Influential chairmanships under new leadership next year in SC House
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Legislation on abortion, marijuana, hate crimes and what can be taught in schools has all been filed ahead of South Carolina’s new legislative session next month.
Some of the positions with the power to determine what gets prioritized for passage and what is left behind have changed hands.
Members of the House of Representatives were back in Columbia this week for a reorganizational session when new members were sworn in, chamber leadership was elected and committee membership was assigned.
In the House, the Speaker determines who sits on which committees, and then the members themselves elect chairs.
The House is organized into six legislative committees that vet bills and determine if they will advance to the floor for debate, and five of those panels will be led by new chairs next year.
The previous leaders of these committees lost their re-election bids, were assigned to new committees or were elected to higher House leadership positions. That includes the two largest committees in the entire General Assembly, House Judiciary and the budget-writing Ways and Means.
Judiciary will be under the leadership of Rep. Weston Newton, R – Beaufort, one of two new chairs representing Beaufort County. The other is Republican Shannon Erickson, the new chair of the Education and Public Works Committee.
“This is an important committee,” Newton, a lawyer, said of the panel dominated by attorneys. “There’s an awful lot of legislation that comes through here, and it is appropriate that those of us that are involved in the profession of law are accustomed to deliberative action, and this is an appropriate place for all of those ideas to be vetted and processed.”
Ways and Means get the first shot at writing the state budget every year, and it will be led by Rep. Bruce Bannister, R – Greenville.
“We’ve got plenty of challenges,” he said. “We know that, so I’m going to ask each and every one of y’all to work very diligently on the budget to come up with the best product that we can, understanding that there’s a lot of push and pull.”
Bannister said his focus will be on investing in people over programs, as legislators will have an additional $3.4 billion to spend next year.
“We gotta take care of our teachers,” he said. “We gotta take care of law enforcement, and our state employees. We’ve got to educate and train our workforce.”
Of the six House committee chairs, three are from the Lowcountry — Erickson and Newton of Beaufort County and Republican Sylleste Davis of Berkeley County, the new chair of the Medical, Military, and Public and Municipal Affairs (3-M) Committee — while two are from the Upstate — Bannister from Greenville County and Oconee County Republican Bill Sandifer, the only returning chair in his position on the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee.
The sixth chair is Republican Bill Hixon of Edgefield County, who will head Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environmental Affairs.
The Midlands, meanwhile, lost representation among House committee chairmanships.
Rep. Murrell Smith of Sumter County gave up his position heading Ways and Means to become Speaker of the House.
Rep. Leon Howard of Richland County had been the only Democrat to chair a committee in the entire General Assembly, but he was moved to sit on Ways and Means and was replaced by Davis.
So next year, all committees will be led by Republicans, who now have a supermajority in the House and retain their majority in the Senate.
Senators were not up for re-election this year, so both their membership and committee chairmanships will remain the same for the new session, which begins on Jan. 10.
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