SC Senate heads for unprecedented showdown over education
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Republican leader in the South Carolina Senate says that unless a Democratic senator scraps almost all his 194 amendments to a massive bill to overhaul public education he will ask they all be tossed out.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said he issued his warning Wednesday to give Sen. Mike Fanning one day to cull his proposals down to five or 10. Otherwise, Massey says he will make motion to dump them all under a Senate rule prohibiting amendments only meant to delay a vote on the final bill.
“There are 194 of them — 194 of them — that were placed at one time. I don’t care what they say. They are intended for one purpose,” said Massey, a Republican from Edgefield.
The motion to toss the amendments has not been used before and would test the South Carolina Senate’s tradition of allowing each senator to have his say for as long as he feels he needs to speak and propose any changes he sees fit to a bill.
Wednesday marked seven weeks of Senate debate on the education bill. It had been given special priority to be debated first on the first day of the 18-week session, preventing any other significant bills from being considered. More than 60 other proposals are waiting behind it.
Massey made an unusual motion Tuesday to limit debate and stop additional amendments. Fanning filed his 194 amendments while senators were voting. They would approve the motion 25-17.
Senate President Harvey Peeler would have to rule on the motion. The decision by the Republican from Gaffney can be reconsidered by a vote of the full Senate.
Fanning, a Democrat from Great Falls, gave no immediate indication what he will do.
Massey said he hadn’t read all of Fanning’s amendments yet, leading some senators to ask how he can know they are a delaying tactic and not individual, different ideas to change a bill that runs 80 pages.
“That’s prejudging what an amendment says and or what a senator’s intention is. At this point, I think that is unfair to do to any member,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, a Democrat from West Columbia.
The rules limiting debate allow senators 10 minutes to make a case for and 10 minutes against. If Fanning took all his time, he would speak for over 32 hours. Fanning took his full 10 minutes for several amendments Wednesday that were voted down.
“The purpose is to delay,” Massey said.
But Fanning also removed a few amendments and spoke less than his allotted time on a few others.
Democratic senators warned once the rule is used, it could set a precedent that ruins the Senate’s unique deliberative quality.
“I think it is one of those classic examples of throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Hartsville. “In that group of amendments, how does one judge what is significant and substantive to the rest of the body?”
Fanning has said each of his amendments is an individual idea.
“These amendments are not superfluous to teachers,” said Fanning.
Fanning has cast himself as a strong teacher advocate and tied himself closely to SC for Ed, a grassroots teacher organization founded last year that organized a march of 10,000 people to the Statehouse in May in support of educators.
The teacher group opposes the bill as written because it does little to alleviate their concerns about class sizes, how they are treated by their districts and the criteria the state can use to take over failing districts, Fanning said.
Senators have been working on the bill for a year. It touches every part of education from pre-kindergarten to technical schools, although even its most ardent supporters said in its current form it mostly modernizes language and cleans up current law rather than making massive changes.
The House passed its own version last March and if this bill passes the Senate, the two chambers would have to find a compromise between two very different versions.
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