave highlights of the accomplishments of this year’s legislative session, including tort reform, passing of a voter ID bill, tougher laws regarding illegal immigrants, and changes to the law that regulates unemployment benefits. Cleary added an amendment that prevents seasonal employees hired for a short period from collecting eight months employment when the season changes and their position is eliminated.
And, “if you do have reasons to fire somebody, they probably won’t get unemployment insurance now, where they would have gotten it a year or two ago,” Cleary said.
One of the big accomplishments for the year was redistricting, a process undertaken every 10 years that moves the physical boundaries of political districts to reflect changes in population. The state got a new 7th Congressional district with redistricting, which will include Georgetown and Horry counties, as well as the Pee Dee region.
The new Congressional lines should have the approval of the Justice Department by Halloween, Cleary said.
“I think reapportionment went well. It was a lot of work and a lot of meetings, but what we were shooting for, we got it. We were lucky.”