S.C.’s week of legislative action
A Senate committee advanced a bill Tuesday allowing South Carolina to borrow $120 million to deepen the Charleston harbor if the federal government doesn’t pony up its share, as legislators seek to supercharge the state’s economic engine and prevent international companies from taking their business elsewhere. The measure approved by the Senate Finance Committee would authorize the state to borrow to cover the federal government’s share of the estimated $300 million dredging project, if necessary. Senators said it’s about assuring businesses that South Carolina will be able to accommodate the super-size ships expected regularly on the East Coast in 2014 after the widening of the Panama Canal. The House’s proposed $6.5 billion budget for 2012-13 already sets aside $180 million to fund the state’s share.
House to consider tax-exemptions bill
A pared-down bill eliminating less than one-third of the state’s sales tax exemptions is heading to the House floor. The Ways and Means Committee Wednesday approved a bill eliminating 22 exemptions, after putting about a dozen back on the exemption list. The bill initially eliminated exemptions worth more than $250 million. The amended bill reduces that to roughly $15 million. Legislators said the amended bill may not be the reform many expected, but the purpose was to evaluate the hodge-podge of exemptions. They said the bill accomplishes that by making those affected by each exemption defend its purpose. Items put back on the exemption list included lottery tickets, gold and silver, motion picture companies’ supplies, and the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax discount for residents 85 and older.
Bill on school choice goes to full Senate
A bill requiring school districts to offer educational choices and allow students to cross attendance lines is heading to the Senate floor. The Senate Education Committee approved the measure Wednesday that requires school districts by 2014-15 to offer students at all grade levels at least one additional choice beyond the school they are zoned to attend. Options could include single-gender and Montessori programs, and magnet and charter schools. It also allows students to attend any school regardless of attendance lines, even outside of their district. School officials could turn down a transfer application if a school is at capacity.
Dem. wants Haley to pay for security
The House’s leading Democrat said Republican Gov. Nikki Haley should pay for her own security detail when she is out of state on personal business. House Minority Leader Harry Ott of St. Matthews introduced legislation Thursday that bars public officials from using taxpayer-funded security and transportation on personal trips. His proposal would also require public officials to disclose such trips quarterly, along with their costs and purpose, on ethics forms. The proposal comes after The Post and Courier reported that Haley’s campaign will reimburse the state this summer for the cost of her security on out-of-state fundraising trips in her first 18 months in office. State law bars taxpayer funds from being used for campaign events. Ott’s bill would cover other personal trips too, such as Haley’s recent book tour in New York and Washington, and campaigning for presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Templeton defends cuts in staffing
The new director of South Carolina’s public health and environmental control agency told senators Thursday she didn’t start the job intending to fire anyone, but she is laying off nine people in an administrative merger. Catherine Templeton defended those cuts in a Senate meeting, saying she cut the jobs in the agency’s coastal resources division to eliminate duplication and save more than $353,000 that can be used for programs. Those jobs will be absorbed by the agency’s much larger environmental quality division. The nine workers were notified Monday. Their last day will be May 4.
Senate panel urges $9M more for agency
A Senate panel Wednesday recommended an additional $9 million in spending by the commission that oversees South Carolina’s $25 billion investment fund for public workers’ pensions, saying more employees and better technology should boost returns. A Senate Finance subcommittee unanimously approved the commission’s request to spend $19 million from investment profits next year on its operations. That’s up from $10 million this year. Vice chairman Reynolds Williams told the panel the additional money will enable the commission to better evaluate investments, with about 85 percent paying for technology upgrades. The request would also add 12 people, increasing the commission’s employees to 47.
House committee guts school buses bill
A House committee gutted a bill turning over South Carolina’s state-run school bus system to local districts and created a study panel instead. The Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday replaced the measure transferring full responsibility of the state fleet. The bill would hand over ownership of the buses to districts and give them the choice of running buses themselves, hiring a private firm, or collaborating with area districts. South Carolina is the only state to own and maintain a school bus fleet.
Legislators to press for county drug courts
Legislators say they are not going to be able to pass a bill this year to create special drug courts in each county in South Carolina. But officials said Thursday they are going to keep working on the legislation, with the hopes of passing it early next year.
A Senate subcommittee is working on a proposal that would set up special courts to handle nonviolent drug crimes.