–The South Carolina Senate, after five weeks of debate, finally cleared a hurdle on its restructuring bill Tuesday, voting 36-2 to adopt an amendment that abolishes the Budget and Control Board and divides its responsibilities between the legislature and a new Cabinet-level Department of Administration. Senators adjourned before passing the entire bill, however.
–The Senate also sent to Haley a bill by Rep. Karl Allen (D-Greenville) that allows Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to be classified as a “special needs account customer” for any public utility. In other words, a person with Alzheimer’s would be treated under special procedures by the utility before their power and/or water is shut off due to nonpayment.
–The House, meanwhile, approved Senate amendments and sent to the governor a bill by Rep. Eric Bedingfield (R-York) that would eliminate a law requiring South Carolina wineries to only sell wine with a majority of in-state berries and fruit in the juice. Supporters say the move will help expand the state’s wine industry, which is only able to sell specialty Muscatine wines under current rules.
–The House unanimously passed a bill by Rep. Mike Sottile (R-Isle of Palms) that would extend the statute of limitations against public officials charged with ethics violations. It would allow the official to be charged anytime they are in public office, rather than within four years of the incident.
–Over the objections of Democrats, the House Judiciary Committee sent to the floor a bill by Rep. Eddie Tallon (R-Spartanburg) that would bar a person from receiving unemployment benefits if they fail an employer’s drug test. Republicans say the worker is not “ready and able” to work, as the law requires for the benefits. Democrats accused the GOP of unreasonably targeting the jobless.
–The Judiciary Committee also advanced a bill that overhauls the Department of Transportation. The bill by Rep. Jay Lucas (R-Hartsville) would, among other things, eliminate the seven-member Transportation Commission responsible for approving highway projects and instead give much of that power to the Secretary of Transportation appointed by the governor.
–Attorneys for House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) and Senate President pro tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) argued the two top legislators are protected from testifying in a lawsuit against new House districts approved last year. The suit accuses the GOP-controlled legislature of dividing the districts in a way that minimized the impact of minority voters. However, Harrell and McConnell say they cannot be questioned on the deliberations of their respective bodies.
–State Attorney General Alan Wilson formally filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department, saying it was wrong in blocking South Carolina’s voter identification law last December. The suit disputes the feds’ findings that the law would likely discriminate against minorities.
–House leaders announced they will go on furlough for three different weeks this session, starting next Tuesday. Harrell announced the body would not meet the weeks before and after Easter, as well.
–The first candidate has apparently declared for the race to succeed longtime State Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter), who announced last week that he will not seek reelection. Eddie Drayton stated his intentions over the weekend, but laid out some of his platforms during a meeting of the First Tuesday Club, according to a tweet from The State newspaper’s Adam Beam.
–Governor Haley will welcome the 2011 University of South Carolina baseball team to the Statehouse Wednesday morning. The team will then visit the House and Senate chambers to be recognized as part of “Carolina Day” at the Statehouse.
–Senate budget writers will start their budget hearings this week. A Finance subcommittee will hear from officials with the Secretary of State’s office and the Department of Transportation Wednesday.
–A Medical Affairs panel will examine a bill by Sen. Mike Rose (R-Summerville) that would put tougher restrictions in place on “residential treatment facilities” for children and teens. Among other rules, the centers could not be located within 1,000 feet of certain public places, such as parks or schools. Rose drafted the bill after a series of high-profile escapes from the Palmetto Behavioral Health facility– a center for troubled teens in Summerville.
–A Fish, Game, & Forestry subcommittee will take up some minor bills, including one by Sen. Ronnie Cromer (R-Prosperity) that makes it illegal to hunt deer with firearms near a residence without the owner’s permission.
–The Senate Education Committee will consider a pair of military student bills– one by Sen. Darrell Jackson (D-Columbia) would allow active-duty military personnel to pay less for some college courses… Another by Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) would make it easier for military children to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities regardless of whether that child has a parent in the school district.
–A Transportation subcommittee will consider a series of bills that reform the state Department of Transportation. Senators are keeping an eye on the House bill mentioned above.
–A Judiciary subcommittee will debate a “cleanup bill” to fix some permit problems with a law passed last year that requires a copper seller to obtain a permit. Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D-Ridgeland) says there are some minor problems with last year’s law, although he says the law has helped reduce copper theft by 200 percent.
–Senate Banking and Insurance members will hold a hearing on a bill by Rep. Bill Sandifer (R-Seneca) that would tweak how insurance companies could report their assets.
–An Environmental Affairs subcommittee will hear a bill by Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach) that tries to reverse a Supreme Court decision last year that allowed members of the public to sue pollution violators, whereas previous interpretations only allowed the state’s environmental agency to bring suit.
–An ad hoc retirement committee will hear several different proposals on how to tweak the age and years requirements for South Carolina’s pension system. The committee is trying to deal with an estimated $13 billion future liability in the retirement system.
–A Higher Education subcommittee will consider a bill by Rep. Nathan Ballentine (R-Chapin) that would require the South Carolina and Clemson football teams to play each other at least once every year.
–A Criminal Laws subcommittee will consider another bill by Sandifer that would make it so that a person found guilty of homicide by child abuse would face either life in prison or even the death penalty. Currently, there is a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
–The Special Laws subcommittee will consider a proposal by Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) that would not allow state agencies to charge more than the “fair market rates” to compile Freedom of Information Act requests.
–The Education and Public Works Committee will consider several bills, including the “Jason Flatt Act” by Rep. Phil Owens (R-Easley) which requires middle and high school employees to complete two hours of youth suicide prevention training when they renew their certification… Another bill by Rep. Don Bowen (R-Anderson) seeks to ban texting while driving.
–A Constitutional Laws subcommittee will hear testimony on a bill by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) that would allow gold and silver coins to be used as legal tender in South Carolina.