Lowcountry Headlines

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Proposal at State House could change how South Carolina bills become law

State Capitol, State Senate legislative chamber

Photo: Walter Bibikow / DigitalVision / Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Some state lawmakers say they want to ensure laws that affect millions of South Carolinians is properly vetted before they are enacted.

They will consider rule changes in the House of Representatives that other legislators warn will silence the chamber’s most conservative voices.

In the House of Representatives, for example, there is no filibuster option. So one way a bill’s opponents can block it or delay its passage is to file hundreds of even thousands of amendments to slow things down.

That’s one roadblock the proposed changes would eliminate.

“It puts more emphasis on the public participation and participation at the committee, rather than have 1,000 or 2,000 amendments put up that have not been vetted, that the public has had no input,” Speaker of the House Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) says.

The last time the House experienced a debate like this was last year when the state’s six-week abortion ban was under consideration. It spanned about 24 hours over the course of two days before members actually voted on the bill.

“This is something that will enhance the legislative process, enhance the debate but then make sure it’s not a dilatory debate,” Smith says.

If adopted the rule could kick in once a debate in the House has hit the three-hour mark. Then members could vote to limit debate from there by allowing the majority leader, who is currently a Republican; and the minority leader, currently a Democrat; to pick up to 12 amendments each to be considered from among those that have already been filed.

The rest of the amendments would be dead, though each party could draft one more new amendment each.

This proposal has the backing of both the Republican and Democratic caucus leaders.

“Just like with any rules change, Democrats took some time to get used to it, and now that we’ve talked about it enough, I believe that we are more than a majority going to support this,” House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) says.

But in South Carolina’s House of Representatives, more than a dozen members belong to the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus.

They are not members of and are often at odds with the more moderate and much larger House Republican Caucus, whose leader is one of the members who would pick amendments.

The Freedom Caucus says enacting this would block their ideas from being considered and debated.

“It’s scandalous. We’re opposing it. We’re gonna oppose it at every turn,” Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Adam Morgan (R-Greenville) says. “We think that the South Carolina House of Representatives should truly be representative and be a place of open debate.”

This rule has not come up for debate yet in the House, though members say that could happen as early as next week.

This rule proposal would still allow up to more than eight hours of debate total on a single bill.

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