The biggest story in the South Carolina Statehouse Tuesday was the suspension of state Rep. Harold Mitchell (D-Spartanburg), who faces charges from the state Department of Revenue of failing to pay taxes over a four-year period. State law requires the suspension once a legislator is formally indicted of a felony. Mitchell maintains he is innocent.
— In the Senate, all 46 members voted on a resolution that suspends the Department of Health and Environmental Control board’s decision to approve the Savannah River dredging. Legislators have previously shown their disapproval of the decision, saying it hurt South Carolina environmentally and economically. Back in November, senators even went so far as to subpoena members of Governor Nikki Haley’s staff to determine the role her office had played in the decision.
— The Senate Judiciary Committee passed out legislation Tuesday that would give the General Assembly a larger role in any proposed new regulations by state agencies. Right now, new proposed regulations can become law if legislators do not act on them within 120 days. The bill would force lawmakers to act once that 120-day window closes.
— A Senate Finance subcommittee voted to move forward on a bill that would clarify how some residential properties could be taxed. The legislation by Sen. Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) would treat a property as an owner-occupied home so long as it is not rented out for more than 90 days per year. There is currently no specific requirement on the number of days. Rental properties are usually taxed at a higher rate than homes.
— A special committee has narrowly voted to restrict future construction along the state’s coast. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Ocean Development voted to move the coastal setback line– how close new structures can be built to the ocean– back to 50 feet. That would be a big increase from the current 20 feet. The committee will report its recommendations this spring to DHEC, who will then pass them on for legislative approval in 2013.
–Governor Haley will make her second annual State of the State speech Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. She is expected to focus on her proposal for income tax reform and a new jobs training program her administration hopes to roll out.
— A Medical Affairs subcommittee will hear testimony about a bill that would protect doctors and other medical staffers who refuse to perform euthanasia and stem cell research. The bill by Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester) passed the House last year. Democrats object to a section that would also ban insurance providers from covering abortions as part of their basic plans.
— A Labor, Commerce, and Industry subcommittee will examine a bill by Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson) that would only allow an unemployed seasonal worker to collect unemployment benefits based on what that worker would have received during the seasonal period.
— House budget writers continue their weeks of hearings as they field funding requests from different government agencies. Some highlights Wednesday include the Governor’s Office, SCETV, DMV, the Department of Transportation, and Clemson University.
— An Agriculture subcommittee will hear testimony on a proposed law that would protect nonprofit groups which sponsor horse rides. A bill by Rep. Tom Young (R-Aiken) would give the sponsor immunity from a potential lawsuit from any injuries due to trail riding.
— A Judiciary subcommittee will consider a bill by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) that reforms several rules in the state’s family court system. The bill would clarify how “joint custody” and “sole custody” are to be determined in a child custody case.
— A retirement ad hoc committee will meet to discuss the best way to move forward on proposed changes to the state’s retirement system. The committee held several hearings last fall to determine how to keep the state’s employee retirement pension system solvent as it faces a $14 billion liability in the future.
— Another judiciary subcommittee will meet to hear testimony on a bill by Rep. Jim Harrison (R-Columbia) that would clarify the types of criminal cases that can be transferred to a magistrate’s court.