Depending on which senator is talking about the S.C. Senate rules, they hinder progress or are good for the Senate as a deliberative body and protect the rights of the minority.
“Senate rules are the biggest single problem in making progress,” said Greg Hembree of Little River.
He alludes to the inglorious demise of legislation that would have placed mo-peds under state traffic laws like other motor vehicles, including motorcycles. Mo-peds and their operators remain totally unregulated in South Carolina; neither the two-wheelers nor their drivers are required to have licenses.
The General Assembly passed reasonable reform but Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the legislation, claiming it would be wrong to require mo-ped operators to wear reflective vests and to require that riders under age 21 wear helmets. The House overrode the veto, but one senator, Gerald Malloy of Hartsville, blocked a vote to override by delaying action. It was late and everyone was tired and ready to leave. Soon there was no quorum and no vote.
“It was terribly frustrating,” Hembree said after the legislature adjourned, sans mo-ped reform. “I want everybody to remember how this feels,” Hembree told his fellow Republicans, to have come so close and be hamstrung by a single member of the Senate. Hembree remains determind to work again in the upcoming session of the General Assembly for mo-ped regulation. “Passing laws is not supposed to be easy,” Malloy says.
Both Hembree and Malloy are on a special committee named by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman to study senate rules. Sen. Luke Rankin of Myrtle Beach also is on the committee. Other members include Majority Leader Shane Massey of Edgefield, Minority Leader Nikki Setzler of West Columbia and Ronnie Cromer of Prosperity who has been chairman of the Rules Committee.
Hembree and Malloy also share assignment to another special committee on guns. Malloy, a Democrat, is chairman of the guns committee, which held a public hearing Thursday in Greenville, the first of four.
Malloy’s view of the Senate rules differ considerably from Hembree’s. “The Senate rules are very, very good rules,” Malloy says. “The minority deserves an opportunity to be heard. The Senate rules are there to protect the minority.” Republicans have held the Senate majority since 2001. Malloy says the rules are based on Thomas Jefferson’s rules of order. “Every senator should have a right to stop or start” deliberations and so forth. “The Senate is the deliberate body.”
On the mo-ped reform legislation, Malloy says his objection was to the requirement for protective vests. “I missed it” when the Senate approved the House version of the mo-ped legislation that went to the governor. Malloy acknowledges that on the override attempt he “used the Senate rules to say `present’.”
As to changing the rules, Malloy says, “I think there’s always room for improvement.” That’s not slamming shut the door, but it suggests change is far more difficult than regulating mo-peds.