COLUMBIA — Tax credits for the owners of homes and businesses who install fire sprinklers became law Wednesday, along with 14 other bills when the Legislature reconvened to take up Gov. Mark Sanford's vetoes.
Lawmakers showed overwhelming support for the sprinkler incentives, the one legislative action to come from last year's Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine Charleston firefighters.
"I was very grateful," said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston. "I couldn't imagine leaving here without having tried to address fire safety after what happened."
The lawmakers met for more than five hours to consider the vetoes issued by Sanford after they closed regular session earlier this month. They left open, however, the possibility of coming back once more this year.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, both Charleston Republicans, could set a date before Oct. 31 to call lawmakers back to deal with budgetary issues.
That could happen for one of two reasons. If the economy continues to slump and revenue shortfalls are projected to reach a certain level, McConnell and Harrell would have to call lawmakers back to rework the state's budget.
Lawmakers also would be called back if Sanford vetoes a measure sent to his desk Wednesday intended to handle budget problems already identified. The Legislature crafted a bill that would shift money intended to cover one month of expenses for state employee insurance premiums to cover school bus operations and election costs. The cost for the insurance premiums will now have to be picked up by the individual agencies.
About $23 million had been set aside in a reserve fund for school buses and the general election, but that fund is now expected to be lost to further declining state revenues, said Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
"We re-evaluated," Leatherman said. "At the state level, we will live within our means."
The money from insurance premiums will now cover the school bus operations and the election.
Sanford has warned that the state could end up in court over the state's $7 billion budget, which leaves the Education and Corrections departments facing projected deficits. The governor vetoed 69 items in the budget to help free money, but most of the vetoes were overturned.
Leatherman and other lawmakers have defended the budget, arguing that it is balanced because agencies have the ability to shift money to cover costs.
McConnell predicted that the state would end up in a lawsuit over another issue.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate both voted to override a veto of a bill originally intended to encourage residents to buy energy-efficient appliances by making them tax-free for one month of the year.
Two other provisions were added to the bill: a tax-free weekend for the purchase of guns and giving local gasoline suppliers the right to blend fuel with ethanol, a practice conducted by big oil companies. The Legislature has been sued over the issue of "bobtailing" legislation in the past and McConnell warned it will happened again.
"There is no lesson in the third kick of the mule," he said.
The Legislature ultimately agreed with five of Sanford's vetoes. One concerned school notification when students test positive for HIV. Some wanted to eliminate the notification so more students would get tested.
At a glance
The Legislature voted to override 15 of the 20 vetoes issued by Gov. Mark Sanford. Here's a look at some of the notable bills that will now become law and the votes to override:
Fire sprinklers: Gives local governments the option of providing property tax credits worth up to 25 percent of the cost of installing a sprinkler system. The local portion would be matched by a state income tax credit. The incentives would be offered to owners of homes and businesses not required by law to be equipped with sprinkler systems. Senate voted, 43-0; House, 109-0.
Tax breaks: Creates a tax-free weekend for gun purchases and allows energy-efficient appliances to be sold without taxes during the month of October, both beginning in July 2009. The bill contains a third provision that would allow local gasoline suppliers to mix the fuel with ethanol, a practice conducted now by large oil companies. Senate voted 34-8; House, 92-9.
Assaults on sports officials: Doubling penalties for assaults on coaches and sports officials. Senate voted 32-6; House, 87-17.
Endowed chairs: Allows future Education Lottery funds to be used to help bring top researchers into the state. The money creates endowments, which are used to hire professors at state universities. Senate voted 30-4; House, 103-0.
Tax breaks on mobile homes: Gives $750 off income taxes for families that buy energy-efficient manufactured homes and credits worth 25 percent of the cost to purchase and install solar and hydropower energy systems. Senate voted 43-0; House, 98-0.
Concealed weapons: Allows lawmakers and state employees with concealed weapon permits to store guns in their vehicles while parked in the Statehouse garage. Senate voted 32-1; House, 93-12.
On the Web: To read bills, go to www.scstatehouse.net.