For all of the grief that South Carolina legislators get, we all should remember to pat them on the back more often.
The job they do is often thankless. Not only are they barked at by cynical columnists, but they listen to endless citizen complaints and ideas, sit through mind-numbingly long meetings on issues big and small, and move from one political crisis to another. From January to May on Tuesdays through Thursdays, they convene in Columbia, many now driving back and forth every day.
Their official pay? A measly $10,400 a year. Of course, they also get paid $1,000 a month for in-district expenses and $140 in per diem payments for each day that the legislature is in session. But when everything is totalled, the average South Carolina legislator earns about $35,000 a year from the state just to be a cog in the wheel that runs state government.
At least they get paid something. Legislators in New Mexico get no base pay and those in New Hampshire get $100 a year, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Both, however, get reimbursed for mileage. There are some 7,572 elected state legislators in the United States. Just over 3,300 are Democratic. Another 3,900+ are Republican and 217 are in other parties, according to the NCSL. Seven of every 10 are white. Just under three in 10 are female.
Across the country, most legislators are like those in South Carolina – they’re “citizen-legislators” in that the job is part-time. The notion is that by having elected officials in business and the community at the same time, they’ll remain closer to the will of the people. Sometimes the tension between regular jobs and legislative jobs causes conflict, but that’s why, in part, news organizations serve as watchdogs to make sure that the public’s business is on the up-and-up.
On Thursday, the last day of the session, legislators worked at a frenzied pace to finish much of their work as possible, approving measures to overhaul the state’s sex offender registry and to ban paying disabled workers less than the minimum wage. They didn’t approve bills restructuring the University of South Carolina’s board and they failed again to approve a hate crimes bill or close the dangerous gun loophole.
While they’ll be back twice in June to consider vetoes and to finish unfinished budget and other bills in compromise committees of House members and senators, there was some rejoicing and relief as the two-year regular session ended. In January, everything restarts. All unfinished business has to be refiled and begin again.
In the House, some members prayed. Others took selfies, the Associated Press reported, and many shook the hand of House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, who ended his tenure when the bell rang at the 5 p.m. close of the session. The new speaker is Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.
“You know it’s been a mentally exhausting week when you adjourn shortly before 10 (p.m.) one night and shortly after 10 the next,” freshman S.C. Rep. Kimberly Johnson, D-Manning, wrote on Facebook Thursday. “You know you’ve given it your all when you look at your colleagues and see them crying tears of pain and frustration because of bills and amendments being introduced in 2022.
“During session, I took a selfie to remind myself of the very task God assigned to me and I accepted. Last night, we hugged not because of a victory, but because we’ve been in this for two years together.”
So to all state legislators this year, thanks for showing up and doing the jobs that need to be done to keep South Carolina functioning. Could you do more? You betcha. But that’s why you have columnists to offer ideas and make suggestions.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report and publisher of the Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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