The top story out of the South Carolina Statehouse Wednesday may not have been any new legislation, but instead a low-profile testimony from the director of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Kevin Shwedo told members of a House judiciary subcommittee that his agency’s cross-matching of state voter rolls found that at least 900 dead voters were listed as casting ballots in recent elections.
Shwedo’s comments came a day after state Attorney General Alan Wilson announced his office would sue the U.S. Justice Department after the federal agency blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law. Justice Department officials maintain the law was discriminatory against older minorities, who are less likely to have a state-issued photo ID.
— The House was able to unanimously pass a bill that officially creates a state Inspector General office. The bill now heads to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature. The position would be tasked with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in state government. Haley appointed an Inspector General last year through executive order, but the current IG was limited by the lack of a legal definition of his job. The legislation was pushed by Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) — who ran against Haley in 2010.
—Two other bills will also head to the governor after passing the Senate Wednesday. One bill tweaks state regulations regarding modular homes. Modular homes are prefabricated buildings that are assembled in sections and put together on-site. The law clarifies that modular homes originally built as display models can be moved to South Carolina for residential use if they meet certain conditions. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach)
The second bill would put a new fee system into place for very heavy trucks, called “megaloads.” Currently, any trucking company that hauls oversized loads across the state has to receive a special permit from the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The agency has a schedule of fees for different types of loads, with the exception of those above 500,000 pounds. The new permit fee would charge five cents per mile for each thousand pounds over 500,000 pounds. Currently, the SCDOT negotiates the rates on a case-by-case basis. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Daning (R-Goose Creek).
— The Senate amended a House bill that would require wastewater utilities to notify the state Department of Health and Environmental Control whenever it had three sewage spills of 5,000 gallons or more in a 12-month period. The bill was a compromise between environmental groups and the utilities and was sponsored by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens).
— The House rejected a pair of Senate bills that would have allowed two school districts (Hampton District 2 and Colleton County) to issue bonds to pay for day-to-day activities. Republicans in the body said it was irresponsible to pay operating costs with borrowed money. Some Democrats said the money was badly needed. Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D-Ridgeland) sponsored both bills.
— The House also passed legislation that clarifies students can attend the 60 schools of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools to meet the state’s education requirements. The schools were already authorized by the state Department of Education, but the organization itself was not recognized in statute.
— A Senate Agriculture subcommittee approved a new fee from DHEC at its meeting Wednesday. The “water sampling fee” is needed due to new federal water testing requirements, the agency said.
— And Democrats on a House budget committee ripped Education Superintendent Mick Zais for not seeking a pay increase for teachers. Zais was asking the panel to keep the state’s $1,900 per-pupil base student cost intact, but did not ask for an increase, either. Democrats say that a funding formula required by state law dictates the number should be nearly $2,800. Legislators have ignored the law as state revenues plummeted during the recent recession.
A Senate judiciary panel will consider a bill by Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) that requires auto demolishers to ensure that a car is not stolen before crushing it. Martin said he has gotten complaints from constituents that thieves are stealing cars and selling them for metal. He said the cars are often destroyed before police find them.
The state’s job agency director will testify about tougher requirements for jobless benefits during a meeting with the Labor, Commerce, and Industry committee. Among other changes, Department of Employment and Workforce director Abraham Turner said employees fired for misconduct will now only receive four weeks of unemployment pay, rather than the 10 weeks currently allowed.
A Medical Affairs panel will discuss a bill by Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) that would give DHEC more power to regulate drugs. Right now, only the Legislature has the ability ban any substances when it’s in session. The issue cropped up when officials wanted to ban synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” last fall, but lacked the authority to do so. Health officials fear the General Assembly cannot respond fast enough as new compounds pop up. The bill lists over 100 chemicals that could be regulated.
House leaders will host an economic outlook presentation for all House members. The briefing will be led by the Richmond Federal Reserve.
A joint special committee tasked with finding ways to help the state’s microenterprises is scheduled to vote on its recommendations. Microenterprises are defined as having five employees or fewer. They make up most of the state’s businesses. The committee was set up last year in the hope it would find ways to foster growth in the sector.