Headlines from the state Capitol Thursday:
–It took an extra two days, but senators eventually followed the House Thursday and overrode Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill blocking the Savannah River dredging project. That means the resolution, which retroactively suspends a water quality certification approved by an environmental board last year, becomes law.
–Rep. Jim Harrison (R-Columbia), who has spent nearly 18 years as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he will retire at the end of the year. Harrison is one of the few remaining Republicans who were in the House while it was still under Democratic control. He was appointed chair of the Judiciary Committee after Republicans won the House in 1994.
–Meanwhile, the Aiken Standard is reporting that another veteran from the pre-GOP days will not be coming back after November. Sen. Greg Ryberg (R-Aiken) said he will not run for re-election this year. Ryberg was first elected in 1992 and has earned a reputation for his hard stance on finance issues. He is chairman of the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee. He has also twice run unsuccessfully for state Treasurer in 2002 and 2006.
–Republicans in the House are confident they will have the votes to pass a school choice bill this year. Previous efforts over the past decade have failed to make it out of either the House or Senate. But new freshmen members, lower proposed tax deductions, (and a GOP primary this summer) are giving supporters hope the bill will at least clear the House– but likely fail in the Senate. Opponents say they cannot support taking dollars away from public schools to pay for private education.
–A bill barring the state from paying for a prison inmate’s sex change operation passed a Senate committee. The Senate Corrections and Penology Committee voted to advance the bill to the full Senate Thursday. Prison officials say only one inmate has ever asked for the procedure, but he later changed his mind.
–A Democratic senator took to the floor Thursday to call for closure of an investigation into Lt. Governor Ken Ard. Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said the uncertainty caused by the nearly yearlong investigation is unfair to Ard. After the State Ethics Commission fined the Lt. Gov. $48,000 last June, state Attorney General Alan Wilson referred the case to a grand jury a month later. Very little has been heard since. If indicted, Ard would be forced to step aside until his case is decided.
–A former state representative has entered the race to succeed Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) next year. E.B. “Mac” McLeod is the second Democrat to declare for the race. An attorney, McLeod represented Sumter and Clarendon counties for eight years in the House before leaving in 1995. McLeod unsuccessfully ran against Leventis for the Senate seat in 2008.