Haley can still make case for supporting reform bills

A sense of urgency to get critical work done in the legislature all too often is missing, particularly when it comes to matters that might diminish its power.

So Gov. Nikki Haley's call for a special session this week to finish work on four bills that made it through the House but not the Senate before the General Assembly called it a day on June 2 is understandable.

But her gambit failed to pass muster with the state Supreme Court. We hope it doesn't diminish the chances for substantive change in how our state government operates.

The court said it would leave it to the governor to define what constituted an "extraordinary" reason to call the legislature into an extra session. But ordering lawmakers back while they're in recess "would interrupt the annual session and would violate the General Assembly's authority to set its calendar and agenda and would constitute a violation of the separation of powers provision."

Haley's timing was off, but that doesn't mean her efforts have to be for naught.

The governor should work now to get the two-thirds majorities needed in the House and Senate to put the bills on the agenda for the extended session that starts Tuesday.

That includes a bill to create a Department of Administration and transfer to it administrative duties handled by the state Budget and Control Board, an amalgam of three elected state officers, including the governor, and the chairmen of the House and Senate budget-writing committees. Doing away with this anachronistic body would greatly strengthen the executive branch.

The other bills she cited would combine the Department of Corrections with the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, require the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket and allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent of education.

The resolution lawmakers approved last week limits their work in the extended session to the state budget, drawing new legislative and congressional lines, and reaching agreement on bills both chambers already have approved.

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, who petitioned the court as Senate president, said he supports the effort to create a Department of Administration and Wednesday sent out a letter urging senators to add that bill to their agenda next week.

Senators and members of the House should do it, and they should make sure the bill does away with the Budget and Control Board and not just strip it of some of its duties. A strong executive branch with clear lines of authority will bring much-needed accountability to state government.

Lawmakers also should finish work on the bill to consolidate Corrections and Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, a potential money-saver. If the two bills become law, work to implement them could begin immediately.

The bills to change the constitution, which would require a referendum in the November 2012 general election, can be dealt with in the upcoming session.

Haley, for her part, should recognize that victory is not guaranteed even if lawmakers agree to take up any of these bills. As Justice John W. Kittredge noted in his dissenting opinion, " ... the convening of an extra session by the governor in no manner compels the General Assembly to address the matters raised by the governor in any particular manner or fashion."