Beaufort News

Haley loses court battle to force earlier legislative session

COLUMBIA -- The state Supreme Court on Monday handed Senate leader Glenn McConnell a victory over Gov. Nikki Haley, denying her authority to order the legislature back in session today.

Now, the governor has called McConnell, a Charleston Republican, to task.

Haley, also a Republican, said if McConnell supports her attempt to restructure government, as he said he does, then he needs to prove it.

"We expect him to be true to his word, and that as Senate president pro tempore he will ensure the Senate take up -- and pass -- these critical government reforms first thing next Tuesday. The people of this state have demanded this, and the Senate needs to deliver."

McConnell called the 3-2 court ruling a victory for the constitution. He said not enough senators were behind the bills for them to pass in the first place. Going forward, Haley will have to help sell her agenda to the dissenters, McConnell said.

"She's hasn't helped herself with these antics over the last few days," he said. "She should try to learn something from this and make a fresh start."

After the legislature's mandatory adjournment at 5 p.m. Thursday, Haley called lawmakers back to session to finish work on a package of restructuring bills ahead of their scheduled June 14 return for an extended session that will cover limited ground.

The court did not refute the subject of the special session the governor ordered, but rather the timing of it. Technically, the legislature is in recess and has not yet adjourned for the year. For that reason, Haley could not order lawmakers back to session, the justices said.

All the restructuring bills at play passed the House earlier this year. None has received a final vote in the Senate.

The bills would create a Department of Administration, under the governor's Cabinet, allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket and give the governor the authority to appoint a state superintendent of education, replacing the statewide election. A fourth bill would merge the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services with the Department of Corrections.

The argument behind the bills is to bring accountability to state government by allowing the governor to function as a true chief executive who is not so hamstrung by legislature's grip on power in the state. The restructuring bills are a cornerstone of Haley's legislative agenda and one of her campaign issues.

Two-thirds of the House and Senate must agree to take up the legislation, while lawmakers meet between June 14 and July 1. Lawmakers agreed to meet for the extended session, but only to consider a limited number of bills, including the $6 billion budget and illegal-immigration enforcement, and the governor's potential vetoes.

Because the lawsuit involved staff time in both the Governor's Office and the Senate, taxpayers did contribute. The Senate clerk reported that the suit did not cost any extra cash for Senate staff to work on, because they are full-time employees. Rob Godfrey, Haley press secretary, said the Governor's Office legal-insurance policy covers costs when the governor is sued. The deductible and the costs to the taxpayers are not yet determined, but will be minimal, Godfrey said.