May 25, 2015

Senate appears to support new DHEC nominee

DHEC nominee Catherine Heigel speaks to senators Thursday (Image: SCETV)

DHEC nominee Catherine Heigel speaks to senators Thursday (Image: SCETV)

Senators on a key committee unanimously forwarded the nomination of the woman tapped to be South Carolina’s next environmental chief, a marked contrast to the last two nominees for that position.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Thursday advanced the nomination of former Duke Energy executive Catherine Heigel as the next director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Heigel was chosen by the agency’s board last month (the board members are appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley) to lead the massive state agency responsible for regulating public health and environmental issues.

“As the director of DHEC, I’m going to be committed to promoting four key principles,” she told the committee Thursday. “Transparency, efficiency, fairness, and certainty. I’ve been in the business community. I certainly understand what regulatory uncertainty does to business and how it works against efficiency.”

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 also serves on the state board of the conservation group Nature Conservancy and on the board of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

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Bill expanding mental health courts across South Carolina headed to governor

Statehouse3A bill headed to Governor Nikki Haley’s bill would provide the means for local court to expand mental health courts across South Carolina.

Mental health courts divert mentally-ill offenders away from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs, much as drug courts do for drug offenders. Currently, three mental health courts operate in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Federal grants that operated the courts have dried up, but local governments have taken over funding.

National Alliance on Mental Illness executive director for South Carolina Bill Lindsey of the told South Carolina Radio Network the bill would clear the way for mental health courts to start up across the state. “It allows a template for the other solicitor districts in the state to be able to go forward with a similar program,” he said.

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House unanimously approves domestic violence compromise

The annual "Silent Witness" ceremony at the Statehouse honors victims of domestic violence (File)

The annual “Silent Witness” ceremony at the Statehouse honors victims of domestic violence (File)

The South Carolina House of Representatives unanimously passed a compromise domestic violence bill Wednesday, hoping that a similar Senate vote next week will send the much-debated measure to the governor.

The compromise was reached earlier this month after weeks of conversations between lawmakers, according to the House’s lead negotiator State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort. “We didn’t put a Band-Aid on a problem this time,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “We have done a major overhaul so that citizens who are living through the nightmare of domestic violence have better support.”

Another procedural vote on Thursday would send the bill back to the Senate, where leaders believe they have the votes to easily pass it.

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Senate ends filibuster, approves ban on abortions after 19 weeks

Elaine Riddick, a North Carolina woman who mothered a son through rape, and Juda Myers, a Texas woman conceived through rape, both spoke out against the exemptions on Tuesday

Elaine Riddick, a Georgia woman who mothered a son through rape, and Juda Myers, a Texas woman conceived through rape, both spoke out against the exemptions on Tuesday

With only nine days remaining in the session, the South Carolina Senate adopted a compromise on an anti-abortion bill by outmaneuvering a filibuster from one pro-life legislator

Senators voted 37-7 on the SC Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act, which would narrow the window for woman to get abortions from 23 weeks to 19 weeks. The political maneuvering that led to the bill’s passage created an unusual scenario where the Senate’s most ardent anti-abortion legislators had been filibustering the bill over exemptions that would allow abortions after 20 weeks in the case of rape or incest.

Most of Tuesday’s debate was not between pro-choice and pro-life legislators, but was instead fought between pro-life legislators over whether rape and incest should be exempted. The bill will head back to the House if it gets another procedural vote later this week. House members did not include the rape exemptions in their version.

Senate Republicans, wanting to move on to other legislation dealing with road funding and domestic violence, agreed in a voice vote to include the exemptions. Pro-choice Democrats led by State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, had threatened to file more than 160 amendments if the exemptions were not included. Under Senate procedural rules, it likely would have taken the chamber the entire remaining three weeks to go through such debate.

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Former Greeleyville legislator passes away after fight with cancer

Former State Rep. Kenneth "Ken" Kennedy (Image: Legislative Services Agency)

Former State Rep. Kenneth “Ken” Kennedy (Image: Legislative Services Agency)

Funeral arrangements have now been set for former longtime State Rep. Kenneth “Ken” Kennedy, who passed away from complications of cancer on Sunday. He was 72 years old.

Kennedy served as a Democrat in the state House of Representatives, representing Williamsburg County from 1991 until his retirement in 2010.

Kennedy lived in Greeleyville for most of his life, graduating from Williamsburg County Training School (now called C.E. Murray High School). He also attended and graduated from Brooklyn College and Benedict College. He operated the Big G Hardware & Supplies store until his retirement for health reasons.

He entered public life when he won election to the Williamsburg County Council in 1984. He served for six years until he won a seat in the state House of Representatives representing District 101. He is perhaps best known for his involvement in the negotiations that created the South Carolina Education Lottery in 2000.

“He was very serious about his constituents. And he made it no secret that he wanted things to go back to Greeleyville,” his longtime friend State Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, told South Carolina Radio Network. “He was very aggressive up here and people did like him because he had a sense of humor.”

Kennedy faced some criticism for his efforts to bring grants back to his hometown. The Charleston Post & Courier noted that Kennedy had requested an $18,000 state grant in 2005 for a Williamsburg County nonprofit. That same nonprofit then donated $10,000 to a scholarship fund that the legislator’s family controlled, the newspaper reported. Kennedy’s niece ended up receiving a scholarship from the fund a few weeks later.

Celebratory services will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Greeleyville. Burial will follow in nearby Whack Cemetery. House Speaker Jay Lucas said the House will likely not take up any major legislation until Wednesday afternoon so members can pay their respects to a former colleague.

Kennedy is survived by his wife of 52 years Doris Mae, three children, and six grandchildren.