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2017 Legislative Preview

January 23, 2017 - Posted in This Week in South Carolina by Gavin Jackson

The legislative session was in full gear this week in Columbia, while Gov. Nikki Haley was before a U.S. Senate committee for her hearing to become the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley was before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday where she presented her foreign policy stances, many of which clashed with President Donald Trump’s positions.

"I do anticipate that he will listen to all of us and see it the way we see it,” Haley said about her future, working with Trump.

Despite her lack of foreign policy experience, Haley rarely minced her words during the cordial three-and-a-half hour long hearing. She took tough lines against Russia and China, reflecting stances that will no longer be “gray.”

“We need to let them know that we're not going to be gray anymore when we say something. That's where we stand, and when we say we're going to do something, we need to follow through and do that.”

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said toward the end of the hearing that he expected Haley would be “confirmed overwhelmingly.”

The same day, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sen. Tom Davis, R-Bluffton, who brought a suit last month, clarification to a constitutional amendment dealing with how the state's next lieutenant governor is chosen.  

Davis, and now the court, believes the governor can only appoint their lieutenant governor starting in 2018, as a constitutional referendum approved by voters in 2012, states. Ratifying language, which went into the state’s constitution, later omitted the 2018 date, leading to questions as Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster is set to replace Haley.

The problem was compounded because the powerful and current Senate President Pro Tempore, Hugh Leatherman, has said he will not ascend to the lieutenant governor position, as required by his office. 

Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican, however, is interested in becoming lieutenant governor and is said to have the votes.  Leatherman is expected to resign and then run again, to maintain the powerful position that sets the agenda for the Senate.

McMaster, who presides over the Senate as lieutenant governor, gaveled in the start of the new two-year legislative session last Tuesday. Senators were in meetings this past week, in order to move bills through committees, so the legislative process can begin, especially since the session is now a month shorter, now ending on May 11.

So far, legislation to address the state’s underfunded pension fund is taking shape, a new House roads bill that would raise $600 million annually by increasing the gas tax 10-cents over five years along with other fees, moped regulations and other legislation, is already gaining steam in the Statehouse.

The 124-member House is short two members, since the suspension of Rep. Chris Corley, a Graniteville Republican, after Corley was arrested for beating his wife the day after Christmas and was indicted on felony charges of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature and pointing a firearm. 

Earlier in December, Speaker Jay Lucas suspended Rep. Jim Merrill, a Charleston Republican, after he received 30 indictments against him from an ongoing Statehouse corruption probe. The counts included misconduct in office and using influence to push bills for several special interest groups. Merrill has denied any wrongdoing.

Special prosecutor David Pascoe’s State  House corruption probe has been ongoing for more than two years now. Despite Merrill’s indictment, the investigation continues, and with it a dark cloud over the State House as lawmakers, lobbyists and others speculate about what other House members could be in the crosshairs.

 

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