Action in the 12th week of the legislative session:
SCHOOL CHOICE: Budget advisers say private school choice would cost the state $133 million when fully implemented, not save money as advocates predict, but the information didn't stop legislators Wednesday from advancing the measure to use tax credits to help parents send their children to private schools. A Senate panel moved the debate to the full Education Committee. Budget advisers estimate the measure would save the state $2.1 million in the first year, but cost $6 million in the second and $14.4 million in the third, as revenue lost due to tax credits exceeds how much the state would save with fewer students to pay for in public schools.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: South Carolina legislators' attempt to tax money that illegal immigrants send back home was removed Thursday from an immigration bill, after opponents said the fee on out-of-country wire transfers would hurt businesses, foreign students, and military families. A House Judiciary subcommittee voted unanimously to delete that section of the bill.
STATE BUDGET-MEDICAID FEES: The state will pay 3 percent less for Medicaid patient care under legislation Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Wednesday. It's part of the state Department of Health and Human Services' plan to deal with a $225 million deficit that had threatened to cut off payments for care of the state's poor, elderly and disabled. And the new law ends South Carolina's status as the only in the nation where the Legislature barred the Medicaid agency from cutting provider fees, Haley said as she signed the legislation that goes into effect Friday.
UNEMPLOYMENT: South Carolina legislators want to give employers a break on their unemployment insurance taxes by slashing jobless benefits by 20 percent next year. State Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican, unveiled his proposal Thursday as a Senate committee dropped plans to give most employers a break from higher taxes they'll have to pay at the end of the month. Bryant argued the benefit reduction -- from a maximum payout of $326 weekly to $260 -- was needed to encourage work.
AMAZON-SALES TAX: Haley on Wednesday put the fate of a sales tax break for online retailer Amazon.com and 1,200 jobs in the hands of legislators while reiterating she opposes that deal. Haley won't sign the legislation -- so far undrafted -- if it reaches her desk and would allow it to become law without her signature. Last year, Amazon announced it would build a distribution facility in Lexington County. The deal called for the Commerce Department to make its best efforts to revive a law that expired last summer preventing the state's sales tax from being applied to items state residents buy from Amazon.
LIGHT BULBS: South Carolina legislators are throwing a lifeline to traditional incandescent light bulbs as they try to trump federal energy standards. The House voted 72-30 Thursday to approve a bill that would allow companies to manufacture the bulbs in South Carolina and sell them here. The measure needs routine final approval next week before heading to the Senate. Federal energy standards have manufacturers turning to compact fluorescent, halogen and LED bulbs.
PROPERTY TAXES: Coastal legislators won initial approval Tuesday for a property tax break that they say will encourage sales of second homes and critics say will take more money away from local governments and schools. The House Ways and Means Committee with a voice vote agreed to limit property tax increases, sending the bill to the House floor for debate. Supporters said South Carolina's 2006 law that protects property owners from huge tax bill increases has depressed real estate sales and stifled related businesses that depend on them. That law limits tax increases for an owner-occupied home as long as the owner keeps it. But bills can rise sharply when a home is sold.
DROPOUTS-DRIVING PRIVILEGES: South Carolina teens who drop out of school or skip too many classes would lose their driving privileges until they're 18 under a bill that narrowly cleared a key subcommittee on Tuesday, as one legislator argued it's not the government's job to raise children. The bill is meant to encourage students to stay in school and graduate, said its sponsor, Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken. A House subcommittee voted 3-2 to advance the bill to the full Education Committee. The measure would suspend the driver's license or permit of a student who misses seven unexcused days of class, drops out or has been expelled. If they don't yet have a permit or license, they couldn't get one until their 18th birthday.