February 7, 2016

Legislative Update: January 24

— After nearly a week of debate, the state Senate unanimously passed a proposed fix to the state’s election laws, sending it on to the House. The bill addresses a loophole that caused more than 250 candidates to be kicked off the ballot last May. The biggest change allows those who do not file properly to pay a fine and remain on the ballot, as long as they fix it before the primaries. A compromise on who would receive candidates’ paperwork allowed the bill to pass. Candidates would have to turn in their candidacy statement and pay fees at their county election office, rather than to local political party leaders.

Senators grilled Ray Farmer, Gov. Haley's choice to lead the state Department of Insurance, without acting on his appointment Wednesday (FILE Photo)

Senators interviewed Ray Farmer, Gov. Haley’s choice to lead the state Department of Insurance, but did not move his appointment forward on Wednesday (FILE Photo)

— Meanwhile, the House decided to follow Gov. Nikki Haley’s lead and rejected state-run health insurance exchanges in a 77-40 vote. While the governor’s decision means the federal government will now set up the exchanges after 2014, House GOP leaders said the legislature needed to act because the governor’s actions were a policy decision. Democrats accused the body of playing politics. The move was also seen as an attempt to prevent a future governor from reversing Haley’s decision.

— One of South Carolina’s most powerful legislators is hoping to delay a government restructuring bill, The State newspaper reports. The bill would create a state Department of Administration, which is being pushed by Gov. Nikki Haley and is dividing both Republicans and Democrats. The article did not explain how Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) would try to halt the bill or give his reasons for doing so. However, Leatherman has made it clear in the past that he believes the legislature should have some say in administrative processes like procurement.

— The South Carolina Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit that challenges the increases charged to state workers’ health insurance plans last summer. The court heard a University of South Carolina professor’s case against the Budget and Control Board. Thomas Bryson sued after the panel voted in August to split the cost of insurance hikes between employers and workers, raising rates on both by 4.6. Bryson argued the hike should have been decided by the state legislature.

— A House panel advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban drunken driving on mopeds. Currently, South Carolina has an exemption in state law that does not classify mopeds as “motor vehicles.” As a result, moped drivers cannot be prosecuted for operating under the influence. A House Judiciary subcommittee advanced a bill Wednesday that would classify mopeds as “motor vehicles” under the state’s DUI laws. The vote was unanimous among the panel of two Republicans and one Democrat. The proposal now heads to the full Judiciary Committee next week.

— Another House Judiciary subcommittee reported favorably on legislation that would give the Secretary of State’s Office the power to run elections. The South Carolina Election Commission currently oversees voting and its director told legislators that lawmakers had moved elections out of the Secretary of State’s Office 50 years ago because of politics (the Secretary of State is an elected position). However, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) says the current commission is appointed and unaccountable to voters. The full Judiciary Committee will also take up the proposal next week.

— Several senators grilled Gov. Haley’s choice to lead the state Department of Insurance in an unusually testy hearing, the Charleston Post & Courier reports. Members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee even heard questions as to whether Raymond Farmer was qualified to lead the agency. Farmer is a former executive at the American Insurance Association, which lobbies on behalf of the industry. He replaces David Black, who resigned his position more than a year ago.

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