Headlines from the State Capitol:
–State senators have given preliminary approval to a bill that seeks to raise $120 million for the Charleston Harbor deepening to cover the federal government’s share. Supporters are worried Congress could eliminate that promised funding due to budget concerns. The bill would allow the state to raise the money itself through bonds should that happen. Opponents fear it could add to the state’s growing liabilities and debt. It still requires a third reading Thursday before it can head to the House.
–The House, meanwhile, passed legislation that would require the state health agency to offer free HPV vaccines to 7th-graders. The vaccines would not be mandatory for students, but schools would be required to provide educational materials about human papillomavirus (HPV), which significantly increases the risk of cervical cancer in women. However, the vaccine is often controversial among conservatives because the virus is transmitted sexually. It passed by a 63-40 vote and is a procedural vote away from going to the Senate.
–The House also voted to siphon money away from smoking prevention and cessation programs and instead put it into cancer screening. The $2.5 million is roughly half of cigarette tax revenue that currently goes to the Department of Health and Environmental Control for anti-smoking programs. Sponsor Brian White (R-Anderson) said he believes the money would be better spent screening for breast and colorectal cancer than producing what he believes to be ineffective ads. Anti-smoking groups say it should not be a cancer vs. smoking prevention issue and the money should come from elsewhere.
–Two Orangeburg Democrats are very publicly split over how to overhaul the SC State University board of trustees. The Columbia Free Times reports both Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) and Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg) think the current trustees need to be replaced. However, they disagree on how to do that. Govan wants legislators to elect a new, smaller board. Cobb-Hunter says it is too late in the session to screen and elect new candidates and that a temporary board is needed until an election can be organized. The House approved Cobb-Hunter’s proposal Wednesday.
–Also among the slew of bills approved Wednesday were tax credits for developers who revitalize abandoned buildings. The bill, which passed unanimously, would give a 25 percent income tax cut to a business that spent at least $500,000 on a building abandoned for five years or more. Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia) said he drafted the bill to help develop a former mental hospital located in downtown Columbia, but added it could help thousands of properties statewide.
–Thursday is the final chance for both the House and Senate to pass new bills before the “crossover deadline” hits. Any bill that passes one chamber after May 1 would require a two-thirds vote in the other before it can be taken up– virtually impossible on any controversial legislation. However, any bill which has passed before that date can still be taken up under the normal rules for the remainder of the session.