The 13th week of the legislative session:
STATE BUDGET: South Carolina budget writers decided Thursday to crack down on tax scofflaws as they found ways to patch together a $5.7 billion budget that reduced drastic cuts but still left agencies wondering how they'll provide services such as protecting children from abuse. The Senate Finance Committee agreed to generate $48 million from putting more money into tax collection enforcement and by tapping money from several health care-related agencies. That left a $97 million gap — down from being $202 million short a day earlier. Department of Social Services Director Kathleen Hayes said $15 million in cuts would mean about 1,000 job losses, since so many on her staff are paid with a mix of state and federal funds. State Law Enforcement Division officials said they would have to drop nearly 50 agents.
STIMULUS CHALLENGE: A South Carolina high school student on Thursday asked the state's highest court to quickly clear the way for millions of federal stimulus dollars to flow to schools by ending Gov. Mark Sanford's ability to decline the money. The lawsuit by 18-year-old Casey Edwards, a Chapin High School senior, against the state echoes the views of educators who have predicted hundreds of teacher layoffs if officials don't use $700 million in federal cash earmarked by Congress mostly for schools over two years. If the governor can't be cut out of the process, it says, then state lawmakers should be able to spend the money anyway. Sanford said he, not the Legislature, has sole authority to ask for the money. The governor has rebuffed the school funds and instead says it should be used to reduce state debt. The White House twice rejected that approach. Sanford has declined to back down. The Supreme Court ordered the state to respond to the lawsuit by Monday afternoon. The high court has no deadline for deciding whether to take the case.
S.C. JOBS: A bill introduced by a top Republican lawmaker Tuesday would give businesses up to $2,400 in tax credits if they hire unemployed workers. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said his bill would pay employers $100 for each month the worker is on the payroll, for up to two years. Employers would be eligible if they hire people who have drawn at least four weeks of unemployment checks. The workers would have to be in the country legally and have no promise of future work at the jobs they lost. South Carolina's unemployment rate hit 11.4 percent in March, tying the highest rate on record in the state, set in January 1983.
CHILD ABUSE: A home-based daycare worker convicted of seriously injuring a child in South Carolina would spend at least two years in prison under a bill approved Wednesday by a legislative panel. The Senate panel voted 2-1 following parents' tearful pleas to send the bill to the full Judiciary Committee. The parents of a 1-year-old girl still recovering from brain bleeding caused by a slap from her caretaker said probation never should be an option for someone who nearly kills a child. The proposed law applies only to the roughly 1,500 caretakers registered with the state to keep up to six children in their home.
GUNS ON CAMPUS: Gun owners with concealed weapon permits in South Carolina could keep their gun in their vehicles while on school campuses under a bill given initial approval. State law bans guns from school property. The measure approved Thursday by a Senate Judiciary panel would exempt the vehicles of those authorized to carry a concealed weapon. The gun cannot leave the vehicle, which must be locked when parked. Republican Sen. Shane Martin of Spartanburg said it allows permit holders like himself to pick up their child from school or attend a teacher's meeting without leaving their gun at home. Opponents say thieves could break into cars and threaten students' safety.
HOME INVASION: Anyone convicted of breaking into someone's home in South Carolina with a weapon and threatening those inside would be sent to prison for at least 20 years under a bill approved by a legislative panel. A Senate panel voted Thursday to send the bill, dubbed the "Home Invasion Protection Act," to the full Judiciary Committee. The bill would create a felony charge of home invasion and set a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.