South Carolina State Legislature

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South Carolina State Legislature

Seal of South Carolina.jpg
General Information
Type:   State legislature
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 13, 2015
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   Henry McMaster (R)
House Speaker:  James Lucas (R)
Majority Leader:   Harvey Peeler (R) (Senate),
Bruce Bannister (R) (House)
Minority Leader:   Nikki Setzler (D) (Senate),
James Rutherford (D) (House)
Members:  46 (Senate), 124 (House)
Length of term:   4 years (Senate), 2 years (House)
Authority:   Art III, South Carolina Constitution
Salary:   $10,400/year + per diem
Last Election:  November 4, 2014
124 seats (House)
Next election:  November 8, 2016
46 seats (Senate)
124 seats (House)
Redistricting:  South Carolina Legislature has control
The South Carolina General Assembly, also called the South Carolina Legislature, is the state legislature of South Carolina. It consists of the lower House of Representatives and the upper State Senate. Prior to Reynolds v. Sims, the House of Representatives was apportioned so that each county had a number of representatives based on population, with each county guaranteed at least one Representative, while each county had one Senator. Moreover, each county's General Assembly delegation also doubled as its county council.

Reynolds v. Sims caused district lines to cross county lines, causing legislators to be on multiple county councils. This led to the passage of the Home Rule Act of 1975, which created county councils that were independent of the General Assembly. However, some functions that in many other states are performed by county governments are still handled by county legislative delegations in South Carolina.

The General Assembly meets in joint session to elect judges, with all 170 members having an equal vote in such elections.

As of May 2015, South Carolina is one of 23 Republican state government trifectas.

See also: South Carolina House of Representatives, South Carolina State Senate, South Carolina Governor


Article III of the South Carolina Constitution establishes when the Legislature is to be in session. Section 9 of Article III states that the Legislature is to convene on the second Tuesday of January each year. Section 9 allows the General Assembly to recede from session for up to thirty days by a majority vote of the legislative house seeking to recede. Furthermore, one or both houses can recede from session for more than thirty days if that action is approved by two-thirds of the members.


See also: Dates of 2015 state legislative sessions

In 2015, the Legislature will be in session from January 13 through June 4.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2015 session include the Supreme Court ruling on rural school equity, roads, gas prices and criminal domestic violence. The Supreme Court issued a ruling in a 21-year-old funding lawsuit and directed the General Assembly to provide a solution to inequity for rural schools in the state. However, lawmakers were given no direction by the state's highest court, and will be forced to develop a plan on their own.[1]


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the Legislature was in session from January 14 through June 6.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2014 legislative session included ethics reform and government restructuring.[2]


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the Legislature was in session from January 8 to June 20.

Major issues

Major issues in the 2013 legislative session included computer security, improving the state's roads and bridges and addressing healthcare.[3]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the Legislature was in session from January 11 through June 7.

Major issues

Legislators addressed a budget surplus of $900 million. Major agenda issues included tax reform, job security measures, reforming the state retirement system, and creating a new school funding formula.[4]


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the Legislature was in regular session from January 11 through June 2.[5] On June 2, Governor Nikki Haley attempted to call the Legislature into an "emergency" special session to begin on June 7 to create the new South Carolina Department of Administration. A lawsuit was filed by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, in which he contended that Haley's call for a special session was unconstitutional, and that it violated the state Constitution's requirement of separation of powers among the governor, legislature and courts.[6] On June 6, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled 3-2 against Governor Haley, stating that her order violated the Legislature's ability to set its calendar and agenda.[7]

The legislature met in a special redistricting session from June 14 - July 1.[8] The legislature re-convened July 26.[9]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the Legislature was in session from January 12 to June 3.

Role in state budget

See also: South Carolina state budget and finances
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The state operates on an annual budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[10][11]

  1. In July and August of the year preceding the start of the new fiscal year, the governor sends budget instructions to state agencies.
  2. In September, agencies submit their budget requests to the governor.
  3. Budget hearings are held with state agencies in September and October.
  4. In January the governor submits his or her proposed budget to the state legislature.
  5. Both the House and the Senate pass a budget. If these versions do not match, a conference committee consisting of both House and Senate members is assembled to reconcile the differences.
  6. The legislature must pass a budget with a simple majority by the beginning of the fiscal year, which is July 1. The governor may exercise line item veto power on the enacted budget.

