The 12th week of the S.C. legislative session
COLUMBIA – The 12th week of the legislative session:
House Democrats on Tuesday called on South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to make public any ethics complaint that may be filed against her, using her own words to make their point. Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey countered she’d do that only if the House opens up all ethics complaints, past and future, against its members. He called the issue a waste of time. But Democrats said the Republican governor who campaigned on transparency should let the public know if an investigation is underway. State law bars the release of information on an ethics complaint, including whether one even exists, unless the accused person waives confidentiality. On March 21, a circuit court judge dismissed a lawsuit accusing Haley of breaking ethics laws while she was a legislator, saying such issues should be handled by either state ethics officials or a legislative panel. House Minority Leader Harry Ott quoted Haley’s stump speeches during her 2010 campaign, in which she called sunshine the best disinfectant. He also quoted Godfrey saying his boss is working to have the “most transparent administration in history.”
The House budget-writing committee advanced bills Tuesday that would cut personal income taxes and what small businesses pay on their profits in South Carolina. The Ways and Means Committee tweaked the bill that collapses personal income tax brackets, so that poor residents wouldn’t pay more. Under the change, all tax filers who pay taxes would get a modest break, expected to average less than $100 per filer, reducing state revenues by $78 million. The other advanced bill would reduce the income taxes paid by small businesses from 5 percent to 3 percent over four years. Budget advisers estimate the cut would reduce state revenue by $60 million annually by 2015. The breaks go to businesses organized as limited liability companies, S corporations and sole proprietorships, which pay profits as personal income.
Unemployment benefits ending
Almost 79,000 unemployed South Carolinians will stop receiving federally funded weekly jobless benefits by year’s end, state unemployment officials said Wednesday, because the state’s jobless rate is improving and a new federal law is phasing out emergency benefits. South Carolina workers who lost their jobs have been eligible for 78 weeks of payments: up to 20 weeks through the state program, then 42 weeks of federally paid emergency benefits that Congress initially approved in 2008, plus 16 more weeks of federally funded extended benefits because of the state’s chronically high jobless rate. But starting Jan. 3, the maximum will be the five months of employer-paid benefits governed by state law. The 6,500 people who fall in that 16-week extended category will stop getting checks the week ending April 7.
Unemployment and drug tests
Someone collecting unemployment would lose their benefits if they fail or refuse to take an employer’s drug test under a bill approved Thursday by the South Carolina House. The House voted 70-24 on a bill allowing an employer to report such a failure to the state’s unemployment agency. It does not require them to do so. The measure represents a back-door way of yanking unemployment benefits for failed drug tests, involving only drug tests that businesses require as a condition of employment. Democrats argued it’s wrong to take a benefit away based on someone’s refusal, saying that could be due to offense at the requirement.