Legislative session with election reform, a full plate for 2014
Ethics reform, a bill to allow concealed weapons in bars, armed police officers in schools and some other big-ticket items failed to clear the General Assembly as legislators wrapped up their 2013 session Thursday.
But at least those who take issue with lawmakers' performance won't be kicked off the ballot en masse in 2014.
Last year, more than 200 candidates across South Carolina were struck from the ballot because the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that candidates had to file paper copies of their statements of economic interests, not merely electronic ones.
On Thursday, the Legislature approved a conference report on an election reform bill.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said what happened last year “was undemocratic and wrong” but that the Legislature has sent Gov. Nikki Haley a bill to solve the problem.
“This legislation corrects that injustice,” he said, adding he has asked House researchers to see what other laws involving the Internet might inadvertently cause a similar problem somewhere else in the state.
Thursday was the final day of this year's legislative session, but it will resume in January, so bills that didn't pass can be taken up again then.
Ethics reform is expected to be among them.
Lynn Teague of the S.C. chapter of the League of Women Voters said many legislators did great work on the bill, but enough others wanted to block it. The Senate failed to vote on it Wednesday night, ensuring the clock would run out on it this year.
“It's very disturbing that we remain the only state that requires (officeholders to disclose) only government sources of income,” she said. “One has to suspect throughout the General Assembly there are people who have very personal reasons for not wanting income disclosure.”
Gov. Nikki Haley called the death of ethics reform this year “a shame — not for the governor, but for the people of South Carolina.”
Haley said she has “every confidence” an ethics reform bill will pass next year.
While the session ended Thursday, lawmakers will return to Columbia on June 18 to wrap up loose ends, such as the final details of the state's $22.7 million budget and how a new Department of Administration would work.
Legislators did not pass a bill to create a computer-security division in the wake of a hacker getting access to the state's Department of Revenue records, but they did set aside about $22 million to address the problem.
The clock also ran out on the Senate's efforts to pass a bill declaring that President Barack Obama's health care plan isn't constitutional — or shouldn't be in South Carolina.
While lawmakers stopped short of trying to nullify the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Republican majority did block one aspect of it: Medicaid expansion.
Lawmakers refused to expand that federal program to hundreds of thousands additional poor adults, but they instead increased funding for subsidized medical clinics.
Just before the 5 p.m. deadline hit, state Sen. John Scott, D-Columbia, was giving an extended speech against a bill that would expand the rights of those with concealed weapons permits to take their guns into restaurants and bars that serve alcohol.
The bill was passed by the House and Senate, but the Senate never voted on the House's amendments. That means the issue will be carried over to January, when the two-year-long session resumes.
Also Thursday, Haley signed into law a bill allowing tourists to sample three times more beer at craft breweries. She said simply, “Cheers!”
The law allows those 21 and older to drink up to 48 ounces as part of their tour, allowing for tastings of full pints. The previous limit was four samples of no more than 4 ounces each.
The new law could expand the number of breweries in the state up from the current dozen.
Jaime Tenny, co-owner of COAST Brewing Co. in North Charleston, made the trip to Columbia for the signing and told The Associated Press the law will completely change her business, including expanded hours and more events.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.