July 25, 2014

Legislators reverse themselves, vote for allowance increase after voting it down

SC House (File)

SC House (File)

South Carolina House lawmakers made an abrupt switch Tuesday, choosing to give themselves an increased allowance just minutes after they had voted to reject the idea.

The governor last week struck down budget language that would have doubled legislators’ in-district expense allowances. In a 73-39 roll call, House leaders initially failed to get a two-thirds vote that was needed to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto. But legislators tried again just moments later and were successful in a 73-29 vote after a net ten Republicans who had voted “no” did not cast their votes a second time. The measure now heads to the Senate, where it passed without a veto-proof majority in May.

The new proviso would allow lawmakers to be reimbursed for up to $2,000 each month (up to $24,000 per year) for in-district expenses related to their job, such as office costs or phone bills. That would be an increase from the current $1,000. State legislators currently receive a $10,400 per-year salary as part of their job in addition to the in-district reimbursements.

Gov. Haley was furious about the vote, calling it “unreal” in a Twitter post. “Unreal. The House just reconsidered & voted themselves a pay raise,” Haley tweeted. “After the vote failed Rep. (Rick) Quinn (R-Lexington) asked for it to be taken up again. Those who voted “Y” or “NV” (not voting) supported raising their own pay. Thank those who voted “N” and stood with us.”

[Read more...]

Vote delayed on likely interim lieutenant governor

Sen. Yancey McGill (D-Kingstree)

Sen. Yancey McGill (D-Kingstree)

State Senate Republicans on Tuesday delayed a vote that would likely choose the next lieutenant governor in South Carolina.

Current Republican Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell plans to leave for the College of Charleston presidency once his replacement is chosen. Under the state constitution, the Senate President Pro Tempore is required to then assume the lieutenant governor’s post once it becomes vacant.

But previous President Pro Tem John Courson resigned two weeks ago to avoid giving up his powerful Senate post for the largely ceremonial position. The only man who has expressed publicly his interest in the job is Democratic State Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg.

McGill had been hoping for a vote on Tuesday. He declined to speak on the record afterwards.

Senators need to elect a new president pro tempore to replace McConnell when he does resign. But Republicans appear unwilling to give up the Lieutenant Governor’s Office — a  post they’ve occupied for 20 years — just yet. By a narrow 23-22 margin, Republicans voted to adjourn on Tuesday minutes before the Senate President Pro Tempore race would have appeared on the agenda. Five Republicans sided with all Democrats against adjourning. The vote was surprising because the chamber had voted 23-22 just moments earlier to take up the President Pro Tem’s election (Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, defected).

State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said one Republican senator is potentially interested in the job. But he would not say who.

“Look, I’m a Republican,” he said after the vote. “And I’ve got the possibility of electing a Republican as the next lieutenant governor. He just asked to think about it, talk with his family and friends overnight. I’m going to try and honor that request, if I can.”

But Democrats accused Republicans of wasting time for political reasons. “I didn’t think it would get to the point where we’d have lost a whole day and not get any work done because of a fight that’s on the other side of the aisle,” State Sen. John Scott, D-Richland said.

Whoever becomes lieutenant governor would have to give up their Senate seat to hold the position for just six months, when voters would elect a replacement.

Harrell maintains his case should not be up to Grand Jury

House Speaker Bobby Harrell

House Speaker Bobby Harrell

Attorneys for House Speaker Bobby Harrell say the State Grand Jury does not have the power to investigate one of the state’s most powerful politicians, maintaining that alleged ethics violations against him are not criminal in nature.

In filings with the state Supreme Court Monday, Columbia attorney Bobby Stepp maintained the speaker’s arguments that any ethics complaint should go to the House Ethics Committee. State Attorney General Alan Wilson has previously argued that the ethics committee has a conflict of interest due to Harrell’s influence in the South Carolina House.

But Stepp argued previous rulings have made it clear the House Ethics Committee has jurisdiction over ethics cases. “The Attorney General has no statutory or constitutional right unilaterally to declare that the House Ethics Committee has a conflict of interest and thereby appropriate the investigation of alleged violations of the Ethics Act to himself,” the brief stated.

