April 26, 2015

Former Duke Energy executive tapped to lead SC environmental agency

Catherine Heigel (LinkedIn)

Catherine Heigel (LinkedIn)

The board of South Carolina’s public health and environmental agency has tapped a former Duke Energy executive to lead the agency during Gov. Nikki Haley’s second term.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) board, whose members are appointed by the governor, voted unanimously for Catherine Heigel in a Friday teleconference. Her nomination must now be confirmed by the Senate.

Heigel currently works as a general counsel for the accounting firm Elliott Davis Decosimo in Greenville. Prior to that she spent 11 years at Duke Energy, including serving as president of the company’s South Carolina operations from 2010 until 2012.

She will replace Catherine Templeton, who announced her resignation from the post in January to pursue other opportunities. After her resignation, the board chose former state insurance director Eleanor Kitzman for the post. But Kitzman’s nomination was held up in the Statehouse, where Democratic senators (and even some Republicans) questioned her credentials and her close fundraising ties to Gov. Haley. Kitzman eventually withdrew her name from consideration.

Board members said they selected Heigel from among 99 applicants. The board said its two other finalists were Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Michael Wolf and Timothy Keck, the chief of staff for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. State law requires the top three finalists be made public.

Heigel’s salary would be $155,000 per year if she is confirmed, according to statements made during Friday’s meeting.

SC House passes bill to no longer require concealed weapons permits

State Rep. Mike Pitts pushed for the amendment (Image: SCETV/File)

State Rep. Mike Pitts pushed for the amendment (Image: SCETV/File)

A bill that would allow South Carolina residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit has gotten key approval in the state House.

The measure, which eliminates a requirement that gun owners get a concealed weapons permit (CWP) in order to carry a firearm, was attached to a separate gun bill Thursday. It passed in an 81-27 vote. Supporters argued that CWP permits are an infringement on constitutional rights.

“A concealed weapons permit is, in essence, a  plastic government permission slip which you must possess before you may as a private, law-abiding, legally gun-owning citizen may exercise your right to self-defense,” State Rep. Jonathan Hill, R-Townville, said on the House floor.

The bill tries not to change any other section of state law regarding how an individual can purchase or gun or where they could carry. The locations that are off-limits for concealed carry now would remain so under the bill, according to lead sponsor State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens. It also would still ban “open carry,” which is when a legal gun owner wears their gun in a visible location.

Opponents of the amendment argued that getting a permit now requires a person to attend gun safety courses. State Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Kingstree, said gun owners should be required to learn basic safety principles before they can carry. “A person could carry a firearm (under this bill) having never even fired it, never loaded, cleaned it, or done anything,” he said. “They’re just carrying the firearm.”

But Pitts, a former police officer who also teaches CWP instruction, argued that the eight hours of classroom currently required to get a permit is not enough time, anyway. “The class is not designed as a basic training class to teach people that have never had a firearm in their hands how to shoot a firearm,” he said. Instead, he said family and classes would be the better route for new gun owners.

Other opponents decried such a significant change being added last-minute on the House floor. “To come in here on an amendment and not hear from law enforcement and people who are concerned about gun safety, and go through… several pages of documents and vote, I don’t see how it’s wise,” State Rep. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, said.

The amendment was tacked on to legislation that would allow concealed carry permit holders in Georgia to also carry in South Carolina. That larger bill passed in a 90-18 vote.

The measure now heads to the Senate after another procedural vote next week. But procedural rules in that chamber make it highly unlikely for the bill to pass before this year’s session ends in June. A Senate committee shot down an “open carry” bill last year, but Republicans in the chamber have shown more favor towards concealed carry.


House moves towards ‘compromise’ in replacing SC State trustees

SC State logoState House leaders said Thursday they are offering a compromise for legislation the would oust the board of trustees at struggling South Carolina State University.

Both the House and Senate want to remove the school’s current board, but remain divided on who would replace them. The Senate wants a new interim five-member board chosen by primarily by legislative budget and education committee leaders, while the House proposal would have members of the Budget and Control Board (the governor, State Treasurer, Comptroller General, and the House and Senate budget chairmen) make the appointments.

The House on Thursday passed what its leaders viewed as compromise: instead of five members, the new SC State board would have seven. It would combine both bills so that each elected official in both versions would pick the new panel.

“We’re all very anxious to get to a resolution and to compromise,” said State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, who floated the idea. “Hopefully, this amendment will get us there.”

The House voted 89-7 in support of their compromise language. All “no” voted came from members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said they preferred the Senate version.

Bingham had hoped the Senate would take up the matter before adjourning for the weekend, but senators did not take up the bill Thursday. They are expected to take it up once they return next Tuesday.

An audit into SC State found the school will owe vendors and the state nearly $24 million by July. Many legislators blame dysfunction and lack of action by the board for making financial problems worse as the school struggles with decreasing enrollment and declining federal scholarship aid. The board claims state lawmakers have not fully funded the school as needed.

The college’s board of trustees were meeting in executive session as the House voted to replace them. They were still meeting as of Thursday afternoon.

SC Big Story: Senate revives bonds package to pay for college construction

University of South Carolina women's basketball team was honored in the House on Wednesday. Players included Tiffany Mitchell, center, and Aleighsa Welch, right (Image: SCETV)

University of South Carolina women’s basketball team was honored in the House on Wednesday. Players included Tiffany Mitchell, center, and Aleighsa Welch, right (Image: SCETV)

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.

The state Senate’s budget committee has voted to revive a bonds package that seeks to raise nearly $237 million for construction projects at colleges and technical colleges. The State newspaper reports the Senate Finance Committee approved the borrowing package by a 16-5 vote Wednesday.

The package is much smaller than the nearly $500 million approved by the House budget committee last month. That version was tossed out of next year’s proposed budget after Gov. Nikki Haley and many House Republicans came out against the idea.

The Governor’s Office is warning it will veto this new proposal as well should it reach her desk. But the leader of the Senate Republicans said he’s not sure the bond package will even clear the Senate, where it would require a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, one of Haley’s allies in the Senate, said a two-thirds vote would be needed.

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Lawmakers frustrated with yet more delays for state database that’s 17 years late

DSS Senior Project Manager Jimmy Earley told legislators the system won't be certified until possibly 2019 (Image: SCETV)

DSS Senior Project Manager Jimmy Earley told legislators the system won’t be certified until possibly 2019 (Image: SCETV)

A panel of South Carolina legislators expressed their frustrations Wednesday that a child support database that was supposed to be finished 17 years ago is still possibly four more years away from completion.

The comments came as the Joint Bond Review Committee heard an update from the state Department of Social Services over its well-documented struggles to get the database up and running. The database, which has now gone through four different contractors and several legal challenges, was supposed to be a way for state officials to keep tabs on parents who pay child support. A 1988 federal law required the system to be in place by 1998.

DSS has been assessed more than $120 million in total fines for being the only state that is not in compliance with the law, according to agency senior project manager Jimmy Earley. Earley said a settlement was reached with previous contractor Hewlett-Packard in January that would require the company to pay more than $77 million of those penalties for not completing the project.

A new contract has been reached with Xerox, pending federal approval, that would task the corporation to set up both the long-delayed system and a separate family court case database. Earley said officials hope to save time by basing the system off a similar version used in Delaware.

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