January 28, 2015

SC House votes to permanently ban leadership PACs

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia,(Image: SCETV)

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia,(Image: SCETV)

South Carolina lawmakers took another step towards ending leadership PACs in South Carolina, as the House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to no longer allow their members to have the groups.

The 115-1 vote had been expected, as the House had already voted last year to change their own rules and no longer allow members to operate such groups. The state Senate has had a similar ban for years. The bill approved on Tuesday would make the bans permanent law.

Legislative PACs (or “non-candidate committees,” as they’re called in state law) are political action committees with ties to a particular lawmaker or elected official. While they cannot directly funnel donations to that lawmaker, they can donate to a second candidate. Some watchdog groups like the South Carolina Policy Council and Common Cause have warned those campaign chests gave already-powerful chairmen or leaders even more influence over junior members.

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Supreme Court rejects request to reconsider school funding decision

SC Supreme Court building in Columbia (File)

SC Supreme Court building in Columbia (File)

(Editor’s note: The initial version of this article incorrectly stated that all five justices supported Friday’s order. While all five signed the order, two justices noted they would have granted a rehearing)

The South Carolina Supreme Court has rejected a request to reconsider its ruling last year that South Carolina was not meeting its constitutional obligation to educate children.

The court issued the order on Friday, according to the Columbia Free Times.

A set of filings from Gov. Nikki Haley, Attorney General Alan Wilson, and Republican leaders of the state House and Senate had asked the court to rehear the case. Haley’s response noted legislation passed last year which created additional funding for poorer, rural schools. The legislative filings claimed the court overstepped its limits and that its orders on what to do next were too vague.

But the Supreme Court justices were unconvinced. “We are unable to discover that any material fact or principle of law has been either overlooked or disregarded, and hence, there is no basis for granting a rehearing,” the justices wrote. The court had ruled 3-2 in its November decision.

The court had spent years deliberating the case Abbeville v. State of South Carolina, a lawsuit involving eight poor school districts along the Interstate 95 Corridor (popularly known as the “Corridor of Shame” after a critical 2006 documentary of the same name). The justices eventually ruled the state was not meeting a “minimally adequate” standard of education for those students and had not been for decades.

The ruling did not include any remedies, but ordered the affected districts and state officials to identify problems facing students and come up with strategies to address them.

It’s not clear if the court’s refusal will still have any effect on legislators this year, who cannot agree on what a solution would even look like. There is an expectation that any solution would include more funding for rural schools, but even the court was purposely vague on that point. House Speaker Jay Lucas created a new task force of lawmakers, educators and business leaders last week to come up with possible solutions, but it appears highly unlikely any major overhaul will occur before the legislature adjourns in June.

“I am hopeful that the House Education Task Force will immediately begin its work to develop a robust strategy that ensures every child is given access to the best possible education in every part of our state,” Lucas said in an emailed statement. He noted that four members of the task force were educators from the affected districts.

SC Big Story: Uber hearing date set after emergency meeting

Johnny Gardner, the director of the anti-abortion group Voice of the Unborn speaks during a pro-life rally in the Statehouse on Thursday

Johnny Gardner, the director of the anti-abortion group Voice of the Unborn speaks during a pro-life rally in the Statehouse on Thursday

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

State regulators have agreed to speed up the hearing process for the ridesharing app Uber, as the controversial company applies for a certificate those same regulators say it needs.

The South Carolina Public Service Commission set the February 23 hearing date after an emergency meeting on Thursday. The commission has received pushback from Gov. Nikki Haley and state legislators after it issued a cease-and-desist order last week. The PSC said Uber must get a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which is required for any commercial motor vehicle carrier in South Carolina.

Uber is in the process of applying for a Class C license, even as it argues it is not a taxi service because it only offers a way to connect passengers with drivers. Taxi companies insist Uber gets a competitive edge by not following the same regulations as them.

Gov. Nikki Haley filed a letter with commissioners shortly after they issued the order, calling it “extremely disappointing” and a “roadblock.” Meanwhile, State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, has filed a bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives that would allow Uber to operate.

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SC House panel OK’s shortening window for abortions

State Rep. Wendy Nanney (File image: SCETV)

State Rep. Wendy Nanney (File image: SCETV)

South Carolina House lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy.

In a unanimous vote, the House panel of four Republicans and one Democrat allowed the bill to clear its first hurdle Thursday by unanimously passing it up to the House Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation passed the House in 2014, but opponents prevented it from reaching a vote in the Senate.

Currently, South Carolina bans abortions after 23 weeks — which is when it considers a fetus to be “viable,” or potentially able to survive outside the mother’s womb. The bill’s sponsor State Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, argues whether or not a fetus can feel pain after 19 weeks should be considered.

“As human beings, we’re not going to intentionally inflict pain on a little baby,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.

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Domestic violence bill, with new gun ban, advances in SC Senate

The bill's sponsor Sen. Larry Martin said concerns about gun rights need to be weighed against South Carolina's high murder rate (Image: SCETV)

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Larry Martin said concerns about gun rights need to be weighed against South Carolina’s high murder rate (Image: SCETV)

After hours of sometimes heated debate, a state Senate committee decided to bar any individuals convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns for up to 10 years.

That language received the most debate during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday. Committee members voted to advance the bill to the full Senate floor after defeating several proposed amendments that would have eased or eliminated the ban.

“We in state government have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in South Carolina, and tragically, that too often ends up being members of an abuser’s household,” committee chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said in a statement. “South Carolina has been among the worst in the nation in domestic violence for far too long, and I’m hopeful the full Senate will address this bill quickly.”

The approved wording would bar gun ownership for anyone convicted on any domestic violence level. The new bill creates three degrees of domestic violence, based on the severity of the incident or assault. Current law escalates the penalties based on whether it is the first, second or third occurrence.

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