The governor is constitutionally required to submit a balanced budget to the legislature. In turn, the legislature must pass a balanced budget, and any budget signed into law by the governor must be balanced.[11]

A rainy day fund, the General Reserve Fund, must maintain a balance equaling three percent of General Fund revenue. Rainy day funds may be withdrawn only for the purpose of covering operating deficits.[12]

South Carolina is one of 44 states in which the governor has line item veto authority.[11]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. South Carolina was one of 11 states that made rare use of cost-benefit analyses in policy and budget processes.[13]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[14] According to the report, South Carolina received a grade of D+ and a numerical score of 63, indicating that South Carolina was "lagging" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[14]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. South Carolina was given a grade of C in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[15]


The South Carolina Senate is the upper house of the South Carolina General Assembly. It consists of 46 senators elected from single member districts for four-year terms at the same time as United States Presidential elections. Each member represents an average of 100,551 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[16] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 87,218 residents.[17]

South Carolina State Capitol
The South Carolina Constitution of 1895 provided for each county to elect one senator for a four-year term. The election of senators was staggered so that half of the state Senate was elected every two years. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964 for the case Reynolds v. Sims, the state Senate was reapportioned in 1966 as a temporary measure into 27 districts with 50 members for two-year terms. In 1967, the state Senate was again reapportioned, this time into 20 districts with 46 members for four-year terms. The number of districts was reduced to 16 in 1972 and in 1984, they were eliminated with the creation of single member districts.

Senators serve without term limits.

Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 18
     Republican Party 28
Total 46

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the South Carolina State Senate from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the South Carolina State Senate.PNG

House of Representatives

The South Carolina House of Representatives is the lower house of the South Carolina General Assembly. It consists of 124 Representatives elected to two year terms at the same time US Congressional elections. Unlike many legislatures, seating on the floor is not divided by party, but is arranged by county delegation. Each member represents an average of 37,301 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[18] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 32,355 residents.[19]

Representatives serve without term limits.

Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 46
     Republican Party 77
     Vacancy 1
Total 124

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the South Carolina State House of Representatives from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the South Carolina State House.PNG


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, South Carolina
Partisan breakdown of the South Carolina legislature from 1992-2013

South Carolina State Senate: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the South Carolina State Senate for the first nine years while the Republicans were the majority for the last 13 years. South Carolina was under Republican trifectas for the final 11 years of the study.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

South Carolina State House of Representatives: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the South Carolina State House of Representatives for the first three years while the Republicans were the majority for the last 19 years. The South Carolina House of Representatives is one of nine state Houses that was Republican for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013. South Carolina was under Republican trifectas for the final 11 years of the study.

Across the country, there were 577 Democratic and 483 Republican State Houses of Representatives from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of South Carolina, the South Carolina State Senate and the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of South Carolina state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

To read the full report on the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) in PDF form, click here.

South Carolina was one of eight states to demonstrate a dramatic partisan shift in the 22 years studied. A dramatic shift was defined by a movement of 40 percent or more toward one party over the course of the study period. South Carolina was Republican-dominated during the years of the study but experienced a shift toward much stronger Republican control, resulting in Republican trifectas from 2003-2013.

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the South Carolina state government and the state's SQLI ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. South Carolina ranked in the bottom-10 during every year of the study except the most recent. In 2012 it improved, finishing at 38th. The state's worst ranking, finishing 47th, occurred during both divided government and Republican trifectas.

