By Anna Mitchell
ANDERSON — Upstate lawmakers will continue to head three out of the state House’s six standing committees going into the 2011 session next month.
Every member of the House serves on one of that body’s two senior committees — Ways and Means and the Judiciary — or one of its four junior ones — Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs; Education and Public Works; Labor, Commerce and Industry; and Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs. Speaker Bobby Harrell appoints members to committees, and they voted last week on their chairmen.
The 25-member Ways and Means Committee — which will sort out nearly $1 billion in spending cuts this coming year — will again be led by Anderson County’s Dan Cooper.
“I wish there was something anybody could do to help with the budget,” said Rep. David Hiott, a Pickens County Republican and member of the agriculture committee. “That is all being handled out of Ways and Means.”
Rep. Bill Sandifer of Seneca continues to head the 18-member Labor Committee, which oversees laws on insurance, banks, manufacturing and small business. And Pickens County’s Phil Owens will also continue to head the 18-member Education and Public Works Committee.
“This is a committee I love,” Sandifer said. “It’s the real business committee of the House of Representatives.”
Sandifer said he’s joked with Cooper that the Labor Committee makes money for the state while Cooper’s committee figures out ways to spend it.
Newly elected Anne Thayer of Anderson said she went home with a four-inch binder on House rules after her orientation three weeks ago. She said her first pick was one of the five open spaces on the education committee, which she was able to secure despite being so new.
“I figured I would get 3M or Ag because that’s where freshmen go,” Thayer said of the medical and agriculture committees. “I guess with some of the turnover and, too, with people moving up to Ways and Means and Judiciary, there was room for me. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited.”
Thayer said she has stayed busy since election day.
“I literally sat at my desk at 10 and haven’t moved all day,” Thayer said. “I’ve had 15 phone calls. It’s just … I had no clue. I thought everything would start gearing up in January.”
Sandifer was in Columbia on Tuesday for a hearing of the Joint Technology Committee, which combines three House and three Senate members to weigh in on information technology decisions among state agencies. Such joint committees are common and don’t count toward a legislator’s standing committee obligations, Sandifer said. He later left for a conference in Charleston and said he spends 60 hours a week on lgislature-related business.
“I always enjoy seeing the freshmen legislators’ reactions as we start going through all the things they need to learn,” Sandifer said.
Hiott is continuing with the agriculture committee as its first vice chairman and is also chairman of one of the two environmental affairs subcommittees for that group. Paul Agnew of Abbeville County, the area’s only Democratic lawmaker, will also continue on agriculture and is chairman of a second environmental affairs subcommittee.
“We are still dealing with some water issues,” Hiott said of his committee’s work this coming year. “Last year we passed a surface-water withdrawal law. We were the only state that didn’t have one.”
Agnew said his committee assignment is a good reflection of his district, which has a number of cattle farms.
“We deal with the Department of Natural Resources in a myriad of areas,” Agnew said. “Hunting and fishing but also stewardship of land under their control.”
Party affiliation is a factor in the House when committee appointments come up because of the Republican speaker’s prerogative in assigning memberships, Agnew said. Once a bill is filed, it’s assigned to a committee by the speaker, and that committee can vote to return it to the full House for a vote or kill it.
“Partisanship is an inherent part of the process,” Agnew said. “I anticipate it will be again, though I would like to see more balance in the state.”
With 75 Republicans elected to the state House in November, the GOP has the biggest majority in the state’s history.
One committee — Medical, Military and Municipal Affairs — is led by a Democrat, Howard Leon. Hiott said Leon has a reputation for giving everyone a hearing regardless of their party affiliation.
“That’s the way it ought to be,” Hiott said. “That’s the way every committee ought to be.”
BREAKING IT DOWN
Every House member in Columbia serves on one of six major committees. Here are assignments for legislators from Anderson, Oconee, Pickens and Abbeville counties.
District 1’s Bill Whitmire, Education and Public Works
District 2’s Bill Sandifer, Labor, Commerce and Industry*
District 3’s B.R. Skelton, Ways and Means
District 4’s David Hiott, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs*
District 5’s Phil Owens, Education and Public Works
District 26’s Eric Bikas, Education and Public Works
District 6’s Brian White, Ways and Means
District 7’s Mike Gambrell, Labor, Commerce and Industry
District 8’s Don Bowen, Education and Public Works
District 9’s Anne Thayer, Education and Public Works
District 10’s Dan Cooper, Ways and Means*
District 11’s Paul Agnew, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs