COLUMBIA --- Just minutes after the formal end of the regular legislative session Thursday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called on lawmakers to return to work next week because they did not pass some of her favorite measures aimed at restructuring government.
The Republican's demand, made during a chaotic Statehouse news conference, immediately was questioned by GOP lawmakers who said they would not obey and by one leader who doubted her authority to order the Legislature around. Democrats assailed her for being unable to gain a consensus with her own majority party.
"To think she can call us back is to trample on the constitution," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. He said he's not calling senators back.
Haley said lawmakers need to pass four government restructuring bills that would:
- Create a Department of Administration that she would oversee.
- Let voters elect the lieutenant governor and governor on a joint ticket.
- Allow the governor to appoint the superintendent of education.
- Merge the state's prisons and probation agencies.
Similar bills died during former Gov. Mark Sanford's tenure.
"The days of talking are over. Let's finish it. Let's get it done," she said. "Restructuring is important to the people of this state."
The Legislature is already expected to return for a special session June 14 to wrap up remaining appropriations bills, but the law they passed this week allows them to take up only a limited number of bills. None of them is a Haley measure to streamline government.
Haley said the House had approved all four measures and sent them to the Senate, but she could not order back one chamber, and she doesn't want to wait until the next regular session begins in January.
"We need to finish the work. Today I watched the Senate floor and they told me they needed more time, so we're calling everybody back in," she said.
Though she insisted the consolidation measures would save time and money, she had no estimate as to how much.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, was telling his members to be at their desks Tuesday.
McConnell, however, said Haley doesn't have the constitutional authority to call legislators back into session when they're technically in recess.
"She can't undo a vote of the Senate," McConnell said. "This state is not royal governorship, it's a constitutional governorship."
If senators show up, he said, "The chamber will be locked. The doors won't be open."
Haley's demand was the biggest eruption of discord among Republicans who control the House, Senate and governor's office since she took office in January.
House Minority Leader Harry Ott said it comes down to a Republican governor not getting her way with a Republican-controlled Legislature, so she's willing to cost taxpayers $42,500 a day in expenses to keep the Legislature working to force her way.
Under state law, the 170 legislators are paid $250 daily if the governor calls them back, but they are unpaid if they return for a special session they create. Also, lawmakers are unlimited in what they can take up under the governor's orders. The session could continue indefinitely.
Haley asked all lawmakers to forgo their pay. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, was among those saying he would not.
"No one else should, either, except the governor and her staff," he said. "She's failed to do her job."