Headlines from the State Capitol:
–The House has changed its rules to make its internal ethics investigations open to the public. The House Ethics Committee’s hearings have long been conducted behind closed doors, but a 98-0 vote Tuesday instead would require the committee to make its hearings public if lawmakers find probable cause of wrongdoing. The change comes amid speculation of a House Ethics Committee investigation into Gov. Nikki Haley. But House Republicans insist the change had nothing to do with any particular person.
–With an 87-15 vote, lawmakers sent to the Governor a conference report that seeks to expand charter schools in South Carolina. The new law would allow more types of organizations to sponsor the schools, such as colleges. It would also allow charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities at traditional public schools, including varsity sports.
–The Senate sent back to the House legislation that would reauthorize the state Conservation Bank through 2018. The land protection agency was set up temporarily when it was created and would have expired next year. Supporters say it has preserved tens of thousands of acres. Opponents question if it’s the best use of taxpayer funds at a time state revenues are down. The House version would have extended the Bank through 2023.
–The House unanimously approved a bill that would create a Medal of Valor for South Carolinians who died while in military service overseas. The medal would be awarded posthumously to the surviving families. Supporters say it’s another way to recognize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The bill will now head back to the Senate with another routine vote Wednesday.
–The Post & Courier writes about a new policy signed into law last month that eases lawsuit concerns for forestland managers who do prescribed burns. The change toughens the burden of proof for a lawsuit that alleges damage or injury from prescribed burn smoke, requiring a plaintiff to now prove gross negligence or recklessness. Previously, the proof burden was simply negligence.
–The House has added a late amendment to a job credits bill that has bounced around the Statehouse for over a year. The amendment by Rep. Brian White (R-Anderson) would allow data centers in South Carolina to be exempt from sales tax on their electricity bills, along with computer equipment, hardware, and software purchases.
–A retiring South Carolina senator wants to eliminate about $1 billion worth of sales tax exemptions and instead put more of the money towards public education and infrastructure. Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) said, while he does not expect the proposal to pass, he hopes it leads to a real discussion about taxes. The bill seeks to raise a current $300 limit on sales tax, as well as restart a sales tax on groceries and prescriptions. Leventis based it of some of the TRAC commission’s 2010 recommendations.
–A blue-ribbon commission has recommended a ban on new surf walls in South Carolina. The Commission on Shoreline Management voted to recommend a ban on “groins,” which are used to prevent sand on some beaches from eroding away. Members of the commission cited studies that have found the groins worsen erosion below the wall. The commission is tasked with recommending improvements to the state’s two-decade-old beach management law. Any recommendations still have to be approved by the General Assembly.