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New South Carolina House speaker: Bills need to be better written

South Carolina Republican Rep. Bruce Bannister of Greenville listens on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in the House chambers in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Jeffrey Collins/AP
South Carolina Republican Rep. Bruce Bannister of Greenville listens on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in the House chambers in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina House Speaker Murrell Smith is using his power to assign members to committees to make sure bills are more closely scrutinized before they reach the chamber floor.

Smith, a Republican from Sumter who took over leadership of the House in 2022 after 21 years, said one of his biggest frustrations has been poorly written bills that don't get a thorough review in committees because members aren't experts or don't put in the work. Those proposals then need wholesale changes or, in the worst-case scenario, become flawed laws.

Unlike the Senate where members choose committees based on seniority, Smith gets to assign each of the other 123 members to whichever committee he chooses.

“I looked at the talents that are going to be on that committee. I wanted to make sure I had people I trust that did work on that committee that was going to make our job when it gets to the floor easier,” Smith said on the House floor Wednesday.

The House also passed a new rule Tuesday allowing the Speaker to take a day to decide which committee a bill should be assigned to. Smith said he will use that chance to make sure bills go to committees where people know the issues and not where it might have the easiest path to the floor.

“That’s not happening any more. Bills that belong in subject matter committees are going to subject matter committees," Smith said.

Smith made some shake-ups in key House committees. Rep. Chris Murphy was the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee last session. Now, the Republican from North Charleston is a regular member of the budget writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Nearly half of the members of the Ways and Means Committee are new to the group, while seven of the 25 members of the Judiciary Committee were not on there earlier this year.

Republican Rep. Bruce Bannister of Greenville took over for Smith as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

An 18-year House veteran, Bannister's committee will be responsible for coming up with the state's spending plan.

South Carolina's economy keeps booming despite warnings of a looming recession and Banister said he would combine fiscal responsibility with taking care of long-time needs.

"We’re going to put people before programs. We’ve got to take care of our teachers. We’ve got to take care of law enforcement. We have to take care of our state employees," Bannister said.

The House Judiciary Committee was taken over by Republican Rep. Weston Newton, who is starting his 10th year in the chamber. Murphy, the previous chairman, was moved after missing much of the 2022 session with COVID-19 complications and a stint in a substance abuse program.

Other committees are also getting new leaders. The Education and Public Works Committee needed a new chairperson after GOP Rep. Rita Allison of Lyman was defeated in her 2022 primary. Republican Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort will be the new chairwoman.

Also, the only Democratic chairman of a committee, Rep. Leon Howard of Columbia, moved from being the leader of the Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs to a spot on the Ways and Means Committee. The new chairwoman of the “3-M Committee” is Republican Rep. Sylleste Davis of Moncks Corner.