Ethics, education, infrastructure top what could be the most ambitious legislative session ever

Published: Dec. 12, 2014 at 7:10 PM EST|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 1:21 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Ethics, education, criminal domestic violence, and infrastructure top a list of hot button issues the South Carolina General Assembly aims to tackle in the upcoming session, leaving some policy experts to wonder if legislators can get the job done.

"What we see is a lot of big talk," South Carolina Policy Council's Ashley Landess said. "Most of the time, when they do pass something, it's worse than the status quo was."

Landess is skeptical of the tall order of reform initiatives and bills already prefiled by members of the state House and Senate. Landess pointed out the ethics reform bill, which failed in the last session, drew heavy criticism for decriminalizing several offenses.

Ethics reform died in 2013 and 2014 and now legislators already have bills prefiled to overhaul the state ethics act. Those same lawmakers say they want to reform ethics quickly because of everything else they have on tap this year. So when asked if many of them think they'll get to every reform on the list, the general response was, "We'll see."

"I've been here four years, and I think I've been working on ethics three and a half out of those four," Rep. Tommy Pope said.

Pope isn't alone in the legislative push for ethics reform. One day after his subcommittee met to to discuss a House ethics reform act, state Sen. Larry Martin discussed a similar bill prefiled with the Senate. On Thursday, Democratic Representative-elect Mary Tinkler introduced her own ethics bill.

Tinkler is new in the House, winning the district that belonged to former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who resigned after pleading guilty to ethics violations in Richland County Court.

Pope, Martin, and others say the goal is to get ethics out of the way quickly.

"This is important, but it's really slowing us down for the work we need to be doing," Pope said.

And if you ask state residents about the work they believe the legislature needs to be working on, many of them will say infrastructure.

"We gotta work on roads, we know that," state Sen. Katrina Shealy said.

Roads -- then there's the road ahead that could lead to the overhaul of the state's Department of Social Services, which is a plan prefiled by Shealy just last week.

"It's a good year to start," Shealy said. "It's a two-year session."

Then you have lawmakers who are attempting to address the state's deadly criminal domestic violence issues. Sen. Martin wants stricter gun laws for those convicted of domestic violence.

So if you total it up, is this the most ambitious legislative session in some time?

"It's an ambitious session, but there's a lot of us here and I think we can get work done," said Shealy.

Both chambers in the legislative branch say they want to pass bills for all of these hot issues, but Rep. Pope says a lot will depend on how quickly discussion can turn into a vote.

"What I hope we do in the house is tackle it, get it done, have a good vetting of it. Move it on over across the hall, and get to work on all these other issues," Pope said.

While legislators have said they want to get bills moving quickly through the House and Senate, they've also said they have little control over what will happen once a bill leaves their respective chambers and goes to the next.

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