  • SQLI average with Democratic trifecta: N/A
  • SQLI average with Republican trifecta: 44.30
  • SQLI average with divided government: 45.00
Chart displaying the partisanship of the South Carolina government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the South Carolina Legislature are paid $10,400 a year during legislative sessions. Legislators receive $131 a day for meals and housing for each statewide session day and committee meeting. Per diem is tied to the federal rate.[20]

Salary controversy

An October 2010 report by The Nerve showed that S.C. lawmakers receive, on average, about $32,000 per year in combined salary, reimbursements and expenses for serving in the Legislature and performing duties and tasks related to their legislative posts, according to an examination of legislative compensation for a recent two-and-a-half-year period.[21]

In all, S.C. taxpayers shelled out at least $14.8 million to cover salaries and expenses for 202 current or former House and Senate members from Jan. 1, 2008, through July 31, 2010, The Nerve reported.[22]

That works out to an average of more than $73,000 per legislator for the 2.5-year period.[22]

Total salary and expenses for individual lawmakers in The Nerve’s analysis ranged from a high of $133,529 for the 2.5-year period for Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, to a one-year low of $14,287 for former Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence, D-York.[22]

Salaries for other key S.C. legislators during the 30-month period include:

The Nerve reported that in terms of lawmakers’ taxable legislative income, legislators most often earn at least $22,400 per year – more than two times their $10,400 salary, and in some cases much higher – when other types of compensation legislators receive are added to their base pay.[21] The Nerve obtained the financial data for the period from January 2008 through mid-2010 using the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

The $32,000 average annual total amount of lawmakers’ salary and expenses didn’t include legislators’ pensions and health care benefits, the investigative website added.[21]

While the S.C. General Assembly has not increased legislators’ salaries in 20 years, The Nerve’s investigation revealed an opaque system of legislative compensation that masks the true costs of lawmakers.

The fogginess shows up in the other types of remuneration to legislators, the website reported. In dollar amounts from most to least, the three largest supplemental payments to lawmakers are for “in-district expenses,” “subsistence” and mileage.[21]

All three categories have caps, sort of:

  • In-district: $1,000 per month, or $12,000 annually.
  • Subsistence: $131 per legislative meeting day, whether in or out of session, for lodging and meals.
  • Mileage: 50 cents per mile for senators; 44.5 cents for House members.

Lawmakers also can claim a $35 per-diem for attending a legislative-related meeting on a non-session day, and they are provided allocations for postage and flags, too.

The vast majority of South Carolina lawmakers claimed the annual maximum for in-district expenses during the 2.5-year review period. Thus, at $12,000, that alone more than doubled their annual salaries – from $10,400 to $22,400.[21]

Reinforcing the point, legislators’ in-district payments are treated as income for tax and pension purposes. For lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the State House, their subsistence also is equated as income under the tax code.

The Nerve also reported that S.C. lawmakers are not required to document their actual in-district and subsistence expenses.

Mileage is the one category with a built-in accountability feature. But when it comes to in-district and subsistence expenses, legislators file vouchers – not receipts – to claim those payments, filling in the amounts as they wish, up to the caps.[21]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

South Carolina legislators assume office the Monday after the election.

Joint legislative committees

See also: Public policy in South Carolina

The South Carolina Legislature has no joint standing committees, but it does have 19 joint special committees.

See also

External links


  1. Laura McKenzie, The People Sentinel, "S.C. legislators begin debate on 2015 issues," January 15, 2015
  2., "Legislature Kicks Off With Old Issues On Agenda," January 14, 2014
  3. WJBF, "South Carolina Lawmakers Start Legislative Session Vowing To Protect Your Information And Improve Roads," January 8, 2013
  4. The State, "Legislative key issues," January 8, 2012
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2011 Legislative Sessions Calendar," accessed June 6, 2014(Archived)
  6. The State, "Haley tells court she has right to call special session," June 6, 2011
  7., "SC Supreme Court Rules Against Nikki Haley's Extra Session," June 6, 2011
  8., "S.C. House to have special session in June," May 6, 2011
  9. The Island Packet, "S.C. Senate OKs new congressional districted anchored in Beaufort County," June 29, 2011
  10. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  12. South Carolina Budget and Control Board, "State Budget - FAQ," accessed February 21, 2014
  13. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  15. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  16., "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  17. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population: 2000," April 2, 2001
  18., "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  19. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population: 2000," April 2, 2001
  20., "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 The Nerve, "Legislators Get an Average 32K Per Year," October 6, 2010
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 The Nerve, "Lawmakers Cost Taxpayers Millions," October 5, 2010