Five issues to watch as S.C. lawmakers wrap up session

Photo illustration by Gill Guerry/Staff

COLUMBIA - The last three days of the Legislature's six-month session begin Tuesday - until lawmakers are reconvened for vetoes or perhaps other languishing matters June 17.

Regardless, the General Assembly still has plenty of pressing matters to deal with if they intend to pass them.

Among them:

The House and Senate have passed competing versions, and negotiations between the two versions are expected to begin. There are many points of agreement, including new funding for K-12 education pushed by Gov. Nikki Haley. Both the Senate and House allocated more to students in poor, rural districts without taking money away from other districts that are able to better equip classrooms through local property taxes.

The Senate version includes more funding for Charleston area initiatives on a budget "wish list," dollars that are expected to become available as the budget forecast improves. One significant Charleston-related item is a possible additional $6 million or $7 million for a proposed African American Museum and $275,000 for an anti-crime initiative in North Charleston, both pushed by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. Higher education initiatives, including dollars for a new aerospace center at Trident Technical College and the College of Charleston, also will be contested.

The Senate and House have struggled with measures for reform even as Haley has pushed for it. The versions that have been passed already have been decried by critics as largely failing to address the big questions around lawmakers' ethics, including banning campaign funds for office expenses, a subject of much controversy in recent weeks. The two chambers agree on banning so-called "Leadership PACs" and requiring lawmakers to disclose sources of income.

The House is proposing a panel that would have the power to investigate ethics complaints against members of all three branches. Disciplinary decisions would be left up to the bodies' respective ethics bodies.

The Senate has endorsed no such independent panel. A joint committee has been formed to hash out the issues.

The House passed a first-ever, sweeping ban on texting while driving. A Senate bill bans it for those with beginner's permits and young drivers. Some hope the Senate will push a broader measure as South Carolina is one of the few states without a statewide texting ban of any kind and municipalities have begun to pass their own bans.

Anti-abortion groups had staked early hopes on a bill, passed by the S.C. House in March, that would ban abortions at 20 weeks. Anti-abortion advocates have said that the measure is expected to have little practical effect - less than 1 percent of all abortions take place at that late stage and South Carolina's abortion clinics do not provide them. But it could set up a legal challenge to the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

The University of Charleston bill would create the state's fourth comprehensive research university, housed at the College of Charleston.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said he plans to resign this week, and senators pushing the bill hope that the longtime former senator will use his political clout to help get the bill passed.

The Legislature will likely reconvene in mid-June once Haley reviews the budget and issues vetoes. They could also discuss any of the above issues if this last week doesn't prove final enough.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.