May 5, 2015

SC House sends LGBT anti-discrimination bill back to committee

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford speaks during a small rally before Tuesday's vote

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford speaks during a small rally before Tuesday’s vote

The South Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday sent back to committee a bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, effectively ending any debate on it this year.

In a 79-34 vote, Republicans shot down a Democratic effort to bring the bill up for a vote without going through the normal committee process. While all “no” votes were Democrats, five members of the minority party did vote in favor of recommitting the bill.

The move to recommit a bill to committee is not debatable under House rules. However, Democrats led by Minority Leader Todd Rutherford had anticipated the move beforehand and called a press conference to make their own statements.

“One day, this issue will be looked upon as ‘What was the big deal?” State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said. “We are not at that day yet.” [Read more…]

South Carolina will host Democratic presidential candidates debate

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is expected to participate in any debates (File)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is expected to participate in any debates (File)

South Carolina will host one of the six debates for Democratic presidential candidates this upcoming primary race, the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday.

The specific locations and dates have not yet been set. The DNC said Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire will also be the sites for the debates. All four states are early primary sites. The party says it also held six debates in the 2008 presidential race.

“We’ve always believed that we would have a competitive primary process, and that debates would be an important part of that process,” DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress – no matter whom our nominee may be.”

Two Democratic candidates have officially entered the race so far, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Other candidates are expected to announce their bids in the coming months.

Each of the debates will be televised, although those details would also be hammered out at a future date.

Lindsey Graham: Air Force wrong on A-10 retirement

Image: US Air Force

Image: US Air Force

Republicans who serve on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee vowed Tuesday to block the Pentagon’s plans to retire the A-10 “Warthog” attack jet.

“If it’s just money, let’s find money to make sure it keeps flying,” South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, who serves on the committee, said during a press briefing Tuesday. “I respect those who wear the uniform, but we have an independent duty to make sure what they’re advising us makes sense. In the case of the A-10, the Air Force position makes no sense.”

The committee plans to vote on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) next week, which authorizes Pentagon spending and activities. Graham, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH vowed to prohibit the Air Force from taking any steps to retire the aircraft.

Supporters of the A-10 note the versatile plane played a large role in protecting soldiers during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Air Force wants to retire the plane in favor of newer aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Pentagon says other aircraft could perform air support just as adequately as the aging A-10, which was first introduced to the military in 1977. The Air Force estimates it could save $4 billion over the next five years with the transition.

But Graham and others argue the F-35 is not ready and continues to experience problems during tests.

Ethics Committee allows Upstate lawmaker to use campaign funds towards fine

(Image: SCETV)

State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, (SCETV)

An Upstate legislator who was fined $16,100 and ordered to repay more than $7,400 to his campaign account last year has reached an agreement that would allow him to pay both simultaneously, dropping the potential total down so it would essentially only include the fine.

An attorney representing State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, told the House Ethics Committee Tuesday that Mitchell has been struggling financially ever since he pleaded guilty to two counts of not paying his taxes on time in 2012. Mitchell’s attorney, former House Republican Doug Smith said his client is “in recovery mode” after repaying nearly $6,000, plus the costs of prosecution and the heavy fees charged by his own attorney in that case.

“I can tell you there isn’t any effort to try to fool this committee,” Smith told the committee members. “He has done everything he can, I think, to try to get things back square and settled.” Smith said Mitchell has already paid $4,600 towards his fine.

Last year, the Ethics Committee fined Mitchell $16,100 for either improperly spending campaign funds or not providing documentation to show the money was used legitimately. An order issued by the committee last year stated Mitchell reported no expenditures or contributions at all in his campaign account for a period of 51 months from 2008 until 2013. The committee also ordered the legislator to repay more than $7,800 he had converted into cash to use on dry cleaning, cell phone bills, and even paying for a hurricane-displaced family to stay in an area hotel. Mitchell previously called the irregularities “sloppy bookkeeping,” but denied personally benefitting from the money.

Mitchell has set up a monthly payment installment plan to pay $2,300 per month until his fine is settled. However, Smith said neither he nor Mitchell realized the legislator was allowed to send the monthly installments to his campaign account, then use the money to pay off the fine. House Ethics Committee Chair Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, noted the committee allows that option. State law allows candidates to use campaign funds to pay for ethical violations related to their office.

This payment structure would allow Mitchell to pay off the balance by September.

Mitchell was once the director of Regenesis Economic Development, a nonprofit he founded that worked to redevelop contaminated former industrial sites in the Spartanburg region. However he said Tuesday that he is no longer operating the group.


Three SC cities named as potential sites for new minor league basketball team

Hornets logoThree South Carolina cities are being named as potential sites for a future minor league basketball team starting in the 2016-2017 season.

Hornets Sports & Entertainment — the parent company that owns the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets basketball team — announced Monday that Requests for Proposals (RFPs) were sent to seven cities in both Carolinas. Hornet Sports is trying to start its own minor league affiliate in the NBA Development League after not having a sole affiliate for their first 14 years of existence.

Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville were included on the list announced by the team on Monday. The North Carolina cities getting a request for proposals include Asheville, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Raleigh.

If one of those cities is chosen, it would be the league’s first Southern team. The closest D-League affiliate to South Carolina this year is located in Newark, Delaware — more than 460 miles from the state border.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” Hornets Sports & Entertainment President & COO Fred Whitfield said in a statement. “The decision to take steps toward launching our own D-League club is yet another example of our owner’s long-term commitment to our franchise and continues to show his willingness to invest in the resources needed to improve our basketball team.”

Whitfield added that he thought a D-League team would expand the Hornets brand regionally by having a presence in an additional market.

Similar to baseball’s Minor Leagues, NBA teams that do have sole affiliates in the D-League will often promote those players to their team’s roster when dealing with injured or struggling starters.