Originally created 03/17/04

Committee OKs restructuring bill



COLUMBIA - After shooting down a bill last week that would eliminate elections for some constitutional officers, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a second restructuring bill that would shift or merge the responsibilities of some state agencies.

Among other things, the bill would move the Guardian Ad Litem program for troubled children from the governor's office to the state attorney general's office. It also changes the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services from a standalone agency to a bureau under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senators refused to put the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs under the Health and Human Services agency, though. That agency continues to stand alone under the committee's bill.

"If we're going to have real restructuring, and a real Health and Human Services Department to bring a continuum of care - a holistic approach - to provide efficiencies that will bring better health care to people in South Carolina, this is the wrong direction to go," said Sen. Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg.

But Sen. Maggie Glover, D-Florence, said officials from the special needs agency "are determined to deliver the quality they've done in the past, and they believe they can do that best under the current structure."

Gov. Mark Sanford was disappointed with the committee's decision.

"This is the typical status quo at work. It's politics as usual. We're never going to get a handle on Medicaid expenditures under the current splintered structure," Sanford spokesman Will Folks said.

Senators also cut portions of the bill that could allow the governor to appoint some state offices that are currently elected.

The committee last week decided to return that bill to a subcommittee for more work.

Mr. Sanford wanted voters to decide in November whether five of the state's nine constitutional offices should be appointed rather than elected.

His plan called for voters to elect a governor and a lieutenant governor on a joint party ticket and choose the attorney general and the treasurer.

Elections for the adjutant general, education superintendent, comptroller general, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner would be eliminated.

Senate Judiciary Committee members had agreed to eliminate elections for the education superintendent, but they refused to do away with elections for the lieutenant governor, adjutant general, agriculture commissioner and secretary of state before sending the bill back to committee.

Sen. Scott Richardson, R-Hilton Head Island, objected to the constitutional officers being taken out of the second bill.

"Maybe we'll find Elvis, too," quipped Sen. John Hawkins, R-Spartanburg.