- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The state sword was placed in the Senate on Tuesday and the state mace is in its spot in the House, officially beginning the 121st session of the South Carolina General Assembly.

The first day of the session is much like the first day of school - lots of talking and catching up, but not a lot of work being accomplished. Lawmakers will have until June to do things like pay for roads, improve education and overhaul state ethics laws.

There were new faces leading each chamber. Speaker Jay Lucas ran his first regular House session after taking over for Bobby Harrell who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations last year. Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, who took over for Glenn McConnell after he left in June to be president at the College of Charleston, presided over the Senate.

But it was also the last day for McGill. New lieutenant governor Henry McMaster will wear the purple robe Wednesday after he is sworn in along with Gov. Nikki Haley and other state officials.

Here are highlights of the brief session Tuesday.

HOUSE

Lucas promised a more efficient, prompt House. The session was supposed to start at noon, and he hit the gavel at 11:59 a.m.

There was little chaos in the chamber. Members thanked others for support, and Lucas was given a framed story about himself from the Republican Women’s Caucus.

Otherwise, it was a quiet day. The House finished its business in about an hour and will come back briefly before Haley’s inaugural Wednesday.

SENATE

The Senate didn’t start promptly at noon, but stayed a lot longer.

Senators immediately voted Hugh Leatherman back in as President Pro Tem and he took the floor to tell his colleagues his plans for running things.

Leatherman ascended to the powerful post in June with the movement surrounding McConnell’s resignation. The Florence Republican also chairs the Senate’s budget-writing committee and sits on various state financial oversight boards.

Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, fought Leatherman’s election last summer, saying he was a backroom wheeler dealer who unfairly rewards friends and punishes enemies and had too much power even before he became President Pro Tem. Leatherman won the June vote 42-2. He responded to Massey in a roundabout way Tuesday.

“Sharp debate is expected,” Leatherman said. “But attacks on character are ill-suited for the aspirations of the South Carolina Senate.”

Leatherman told his fellow senators he expected decorum, and would crack down on disrespectful speeches. And he said senators need to be agreeable to compromise with the House and governor, but not at the risk of giving up the Senate’s reputation as the more deliberative body.

“Seek compromise when possible, but also stand our ground,” Leatherman said.

The Senate spent the rest of its day assigning committees and seats and reading bills.

INAUGURATION

Work continued Tuesday on the south side of the Statehouse for Gov. Nikki Haley’s second inauguration.

The National Weather service predicts it will be about 36 degrees when the ceremony begins at 11 a.m. with a small chance of drizzle. Freezing rain advisories were issued for areas north and east of Columbia.

It snowed in Columbia the day before Haley’s first inaugural in 2011. But skies cleared and she was sworn in during a chilly ceremony with the temperature around 33 degrees.

FAMILIAR FACES

A group of motorcyclists against helmet laws made their annual first day trek to the Statehouse despite the miserable, rainy first day weather.

A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, or ABATE, comes out in force every year. The leather jackets, Harley-Davidson T-shirts and long hair always stand out among the suited lobbyists and lawmakers.

___

Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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