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Raises for judges, constitutional officers still possible

 

One effort to increase pay for judges and constitutional officers in South Carolina appears to be dead while two others hang in the balance.

One state senator said politics is to blame.

Sen. Chip Campsen, III, R-Charleston, said that he supports giving judges and constitutional officers pay raises, but doesn’t think it will happen this year due to a conflict with the House of Delegates.

“I’m for the judges’ pay raise, but not for torpedoing implementing a constitutional amendment the people voted for in order to get it done, and that’s what the House tried to do,” Campsen said.

Campsen was referring to a constitutional amendment passed in 2012 to make candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket beginning in 2018.

The Senate agreed to Senate Bill 107 last year, working out the logistics of implementing the change, but the House of Delegates amended the bill, attaching a pay raise for constitutional officers and judges.

“It was a totally unrelated topic,” Campsen said. “They basically held the bill hostage to give judges and constitutional officers pay raises.”

The Senate refused to pass the amended bill, and by the end of the 2017 legislative session, no compromise had been reached. As a result, there is doubt about how the constitutional amendment will work when it goes into effect.

“My understanding is that the attorney general is going to issue an opinion that the constitutional amendment is self-executing, and that’s true to a point, but to a very limited point,” Campsen said. “It’s a real confusing situation.”

Campsen said he introduced Senate Bill 725 to give judges and elected officials pay raises last year in an effort to keep the Senate version of the amendment bill intact.

Since the compromise failed, he said that he doesn’t believe SB 725 will make it out of the Senate Finance Committee.

“I introduced this bill to create a second vehicle for them to use,” Campsen said. “Now it’s not going anywhere because all this fell apart.”

Another option

Meanwhile, Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, who co-sponsored SB 725 with Campsen and Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said that while one version of the bill may be dead, there are other options for raises still on the table.

One of those is a bill he authored when he realized Campsen’s version wasn’t going anywhere.

“Sen. Campsen and I filed [SB] 725 together. Nothing happened and I saw there would be an impasse, so then I filed Senate Bill 910,” Malloy said.

SB  910, which is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would increase pay for constitutional officers and judges along with all other officials whose salaries are linked to judges. This includes positions like solicitors, administrative law judges and magistrates and many more.

The current amendment being discussed would make it so constitutional officers’ pay would be reset by the General Assembly every four years and the Chief Justice’s pay would be set at $180,000. The pay of all other judges, justices and court officers would then be based off of this, as is currently the case in the state.

However, the bill has been languishing in the Judiciary Committee since it was introduced in late January. Since then, it has yet to have been discussed by the whole committee, much less voted on.

Malloy said he still has hopes for it.

“I think that as far as I’m concerned, it’s still alive,” he said. “But I do think that we need to find a way to fairly compensate our constitutional officers and members of the judiciary.”

What’s the point?

South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty wrote in this year’s Judicial Department budget summary that a pay increase is necessary in order for the government to attract and keep the most qualified law professionals.

Malloy agreed: “We have got to recognize our co-equal branches of government. We have to treat adults like adults and pay people the true value of their work.”

Malloy added that South Carolina constitutional officers like the superintendent of education and the attorney general are vastly underpaid compared to others in their position in the Southeastern United States.

“The attorney general in our state makes $92,000. A regular solicitor who he has authority over makes $141,000,” Malloy said. “Something is wrong with that picture and it needs to be addressed.”

Even Campsen agreed that officials’ pay is an issue.

“We have some great judges in some seats, but all too often, we get candidates who are less than stellar,” Campsen said. “I’m worried about attracting talent.”

Back to the drawing board?

While Campsen implied that Senate Bill 107 is also dead as a result of the House’s political maneuver, Malloy disagreed.

“In my opinion, [SB] 107 is still the best tool because it gives you the chance to send it before the salary commission,” Malloy said. “The fact that there is confusion and impasse on those other two bills may send the message that 107 is the best idea out there at this time.”

Malloy said that SB 107 is currently in conference committee, so there’s a chance the bill could still happen.

If passed, the bill would also clear up much of the confusion around the implementation of the constitutional amendment.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.

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