Lawmakers approve roads funding

Members in both chambers fast-tracked legislation Wednesday, with a key deadline looming.

The South Carolina Senate sent a one-time, $2.2 billion infrastructure bond bill to the House late Wednesday, salvaging months of debate over roads funding.

The bill, which Senate leaders admit is just a step in tackling all the state’s road needs, was one of several bills that cleared the Senate and House ahead of a pivotal deadline for legislation this week. Bills need to be approved by either chamber before May 1 in order to have any shot in becoming a law before the end of the legislative session in June.

Here is Wednesday’s action:

Senators voted 34-4 to approve Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman’s bond measure a week after his Finance Committee approved it. The vote came a day after Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, moved the critical vote to Wednesday to ensure a compromise committee dealing with a separate bill on reform could be covered, too.

The bill takes $200 million in fees and fines to borrow $2.2 billion. Part of the money goes to fix 73 load-restricted and structurally deficient bridges across the state and $1.5 billion will tackle several interstate projects, such as the interchange between Interstate 20 and Interstate 26 in Columbia, locally referred to “as Malfunction Junction.”

The move will free up around $2 billion from the state Department of Transportation to devote toward additional roads and bridges.

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, two other representatives and three senators agreed earlier in the day that the bill had to move before they could come to an agreement with a separate proposal that restructures the SCDOT Commission. Simrill said there is support in the House for the approved borrowing bill.

The actions put a reform agreement within reach, according to lawmakers. Without reforms, Gov. Nikki Haley said the bill just wastes taxpayer dollars.

“Throwing money at a system that’s broken is throwing money away,” said Haley’s press secretary, Chaney Adams. “We need to reform the DOT so that we get rid of the political horse trading.”

The House sent an alimony bill that gives judges the ability to award spousal support with an expiration date, giving final approval to the measure Wednesday.

The bill removes the assumption that periodic permanent alimony is the preferred method for settlement. The bill also removes a 90-day cohabitation requirement from alimony law. Current law requires permanent periodic spousal support be paid until the former spouse remarries, co-habits with a romantic partner for 90 days or more, or dies.

Any alimony stipulations would be at the discretion of the judge presiding over the negotiations.

The Senate approved a proposal that would place stiffer fines on people who purchase illicit sex, striking out its original intent to immediately place offenders on the sex offender registry.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, makes a first offense a fine between $100 and $250, or face up to 30 days in jail. Current law does not allow a fine of more than $250 for first-time offenders charged with solicitation.

Someone caught a second time could pay up to $3,000, or face up to six months in jail. A third offense would carry a fine between $1,500 and $5,000, and mandate the offender be placed on the registry. He or she would have to petition a judge to be removed from the list.

“We’re going to stamp out prostitution,” Shealy said.