The South Carolina General Assembly kicked off a long week as a debate on the budget began Monday morning.
The House broke for lunch after getting the non-controversial parts of its budget out of the way. Legislators will move on to the more heated issues in the afternoon.
Protesters gathered in the Statehouse lobby during the session, chanting “Stop the cuts!” Led by several progressive and educational groups, they were upset about millions of dollars in expected cuts to Medicaid and K-through-12 education. They cleared the lobby by lunchtime.
Among the sections adopted in the morning was a proviso that would double the fee lobbyists pay to register in South Carolina. The new fee would go up to two hundred dollars, with the revenue being divided evenly between the State Ethics Commission (which collects the fees) and the Legislature’s General Fund.
Another proviso would prevent members of the State Ethics Commission from giving their personal opinions on investigations they are conducting. Several legislators, led by Rep. Murrell Smith (R-Sumter), sought to muzzle the Commission after its lawyer Cathy Hazelwod publicly commented on the investigation of Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard to the Free Times (Columbia).
Legislators also voted to increase funding for the state’s residential schools- the Will Lou Gray Opportunity School, the School for the Deaf and Blind, John de la Howe School, and the Governor’s Schools– after years of cuts. The budget lines direct the schools to use the additional funding to bring their student bodies back to full capacity.
Also among the other budget items legislators approved:
-eliminating a proviso that prevents the Administrative Law Court from raising the filing fee it charges
-cutting roughly $100,000 from the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services
-eliminating $300,000 from the State Library
Legislators are scheduled to take up the more controversial parts of the budget in the afternoon. The Republican leadership hopes to be able to pass on a final version to the Senate by Friday.