SC lawmakers blame health, other jobs for Statehouse absences

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 7:32 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 11:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - In South Carolina, there is a limited number of days on which state lawmakers meet, but the consequences of missing any one of those days are slim.

Almost all state lawmakers are part-time, meaning every second they spend at the Statehouse is important.

When lawmakers miss a day, they miss out on their daily pay, which is intended to be a gas or hotel room stipend for legislators who travel from across the state. But there are no limits on how many absences, whether excused or not, are allowed.

Lawmakers do have to answer to their constituents, who they are elected to represent.

SC House of Representatives

In the 2022 regular legislative session, there were a total of 121 members accounted for. Two seats remain vacant, the 18th and 97th districts, and Rep. Richard “Rick” Martin remains on suspension after he was indicted on charges of misconduct in office and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

For the South Carolina House, daily journals are available online but they list who was there and who received an “excused” absence, meaning they checked in with the clerk to provide a record of the reason for their absence. The journals tabulate absences from Jan. 11 through May 12.

Statewide, of the ten most frequently absent, the top two are from the Charleston area, the records revealed.

Rep. Chris Murphy (R-Dorchester County) was absent the most, missing all or portions of 32 of 46 sessions. All of his absences are listed as excused, meaning he checked in with the House clerk and gave notice he would not attend. In February, Murphy appeared to have a medical episode during a committee meeting and was hospitalized, though his representative did not provide information at the time of the medical episode.

Rep. Joseph Jefferson Jr. (D-Berkeley and Dorchester Counties), of Pineville, north of Lake Moultrie, also had 18 excused absences. Jefferson said he had a car accident in January that left him bedridden. He says in the 17 years he previously served, he only missed a single day.

Rep. Ann Parks (D-Greenwood and McCormick Counties) ranked third on the list, missing 16. Twelve of those were excused, four were “no-shows.” Parks did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Leola Robinson (D-Greenville County) had 11 excused absences and three “no-shows.” Robinson did not respond to a request for comment, but records indicate she missed several days because of a death in the family. On Jan. 12, the journal reads, “The House stood in silent prayer for the family and friends of Rep. Robinson on the death of her son, Basheer.”

Rep. Stephen Moss (R-Cherokee & York Counties) had 10 excused absences. Moss said he was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, the reason he has chosen not to run for re-election.

Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg County) also listed eight sessions, a figure that includes one excused absence and seven “no-shows.” Bamberg provided several reasons as to why he missed sessions, including handling legislative matters at home, a court date, illness and one day that he “woke up with a 1999 style hangover.”

Rep. Nathan Ballentine (R-Lexington and Richland Counties) had eight excused absences. In an email, Ballentine said his “paying job is a very hectic one, particularly since 2020.” He operates a mortgage business. He said when he must be away, he always lets the clerk know.

Another Lowcountry legislator who made the list is Rep. William Cogswell Jr. (R-Charleston County), who missed eight sessions. Rep. Ashley Trantham (R-Greenville County) had two excused absences and five “no-shows;” while Rep. Bobby Cox (R-Greenville County), had four excused absences and three no-shows. None of the three responded to requests for comments in time for the story.

Meanwhile, 40 House members got “perfect attendance” including Rep. Joe Bustos (R-Charleston County) of Mount Pleasant.

“Well, it to me, it’s an obligation. It’s not just an office I hold,” Bustos said. “I was elected to be in the state House for a reason to represent the people of District 112 and I can’t do that if I’m not there.”

Clerk of the House Charles Reid says there is not limit to how many days a representative can be excused. There’s no difference if they are excused or not.

SC Senate

In the South Carolina Senate, journals do not reflect a daily roll call, meaning it was difficult to find where attendance records are readily available for public viewing, but the Senate clerk sent a copy of the records from Jan. 1 through July 15.

Most senators showed up this past session 90% or more of the time.

Sen. Margie Bright Matthews (D-Colleton County) of Walterboro missed the 19 days of 57 days recorded, the most of any other senator. She did not respond to a comment for comment.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston County) missed 15 days out of 57 recorded.

“As you may know, we started the year in a pandemic,” Kimpson wrote in an email. “I, like many other South Carolinians, tested positive for COVID-19 this year, along with all of the members of my immediate family at different times. Moreover, the Senate rules do not require masks or vaccinations and while some accommodations are made (attending committee meetings by Zoom) each person has to make decisions that are in the best interest for their own personal health and safety.”

He also said some of the absences were caused by juggling his second job as an attorney. He expects the illness to impact next year’s attendance as well.

Sen. Dick Harpootlian (D-Richland County) missed nine days. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Michael Gambrell (R-Anderson County) had eight absences. He said he missed three days with bronchitis and said he is a small business owned.

“We have to do whatever is needed to keep our business going and performing constituent service in our district,” he said.

Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley County) has seven absences on his record. He said he was hospitalized during the session but was in daily contact with his office, which remained open and fully staffed.

Twelve senators of 46 had perfect attendance.

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