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House measure aims to limit ceremony, keep chamber on task

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Some South Carolina House members say they’re spending too much time introducing school groups, beauty pageant winners and other constituents who drop by the Statehouse, and they want to increase their productivity by limiting those formalities.

A proposal advanced to the House floor Tuesday would create a 15-minute time slot on the calendar for “special introductions,” with each limited to 90 seconds.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Todd Atwater, said he’s frustrated by the multiple daily interruptions.

“It’s to bring a little bit more order and diligence to the House,” Atwater, R-Lexington, told The Associated Press. “We’ve allowed it to go too far.”

Current rules allow up to five minutes per guest recognition and give the House speaker discretion on the timing.

More than 50 co-sponsors have signed on to Atwater’s proposal since he introduced it last week.

While it formalizes when visiting Girl Scouts, for example, could be recognized, it leaves plenty of opportunity for ceremony.

The change wouldn’t affect championship high school teams and bands, who take the floor twice a week — up to two per day — to receive a framed resolution celebrating their win. Also unaffected would be the “doctor of the day” introductions.

And unexpected visitors to the gallery could still be presented outside of the 15-minute slot.

Atwater said he’s trying to end middle-of-debate recognitions that are particularly distracting. He hasn’t calculated how long the House spends on various presentations, though he’s considered bringing in a stop watch.

“I just know mentally it drives me insane because it’s too much,” he said. “We need to show the people we’re serious about the business of the House while balancing that with the ceremonial aspects.”

The House’s longest-serving member, Rep. Grady Brown, was the lone Rules Committee member opposing the measure. If constituents take the time to drive to Columbia and visit the chamber, they ought to be recognized whenever it’s convenient for them, he said.

“I’m against taking away any input the public can have,” said Brown, D-Bishopville, who’s been in the House since 1985.

Under Senate rules, any family or guest introduction is limited to two minutes.

Later Tuesday, a bill shortening South Carolina’s January-to-June legislative session advanced to the Senate floor. The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to adjourn in May instead.

Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Manning, said legislators would have to manage their time better and not put off tackling the tough issues until the session’s waning weeks.

“This puts us all on notice. We need to make full use of our time and not waste any of it,” said Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

The amended bill would also require the House and Senate to write their budget plans from the same revenue estimates.

Currently, the House writes its plan based on the Board of Economic Advisors’ February projections. The Senate waits until after the May update, which typically gives Senate budget writers more money to spend.

That helps explain why bills shortening the session have died repeatedly in the Senate. The House has passed the idea at least 11 times in the last 20 years.

Proponents say using the same estimates will also make a final budget compromise between the chambers easier.

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