February 14, 2016

Legislative Update: March 7

Headlines from the South Carolina State Capitol (see a schedule of meetings here)

Members of the House Ways & Means Committee discuss new pension legislation Tuesday

–The man who has led state Senate Democrats for the past two decades announced he will not seek reelection next year. Sen. John Land (D-Manning) has served in the General Assembly for the past 38 years.

–Governor Nikki Haley ceremonially signed into law a new “Blue Alert” system. Modeled after the “Amber Alert” system for missing children, Blue Alerts would alert the public about an at-large suspect who has shot or kidnapped a police officer.

–The House Ways & Means Committee advanced a pair of major bills Tuesday. First, the committee passed out to the House floor a “school choice” bill that would offer tax breaks for families with children in private schools… Then members unanimously passed a pension reform bill that would require state employees to contribute more towards their retirement, although not as much was originally proposed earlier this year.

–Meanwhile, the House sent to the Governor a minor bill that says private companies which perform emergency roadside services on behalf of motor club organizations like AAA cannot be regulated in the same way as the motor clubs themselves.

The Senate also passed two minor pieces of legislation on to the House. One by Rep. Bill Sandifer (R-Seneca) would set the order of family members who could act on behalf of a deceased person to authorize a cremation… Another bill by Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) would mandate that both parents in a custody case have equal rights to a child’s counseling and therapy records.

–Senators also voted to confirm Mark Keel to a full term as chief of the State Law Enforcement Division. Keel was appointed last year to fill out the remainder of previous chief Reggie Lloyd’s term, which expired in February… Senators also granted another term to Department of Public Safety director Leroy Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in October to take Keel’s old job.

–Senators are accusing the chairwoman of the state Department of Natural Resources board of lying under oath. Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said it happened a few weeks ago when Caroline Rhodes was testifying under oath to a Senate Fish, Game & Forestry Committee about a recent Savannah River dredging decision. Committee chairman Ronnie Cromer (R-Prosperity) has promised an investigation, while Gov. Haley defended Rhodes.

–Meanwhile, DNR announced new changes to hunting regulations, and will now allow duck hunting on most of Lake Wylie near Rock Hill. The agency said a previous law meant to protect bird sanctuaries in River Hills Plantation and Tega Cay had had the unintended consequence of closing off much of the lake to hunting.

–A former state senator could challenge a current one in Spartanburg County. Former Sen. John Hawkins served in the Senate from 2000 to 2008 before retiring. The voters replaced him with Sen. Lee Bright in 2008. Hawkins fought off a challenge by Bright in 2004.

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