Statehouse Report: Crossing Over

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This week was “Crossover Week” in the House, if you aren’t clear on exactly what that means here’s an explanation:

Crossover Deadline is established in each Legislative Body by their Rules. Both chambers set the Crossover Deadline as May 1st.  Any legislation originating in one body must be received in the other body by the May 1st to receive normal consideration for that year’s Legislative session. You can get around the Crossover Deadline, but it requires a super-majority vote of the receiving body – essentially killing “normal” legislation, but keeping the window open for any extraordinary bills that may require immediate consideration.

So, all House legislation needed third reading by the end of the day Thursday. That meant we were in session for a long time on Tuesday and Wednesday. The goal was not to pass everything, but to give a chance to each piece of legislation on the calendar. Some pieces of legislation were passed, others were sent back to committee, and we adjourned debate on several – effectively killing them for this year.

Here are a few items that made the crossover deadline, and a few other notes from the week:

The House approved the Data Privacy Protection Act, a Caucus agenda item that restricts what law enforcement can do with your smartphone and other electronic data without a warrant. With the revelations on NSA spying and other electronic tapping of information, protecting your data from the government is a very important issue. We support the right of law enforcement to get that data with a warrant. However, with so much information (bank accounts, personal and business email, social media accounts, etc.) on our smartphones, it is wrong for an agent of the government to have carte blanche in rifling through your records. This legislation had the support of the conservative group ALEC, the liberal group the ACLU, and most of the major Internet companies (such as Google).

This legislation will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The House also approved legislation that would expand the College of Charleston into a comprehensive research university. The original proposal by Republican Rep. Jim Merrill and Democratic Rep. Leon Stavrinakis called for merging the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. However, the House, education leaders, and business leaders agreed to expand the College of Charleston’s graduate offerings to help train workers for business needs, as well as expand cooperation with MUSC.

In another item of note: Our state’s much-maligned unemployment agency is ahead of schedule in paying back loans needed to cover our unemployment obligations. With unemployment plummeting in the state – from 12 percent in 2010 to 5.5 percent in March – the state is on track to pay off the federal loan next year. This payment was six months ahead of schedule and saves the taxpayers $1.4 million in interest payments.

Finally, the House’s special subcommittee re-writing the Ethics Reform Act finalized its work on Thursday afternoon. This legislation was a House bill that has already been considered by the Senate, so Crossover did not apply. Again, we sent this back to a subcommittee for work because the Senate more than doubled the length of the bill and the House needed to write “our positions” on many of those provisions so they could be properly debated in a Conference Committee.

Next week, the House will start considering the legislation that passed the Senate before the Crossover Deadline. I’ll wrote more about the lengthy list of House achievements for this session.