Wilson’s office is appealing a ruling by Circuit Judge Casey Manning in May that agreed the Attorney General’s Office lacked the proper jurisdiction to investigate a civil ethics complaint. Judge Manning declared the Grand Jury investigation null and void.

The South Carolina Policy Council filed the complaint with the AG’s Office last year, accusing Harrell of misusing campaign money and abusing his position to benefit a pharmacy he owns. Wilson forwarded the case to the State Law Enforcement Division for further investigation. In January, he sent SLED’s findings to the State Grand Jury. Harrell has repeatedly insisted he’s done nothing illegal.

Harrell stayed on that point Monday, “The Attorney General’s appeal of Judge Manning’s ruling was a political document designed to grab headlines. My attorneys’ response is a concise recitation of the law, legal precedents and the Constitution,” he said in a statement.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides on June 24.


Haley vetoes 76 budget items, $18.5 million in spending (AUDIO)

Gov. Nikki Haley’s list of $18.5 million she wants out of the new state spending plan includes what she calls “dozens of earmarks and directed appropriations that benefit special interests at the expense of the general public.”

She presented her explanation of 76 veto items to the Legislature on Thursday. Lawmakers return to the Statehouse Tuesday, June 17, to decided which of those cuts will stand.

Read entire summary of Haley vetoes here.   Watch video of the press conference.

“We’ve gotten people angry about soccer fields and boats and swimming pools, you name it. Yeah this stuff is personal for them, ” Haley said in a press conference. “I lot of what legislators do is do things for their constituents. The hard part for me is I understand what they are trying to do, but I have a role to play.”

Lt. Gov. McConnell requested extra funds in the budget to help caregivers for the aging. (File)

Lt. Gov. McConnell requested extra funds in the budget to help caregivers for the aging. (File)

Included in her veto list are $2 million dollars for the Office on Aging to help pay for home and community-based caregivers. The program is under Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s budget and an increase he has pushed for this year. Haley’s reasoning is that the Lt. Gov’s Office recurring funding has increased by 31 percent.

McConnell argued in his request that offering home-based services saves the state money and keeps the state’s seniors out of expensive nursing homes.

“It’s not that we don’t think that there’s legitimacy to that; it’s too much too fast,” Haley told media. “I know that that’s the presumption of it but that’s not the fact of it. We need to make sure that’s a fact before we allow it to grow that fast.”

“We can look at it again next year and see if that is something that works well.”

The governor also shot down a pay increase for the General Assembly. Lawmakers have set aside an $12,000 each for reimbursement for district offices.

“This not the way to do, this is not the time to do it. The other concern was that this wasn’t just a $12,000 pay raise, it was also added to their compensation so it was a pension increase slipped in last-minute. There’s just a lot of negative things that go with that,” Haley said.

She did not veto the Legislature’s punishment of certain schools for gay and lesbian content they found offensive. When questioned about that, Haley stood by her earlier stance that:  “I don’t believe legislators should micromanage boards and commissions. To go in there and micromanage books that are being read and things like that, I just don’t believe that’s in our purview.”

“Having said that, the spent quite a bit of time talking through the compromise to this budget. We just didn’t want to interject ourselves into that,” she added.

Haley also avoided drastic cuts to the South Carolina Arts Commission in the coming budget.

“We don’t hit on people for the sake of hitting on people (in this budget)…the Arts Commission should be applauded for making the changes and reducing expenses that were not necessary,” she said.

Statehouse elections: 2 incumbents fall, 1 more barely wins

State Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson

State Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson

While only a handful of the 124 South Carolina House of Representatives members faced a serious primary challenge Tuesday, at least two will not be returning to the House next year.

Challengers on Tuesday defeated a pair of incumbents in Tuesday’s GOP primary that had 26 combined years of legislative experience between them. Another longtime member narrowly avoided a bigger upset.

Anderson Tea Party founder Jonathon Hill defeated four-term State Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson, with 57 percent of the vote to the incumbent’s 43 percent. Bowen, a more moderate Republican, had survived two previous challenges from the right since 2010. The defeat came just a day after Gov. Nikki Haley signed a texting-while-driving ban he had spent five years pushing. Hill said he entered the race because he thought Bowen was ineffective at representing his constituents’ interests.

No Democrat has filed to run. [Read more...]