General Assembly ignores state Supreme Court ruling 

Bobbing for Earmarks

"We're going to be sued, and we're going to lose," so said Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) last Thursday after the General Assembly freight-trained an override of one of Gov. Mark Sanford's vetoes.

And although there's no way to know for sure, I'm willing to predict that McConnell will be proven right.

On June 23, the state Supreme Court announced that the legislative manipulation tactic known as "bobtailing" violated the state constitution provision that "every act or resolution having the force of law shall relate to one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title." In case the term is new to you, let me explain: bobtailing is pretty much the same thing as earmarking, a way that legislators can tack on amendments to an unrelated piece of legislation that is likely to get the thumbs up from the General Assembly.

At issue were contentions by longtime activist Edward Sloan of Greenville that several 2007 laws violated the single-subject restriction. The court sided with Sloan on four of his challenges, but declined to rule on five county-specific issues, saying Sloan lacked legal standing.

In its seven-page ruling, the court said that the purpose of the single-subject rule was to ensure that proposed bills contained no hidden items and to prevent "legislative logrolling."

The victory was a nominal one. The court eliminated only the bobtailed parts of the 2007 laws rather than the laws in their entirety.

So, even though the Court has ruled that the practice of bobtailing is unconstitutional, it sent a message to the Statehouse that it could still get away with it. Which is precisely what the General Assembly did on the Wednesday following the ruling by overriding a Sanford veto.

Both chambers of the General Assembly voted to override the veto of a bill that would provide tax breaks on energy-efficient appliances. Added on to the bill was a measure to provide for sales tax-free weekends on personal firearm purchases and to allow local retailers to add ethanol to gasoline.

Both Sanford and McConnell lobbied hard for the General Assembly to sustain the governor's veto, but to no avail.

Sanford told The State that the override "clearly violates [the court's] mandate and would undoubtedly be held to be unconstitutional by our Supreme Court."

He continued, "The deliberative process that is supposedly the hallmark of the legislative process was bypassed, and the public was deprived opportunity to be informed of and participate in the consideration of the ethanol-blending provisions."

Since the General Assembly is out of session, the now veto-free legislation is state law.

By engaging in bobtailing, legislators have found an end-around for bills likely to be DOA in committee. It's also a good way to pass previously defeated initiatives, not to mention another way to play the classic "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" game

I hope that Sloan files suit and the Supreme Court makes his challenges obsolete by vacating in its entirety a bobtailed law.

Bobtailing will go the way of the SUV when and only when it is no longer an affordable political option for General Assembly members.

Unfortunately, it'll be the good people of South Carolina stuck without a state budget or no Medicaid payments or no gas for school buses or closed state parks or more potholes or no paychecks for state workers when the Supreme Court finally acts and forces a bunch of lazy lawmakers back to Columbia to do what they should have done all along.


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