SC legislative session gets ice-delayed start
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina legislators sometimes brag about their power to frustrate governors and set the timetable of lawmaking. But they met their match Tuesday with Old Man Winter, failing to muster a quorum in the Senate.
Snow and ice from Monday's storm lingered on roadways Tuesday, forcing delays in handling the most basic functions of the opening day for the South Carolina Senate and House.
The weather delayed, too, taking up bills on illegal immigration, legalizing raffles and having more on-the-record votes in the Legislature. Lawmakers canceled all but one of the first hearings on closing a $829 million shortfall in the state's spending plans for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said snow had never hampered the start of session in his 31 years in the Senate. But when the gavel fell just after noon to start the session, only 20 of the Senate's 45 members were on hand. That was less than the majority needed to take care of the basics at the start of a two-year General Assembly.
"We had to have a quorum here today to elect officers," McConnell said after the Senate went into a long recess, hoping to find enough members later in the day to hold elections so bills could be sent to committees for hearings. "The problem that we're in is there are certain things by law and by the constitution that we've got to do today," said the Charleston Republican.
The Senate reconvened at 5 p.m., but still lacked the members to elect a speaker pro tem, clerk and other officers.
Tuesday also marked the last time that Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer would use the gavel to open a two-year Senate session. He'll preside briefly over the Senate Wednesday before inauguration ceremonies. Bauer lost his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination and on Wednesday will be replaced by Ken Ard.
Bauer says his last day presiding over the Senate will be bittersweet. After 14 years in elected office, the 41-year-old Republican says he's ready to step down from the podium. Bauer, a two-term lieutenant governor who also served in the House and Senate, is known as a workaholic and nonstop campaigner but plans to return to his business roots.
"I need to learn to take time for myself," he said.
Meanwhile, the House delayed its traditional noon starting time until 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Greg Foster, spokesman for House Speaker Bobby Harrell, said nothing legally required the House to meet at noon.
"And traditionally, our state isn't blanketed with three inches of snow and a quarter inch of ice," Foster said.
About 70 of the chamber's 123 members attended, many of them in casual attire. Like the Senate, the House only introduced bills that were pre-filed last month by legislators but conducted no new business. The House has one vacancy.
On the opening day, the Statehouse lobby is usually packed with citizen interest groups eager to buttonhole legislators. But on Tuesday, the lobby was mostly empty except for a couple of dozen motorcycle riders, many of them wearing leather jackets and vests and pushing the legislative agenda of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.
The group has shown up for opening day for three decades to guard against tougher helmet laws, said Cliff Dalton, who organizes ABATE's Statehouse rallies.
It was the first time snow had kept their numbers so low, and most traveled to Columbia on four wheels instead of motorcycles. "It's just to let them know we're watching them," said Dalton, of Six Mile. "We're here for anything that takes away our rights as citizens."
The only other group making their way around the Statehouse was a gaggle of Erskine College students and their professor, on hand for a scheduled meeting with Sen. Vincent Sheheen. The Camden Democrat missed their meeting, however, and barely made to Columbia in time for session because roads back home in Camden had too much ice, Sheheen said.
Sheheen, who lost his gubernatorial bid against Republican Nikki Haley, apologized to the group as they watched from the Senate gallery and said he'd make it up to them.
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