August 28, 2015

Senate Democrats want SC budget surplus to go towards roads

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington

Democrats in the South Carolina Senate want an $87 million budget surplus to be directed towards infrastructure.

State legislators had already planned on having higher-than-expected tax revenues this past fiscal year that ended June 30. In the final budget signed by Gov. Nikki Haley last month, lawmakers set aside roughly half of the projected $400 million in surplus money (totaling $216 million) to go towards county transportation funds. The Board of Economic Advisors revealed last week that the state had received the additional $87 million on top of that.

State Senator Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said the current surplus of $87 million would not be much, but would provide some benefit. “It’s a $1.4 billion annual problem and so this will only be a drop in the bucket, but at least it helps,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

He said the roads in South Carolina are a major concern. “Rebuilding roads, repaving roads is the number one issue in this state. It’s what people want addressed. It affects every aspect of our life from our jobs to our transportation system.” Setzler is among the Senate Democrats who favor a proposal that increases the state’s gas tax and would raise various vehicle and license fees to raise additional money for roads.

Governor Nikki Haley outlined a proposal during her State of the State address that would gradually raise the gas tax by 10 cents up to 26 cents per gallon by 2019. But that would be offset by a 2 percent decrease in South Carolina’s income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. House members passed their own bill in April that would raise more than $300 million for roads, offer an incentive for counties to take over some roads from the state and included some income tax relief.

But both plans remain stuck in the Senate. Republicans effectively allowed a filibuster among more conservative members to stall out debate on the Senate until the regular session ended in June. Those conservatives say they will not support a gas tax increase without structural reforms at the state Department of Transportation.

Setzler said investing in infrastructure will make South Carolina more attractive to families and businesses looking for a place to call home. “Everything that we do is impacted by the roads we travel on. Our economic development is tremendously impacted by that.” Setzler said.





Governor promotes her top legal advisor to be next chief of staff

Swati Patel (Image: SC Governor's Office)

Swati Patel (Image: SC Governor’s Office)

Gov. Nikki Haley has appointed a longtime top legal advisor to be her new chief of staff.

Swati Patel has acted as the governor’s chief general counsel for Haley’s entire administration. Her predecessor James Burns plans to return to his old employer Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough after just 10 months on the job. The Governor’s Office did not give any further reason for his departure.

Patel, 44, has been a fixture in the Statehouse over the past decade. Prior to joining Haley’s incoming team, she previously worked as a legal counsel for Gov. Mark Sanford and was an attorney on the House Judiciary Committee and House Ethics Committee. She is originally from Anderson.

“I can’t think of anyone who is more widely respected or uniquely qualified to lead our team than Swati Patel,” Haley said in a statement. “Swati’s steady leadership as legal counsel has strengthened our staff, guided our administration, and helped us deliver results to the people of South Carolina – and, as Chief of Staff, Swati will keep that momentum going.”

Former Department of Labor, License, and Regulation (LLR) director Holly Pisarik will replace Patel as Chief Legal Counsel. Pisarik has spent the past eight months as a special assistant to new Department of Social Services Director Susan Alford.

Senator Kimpson to pre-file gun bills

A state senator is proposing tougher state gun controls in the aftermath of the shootings at a Charleston church that killed nine people June 17th.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston County, told South Carolina Radio Network that he plans to pre-file bills banning assault weapons, strengthening background checks and creating a gun registration system. “There is a direct correlation between weak gun laws and gun violence,” Kimpson said.

Kimpson said the state must take action before there’s another tragedy. “What I am seeking to do is start the conversation, the real conservation in the general assembly,” said Kimpson Monday.

One of his proposals is a state background check that would insure state information not available on federal background checks is not overlooked or missed. Kimpson also wants gun owners to register their guns with the State Law Enforcement Division so there is an accurate gun tracking system.

Kimpson also wants gun owners to register their weapons with the State Law Enforcement Division so there is an accurate tracking system.



Petition asks high court to rule SC’s domestic violence law unconstitutional

SC Supreme Court building in Columbia (File)

SC Supreme Court building in Columbia (File)

Attorneys representing an abused Midlands woman say state domestic violence laws do not adequately protect the battered partners of same-sex relationships.

The team representing the woman (who is anonymous in court documents) petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday after a Richland County court would not grant an emergency order of protection to a woman who said she was assaulted and choked by her lesbian ex-fiancé. The court ruled that South Carolina’s law only covers “household members,” which is defined as spouses, ex-spouses, and a current or former cohabitating relationship between a man and woman.

“So you have victims of domestic abuse who are in same-sex relationships who receive no cover whatsoever and no protection under the law,” attorney Bakari Sellers told South Carolina Radio Network. The former Democratic state lawmaker and fellow attorney Alexandra Benevento are petitioning the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional since it does not provide equal protection for cohabiting same-sex couples.

The lawsuit’s existence was first reported by the Charleston Post & Courier on Wednesday.

The South Carolina legislature just revamped the state’s domestic violence law this past year to create tougher penalties for repeat offenders and to base the severity of each charge on the accusation itself, rather than the number of previous incidents. There was no public debate or conversation at the time about expanding the definition of “household members.” Sellers himself said he learned about the apparent gap while researching this particular case.

Sellers said he is not asking the court to throw out the law. “We don’t want to destroy the tent,” he said. “We just want to let more people under it.”

The state Attorney General’s Office has 20 days to respond to the petition.

Surfside Beach attorney wins GOP runoff for open SC House seat

Russell Fry (Image:

Russell Fry (Image:

A Surfside Beach attorney who is active in the Horry County GOP won the party’s runoff Tuesday for an open South Carolina House seat.

Russell Fry will almost certainly win next month’s special election, as no Democrat or third party candidate is running in the conservative House District 106. He could still face a write-in opponent on September 15, but no one has yet filed.

The State Election Commission tallied Fry with nearly 60 percent of Tuesday’s runoff vote to Horry County Councilman Tyler Servant’s 40 percent. Fry also had the most votes in the July 28 party primary, but did not reach the 50 percent mark required under state law.

Fry said he was humbled with Tuesday’s win. “Anytime you run against a sitting county councilman from a name recognition standpoint, (Councilman Servant) certainly had it,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So for us to come in first by such a wide margin was really shocking to me. But I think the message that we were talking about when we were knocking on doors and making phone calls really resonated with voters.”

[Read more…]