–Legislators in both the House and Senate advanced similar bills that try to crack down on a type of gaming that law enforcement officials consider to be video poker by another name. Known as “sweepstakes” machines, their use is increasing in South Carolina.
A look at what’s making headlines in the state Capitol. (Click here for a schedule of Thursday’s events)
–The House also passed legislation that substantially increases the fines for a person caught fraudulently collecting unemployment benefits. Under a bill by Rep. Bill Sandifer (R-Seneca), a person would be charged $5,000 for a first offense. It passed the House 64-48 and now heads to the Senate. Many Republicans jumped ship (and multiple Democrats supported the bill) after a late amendment doubled the amount of benefits a part-time worker could receive while still working.
–Family and friends held a candlelight vigil at the Statehouse Wednesday night for missing lobbyist Tom Sponseller. He has not been seen since Saturday. About 300 people gathered on the building’s steps to sing, pray, and tell stories about Sponseller. Police, meanwhile, are not publicly releasing any new leads in their search.
–The House agreed with Senate amendments on a bill that would not allow a hospital to perform an autopsy on a person who died within 24 hours of surgery in that hospital. Sponsor Thad Viers (R-Myrtle Beach) says the intention is to make sure an independent investigator can determine if human error caused the death. The bill now heads to Governor Nikki Haley.
–A single senator is holding up the nomination of Department of Health & Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton. Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) said Templeton is not qualified to run the large agency and that she should move to Columbia to do the job. Leventis spoke for nearly four hours until there was no longer a quorum present on the Senate floor.
–The House Ways & Means Committee continued budget talks Wednesday, with the committee agreeing to a 2 percent raise for state employees. Committee members also voted to add $153 million to a key funding formula that primarily goes towards teachers’ salaries. The House will likely vote on the proposal next week.
–A Senate panel voted to advance a moratorium to stop creating new “official” state symbols. The resolution by Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) would cap the current list of official symbols (including the state bird, state fruit, etc) at 45. Supporters say the public often gets the impression legislators waste their time voting on the symbols.
–Lawmakers are debating the best way to regulate small bakeries run out of a kitchen. It is technically illegal under current state law to sell home-baked goods for a fee. Legislators are hoping to change that with a pair of bills that would allow a person to sell goods at a bake sale without needing a state inspection of their kitchen.
–Several groups representing government employees are lobbying members of the House not to dramatically cut their pensions, as lawmakers continue to examine what changes need to be made. The state pension system currently faces an estimated $14 billion liability.