— A government restructuring bill that would create a new Department of Administration and three other agencies cleared the Senate Thursday and now heads to the House. It’s now been three years since senators took up a proposal pushed by Gov. Nikki Haley that would break up the Budget & Control Board. This particular version passed after weeks of committee work. Some conservative senators did not like that the governor’s office would not be able to make purchasing decisions. However, they agreed not to fight the bill in exchange for increased legislative oversight powers.
— The House stalled on an effort to fix state election laws Thursday. Legislators are seeking a quick solution after nearly 250 candidates were kicked off the ballot for improperly-filed paperwork last year. Representatives did narrowly shoot down an attempt to remove political parties from the process entirely. Under terms of the House bill, candidates running for legislative, countywide or local offices would be required to obtain signatures of county political party officials before filing their paperwork with election officials. Opponents offered an amendment to delete that requirement, but failed by just one vote.
— Hospital officials were not satisfied with a GOP budget proposal that would give them more funds to deal with uninsured patients, saying the best alternative would be to expand Medicaid. The House budget-writing committee advanced the $83 million plan Thursday, with little resistance from Democrats. Committee chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) announced details of the effort that tries to reduce costly emergency visits and also support rural hospitals and free clinics. Most of the plan would be funded by leftover funds in the Department of Health and Human Services budget.
— Several state agencies have announced a collaborative with the goal of reducing the obesity rate among those South Carolinians who receive food stamps. Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller announced her agency was examining the possibility of requiring food stamp recipients to use their benefits on healthier food. The state would need a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Koller said DSS will work with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control on the idea.
— In a unanimous vote, the House voted to allow limited hunting at the Hobcaw Barony preserve in Georgetown County, sending the legislation to the governor. The foundation which runs the preserve supports the idea of hunting in order to kill wild hogs and other nuisance animals that are roaming the 17,500-acre property. It is an unusual situation because the preserve is privately owned (although USC and Clemson use a section of it), but state law specifically bans hunting there. (Background)
— A watchdog group is calling on Rep. Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) to step down as Speaker of the House while law enforcement officials investigate an ethics complaint filed against him. The Charleston Post & courier reports Common Cause wants Harrell to temporarily step down. The group’s board will later decide whether to ask for Harrell to resign permanently. Last week, the state Attorney General’s Office forwarded to SLED a complaint that accused Harrell of using his office and campaign account for personal gain.