House gives Haley 3 key wins

New Gov. Nikki Haley had a very good day in the S.C. House on Wednesday as lawmakers approved several of her highest priorities.

But those wins may not translate into law unless the Senate and, in some cases, S.C. voters agree, too.

And the Senate, in particular, has proven itself immune to gubernatorial agendas, rejecting — in other years — almost all of the proposals passed Wednesday by the House.

“Today, we earned big wins for the people of our state, and we couldn’t be more excited,” Lexington Republican Haley said in a press release.

Wednesday, House lawmakers voted to:

• Create a new Department of Administration that would be under the governor’s control. Both Republicans, who control the Legislature, and Democrats joined in supporting the bill, which passed 96-13.

Some state functions currently handled by the Office of the Governor and the State Budget and Control Board would be transferred into the new department, including overseeing procurement, the state’s fleet of vehicles and information technology.

A few Democrats argued the bill would cost money at a time the state has little to spend. About $1 million a year would be needed to pay for 12 employees to provide oversight. A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate.

• Require the governor and lieutenant governor to run on one ticket, just as the U.S. president and vice president do. The bill also received bipartisan support, passing 106-6.

The bill next goes to the Senate. If senators agree, the issue would go to voters as an amendment to the state Constitution, giving voters the final say when they go to the polls next year. A similar bill also died in the Senate last year.

• Let voters decide whether the state superintendent of education, who oversees the state’s public schools, should be appointed by the governor or elected by the people. Currently, the post is elected.

Democrats unsuccessfully argued the post should remain elected. It is the only statewide post Democrats have won in recent years. But they lost it in November, when Republican Mick Zais was elected.

“We should leave it up to the people of South Carolina who is in that job,” said Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, House minority leader.

The bill passed 82 to 28. However, to become law, the proposal must clear the Senate and win the approval of voters in November 2012.

Zais supports the change.

“It would de-politicize the office,” said J.W. Ragley, Zais’ spokesman. “It would also improve coordination between the governor, the office and the General Assembly.”

All three measures — which were legislative priorities of Haley’s predecessor and mentor, Republican Mark Sanford — require one more routine vote in the House before heading to the Senate.

But House Republicans, who made government restructuring a priority for this legislative session, already were declaring victory Wednesday.

“It is time for our system of government to be updated and reformed, and the government restructuring bills the House passed today represent a major step in getting real reform accomplished,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

Another Haley priority — a bill that would require lawmakers to conduct more on-the-record votes — already has passed the House. A Senate bill that would make law out of that requirement — if approved by voters in November 2012 — has been moved to the top of the Senate’s calendar.

In January, the Senate adopted a rule change that requires recorded votes on substantive measures.

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