April 19, 2014

Legislative Update: March 15

Flyers sit on a table Wednesday in support of stronger open records laws as part of "Sunshine Week" rally

What’s making headlines at the South Carolina State Capitol:

–The House of Representatives passed a budget with unanimous Republican and Democratic support Wednesday. It’s the first time since 2005 a budget passed with such overwhelming support. Both parties highlighted what they liked in the plan– the GOP touted $600 million in property and unemployment tax relief and a two percent increase in teachers’ pay. Democrats pointed to raises for all state employees and an expansion of Medicaid coverage. Both parties took credit for a $180 million trust fund set aside to deepen the Charleston Harbor.

–There was one major point of contention in the budget Friday, however. The issue was how to use more than $20 million South Carolina expects to receive from a legal settlement with banks accused of improperly foreclosing on homes. Democrats want the money to go towards foreclosure assistance, but Republicans (saying the state has already set aside nearly $300 million for mortgage help) instead voted to use it for business recruiting incentives.

–Senators sent to the governor a bill by Rep. Tom Young (R-Aiken) that would clarify liability laws and protect landowners from injuries caused by horseback riding accidents on their property. Young requested the change so Aiken County could move forward with a proposed horse trail network.

–The Senate also returned to the House a bill by Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) that would bar prison inmates from keeping a Facebook account. Gilliard said inmates are able to used cell phones smuggled into prisons to create and maintain the accounts, which they then use to intimidate victims. The bill is slightly different than the version which passed the House last year.

–A Senate judiciary panel delayed a vote on a bill by Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) that would have exempted medical expenses from the state’s $600,000 lawsuit damages cap. Peeler drafted the law in response to a Spartanburg amusement train crash last year that killed a six-year-old boy and injured 28 others. However, lawmakers worried the exemption would double the state’s insurance premiums.

–A day after former Sen. Glenn McConnell reluctantly gave up his seat to become lieutenant governor, a Democratic lawmaker argued recent events showed South Carolina needs to allow the governor and lt. governor to run for election together on a joint ticket. Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) said the Senate needed to pass legislation allowing voters to decide in a referendum. The house passed such legislation last year.

–Governor Nikki Haley’s administration announced a new policy on preserving its emails. Haley’s office was criticized last year for deleting its emails. However, there was no official policy in place requiring them to be saved. In response, the governor worked with the state Department of Archives and History to draft a new set of rules preserving most emails to and from her office.

–Supporters of a more open government rallied at the Statehouse Wednesday in support of a bill by Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) that would make it easier for the public to file Freedom of Information requests with local and state governmental agencies. It would also end an exemption for legislators. The bill is currently on the House floor and could be taken up in the coming weeks.

–In the latest election news, the first candidate has declared for the Senate seat vacated by Glenn McConnell this week. Former Charleston city councilman Paul Tinkler, a Democrat, said he will still run even if McConnell later attempts to retake his old seat.