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 8, 2013
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   John E. Courson (R)
House Speaker:  Bobby Harrell, Jr. (R)
Majority Leader:   Harvey Peeler (R) (Senate),
Kenneth Bingham (R) (House)
Minority Leader:   John Land (D) (Senate),
Harry Ott, Jr. (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 6, 2012
46 seats (Senate)
124 seats (House)
Next election:  November 4, 2014
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.


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 2013 state legislative sessions

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

Major issues

Major issues in the 2013 legislative session included computer security, improving the state's roads and bridges and addressing healthcare.[1]


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.[2]


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the Legislature was in regular session from January 11 through June 2. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5]

The legislature met in a special redistricting session from June 14 - July 1. [6] The legislature re-convened July 26. [7]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the Legislature was in session from January 12 to June 3.[8]


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.[9]


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.[10] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 87,218 residents.[11]

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.[12] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 32,355 residents.[13]

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 have 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



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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

That works out to an average of more than $73,000 per legislator for the 2.5-year period.[16]

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.[16]

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.[15] 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.[15]

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.[15]

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.[15]

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.[15]

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

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

External links