The last day of the regular legislative session at the Statehouse is known as Sine Die, a latin term that means to end a meeting without an appointed date to return. Per the South Carolina constitution, this day takes place on the second Thursday of May, and the South Carolina House and Senate must adjourn at 5:00 p.m. on this day.
Like Congress, the Legislature loves a good deadline. Bills that have been declared dead since January can quickly be resurrected during the final week…..day….and even hour of session. You’ll see legislators, lobbyists, and pages running – yes, actually running, and sometimes in stilettos – between the two chambers to make sure their bills make the 5:00 p.m. deadline. For those whose bills have already been passed, it’s great political entertainment. For those doing the running, it can be the most stressful day of their career.
This year, two of the Greenville Chamber’s top priorities passed at 4:56 p.m. and 4:59 p.m. This is how a bill really becomes a law on the last day of the legislative session:
Workforce Expansion (Expanded Expungement)
H.3209 was the Chamber’s top priority this session. After passing the House overwhelmingly last year 103-0, the bill had been stuck on the Senate’s calendar for over a year. This legislation allows for expungement of a number of minor, non-violent drug felonies, which would expand our state’s workforce. Any formerly incarcerated people will have to keep a clean record for a set period of time (depending on the offense). It also allows solicitors to bundle charges for expungement, and dramatically expands expungement for misdemeanor offenses. This legislation will remove barriers to employment for thousands of individuals.
Timeline of Events:
- Wednesday afternoon, 30 hours before Sine Die: Senate decides to finally debate a bill that’s been sitting on their calendar for over a year. Suddenly, Senators who have been at loggerheads all year come up with a compromise.
- Thursday morning, 6 hours to go: Senate gives the bill final passage and passes it back to the House.
- 4 hours to go: House and Senate make a deal to go to conference on the bill.
- 3 hours to go: House members renege on the deal, devise their own diabolical amendments, and reassure us that there is plenty of time to pass this bill.
- 1 hour to go: House passes bill, attach said diabolical amendment and sends it back to Senate. Senate (with a few choice words) basically says forget it.
- 10 minutes ‘till business lobbyist meltdown: House decides to take back their diabolical amendment and passes the compromise the Senate and House originally worked on.
- 4 minutes ‘till business lobbyist meltdown: House approves compromise and sends the bill to the governor’s desk.
- 5:00 p.m.: Kumbaya is sung.
Secretary of Education as a Cabinet Position
The Chamber has long supported and advocated that more statewide offices should be accountable to the Governor, particularly the Secretary of Education, who plays a critical role in shaping our state’s future workforce. Every year since around the early 90’s there’s been legislation that would allow voters to decide by referendum whether they want the Secretary of Education to be a cabinet position. And every year…it’s failed to get the necessary votes from the legislature. There wasn’t much optimism for H. 3146 this year.
However, last week, in a procedural move that many longtime Statehouse veterans have never seen, a Senator filibustering H. 3146 shockingly moved to sit himself down in order for the Senate to vote on the bill. Here’s how it went down:
- 1 week before Sine Die: The Senate pulls out H. 3146 from the Judiciary committee, where it’s been for more than a year, and places it on the Senate calendar (their to-do list).
- Two days before Sine Die: To the surprise of most, the Senate gives the bill initial passage.
- 4 hours to go on Sine Die: A Senator begins filibustering the bill.
- 10 minutes of listening to filibuster in Senate gallery: Eyes glaze over, vision becomes blurred, everything goes dark, snoring commences…..
- 15 minutes into filibuster: Everyone in the Senate gallery decides to go see what the House is doing.
- 1 hour to go: Filibuster still going strong, although they’ve paused to pass some other things.
- 30 minutes: All hope has left the building of this bill getting done. The sponsor of the bill in the Senate comes out to the lobby to do an interview with The State saying he’ll, “try again next year.”
- 5 minutes to go: Please put us out of our misery.
- 3 minute to go: Filibustering Senator motions to sit himself down (that’s a new one for us), and allows the Senate to vote on the bill. The bill passes 38-6.
- 5:00 p.m.: BYE FELICIA. I wave to the Statehouse in my rearview mirror headed back to God’s country.