- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - An effort to shorten South Carolina’s January-to-June legislative session is gaining support in the Senate, where the idea has died repeatedly for two decades.

A Senate panel has advanced two proposals that would shave a month off the Legislature’s meeting days in the Statehouse, amending the House version that would shave two. That chamber’s 103-4 vote last March marked at least the 11th time in 20 years it passed a session-shortening bill.

Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said the Senate’s changing make-up of fewer retirees, as well as growing frustration with extended sessions, could finally prompt a new calendar.

The 40-year-old attorney said the lengthy legislative session prevents working people from even seeking a seat, as it’s very difficult to commit to meeting three days a week for six months, plus occasionally in the fall.

The schedule is “a hindrance to getting good, qualified people to serve,” said Massey, who chairs the panel that advanced the measures to the full Senate Judiciary Committee. “We can get our work done much quicker than we get it done.”

Officially, South Carolina has a part-time Legislature that meets annually from the second Tuesday in January through the second Thursday in June - Jan. 12 to June 9 next year. That makes South Carolina’s regular legislative session the 13th longest among states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Work often doesn’t end with the regular session. South Carolina legislators routinely need special sessions to complete their budget work, sometimes into July.

But there’s plenty of downtime leading up to the session’s wrap, including daily constituent introductions and team recognitions.

“We do a lot more work as the deadlines come for us to do the work,” said House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, adding that legislators can adjust - and work more efficiently - under new deadlines.

House members have long pushed the money-saving aspect of a shorter session.

Legislators’ base salary is $10,400 no matter how many days they meet. Supplements include a $192 per diem for food and lodging every day they’re at the Statehouse, as well as mileage reimbursement for one round trip a week. That translates to about $115,200 weekly if all 170 legislators attend that three-day span - though in reality it’s something less than that, depending on absences.

“Every day we’re down there costs money,” said Bannister, lead sponsor of the House version. “We can set an example for the agencies and government we’re overseeing. If we have a lot of wasted time and money in our system, it’s hard to criticize others who don’t have an efficient system.”

His proposal would create a February-through-May session by shaving one month from the beginning and end. Subcommittees and committees can meet in January without the entire General Assembly gaveling into session, Bannister said.

Senators backing a shorter session include Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, a 36-year veteran of the Legislature, who believes it would force senators to re-evaluate their rules that allow one person to indefinitely hold up legislation. However, while he supports ending in May, he doesn’t want to delay the session’s start.

“There are ways for us to be more productive and better utilize our time than being down there well into June,” said Martin, R-Pickens.

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