A list of what’s making headlines in the SC State Capitol:
–The South Carolina House passed a pension reform bill Wednesday by an 86-27 vote. The proposal attempts to shore up the retirement system’s future debt by requiring employees and the state to put in additional money. It would also raise the retirement age for new employees. Some Democrats opposed the changes, saying they were unfair for employees who had spent decades working for the state.
–Former Rep. Thad Viers resigned from the House Wednesday, saying he faces pending harassment charges. Viers was arrested in January after his ex-girlfriend told police Viers would not stop texting or calling her and would show up at her home. He claims the charges are “a politically-motivated matter over a few love letters.”
–A Columbia judge dismissed an ethics lawsuit filed against Gov. Nikki Haley, saying his circuit courtroom was not the appropriate site for an ethics investigation. The suit filed by GOP activist John Rainey questions whether then-Rep. Haley was improperly seeking donations from lobbyists as a fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center. Judge Casey Manning recommended that Rainey file the complaint with the House Ethics Committee, which investigates ethic cases involving former legislators.
–Occupy Columbia protestors returned to the Statehouse Wednesday after a 90-day temporary camping ban expired. The group left the grounds in December after a judge upheld emergency regulations passed by the Budget and Control Board which barred overnight stays at the Statehouse. Legislators are currently working on a bill that would make the ban permanent. It passed the Senate two weeks ago and is likely to pass a House committee Thursday and reach the House floor next week.
–The House also sent to the governor a bill that would give the state’s health agency the power to ban over 100 different compounds that can be used to make synthetic drugs. The intention is to give the agency power to ban new drugs as they pop up, rather than navigate the months-long process of banning them individually through the legislature.
–The Senate approved a bill that tries to grow the number of charter schools in South Carolina by making it easier to form a new school. The bill, which passed 39-2, creates more ways for charter schools to form– such as being sponsored by a university. It also allows for single-gender charter schools and includes a section that allows charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities at the traditional public schools they are zoned to attend. The bill now goes back to the House.
–The House approved a bill that would fine teens $100 for sending sexually explicit images through their phones, also known as “sexting.” The law would not target messages sent between two teens (such as boyfriend/girlfriend), but would punish a teen who sends the image to a third party. While some legislators questioned if the bill was too intrusive, it ended up passing unanimously. It heads to the Senate.
–A Senate panel advanced a bill that would make the state’s top insurance official an elected position. Sponsor Luke Rankin (R-Conway) said the independent election would insulate the Department of Insurance from pressure by the governor. He pointed out that two of the last three insurance directors have resigned. The bill now moves to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.