Headlines from the South Carolina State Capitol
–Glenn McConnell was officially sworn in as the 87th Lieutenant Governor in South Carolina history Tuesday. McConnell took the office after previous Lt. Governor Ken Ard resigned to face corruption charges Friday. The former Senate President pro tempore has made it clear he does not want the position and is only fulfilling his constitutional duty. Aides described him as “incredibly sad” about the move.
–After the formalities surrounding the swearing-in were completed, senators elected Sen. John Courson (R-Columbia) as McConnell’s replacement in the President pro tempore seat. Courson has been in the Senate since 1984 and also serves as chairman of the Education Committee. He defeated Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) 27-17, helped by the votes of 17 Democrats.
–An audit found the state Department of Employment and Workforce struggled to prevent fraud in jobless benefits. The Legislative Audit Council report also found several glaring problems at the agency, including 14 different unemployment offices across the state that did not answer auditors’ calls.
–Meanwhile, the House was in its second day of budget debate. Most of Tuesday focused on education spending, most notably when House Republicans voted to suspend a pay raise for National Board-certified teachers… Representatives also voted to give some school districts a flexibility waiver from a required two percent pay increase, although few are expected to use it.
On Wednesday, the attention will turn to funding for local governments (Democrats accuse Republicans of ignoring a funding formula. Republicans say there is not enough money).
–Governor Nikki Haley’s budget director is leaving the first floor of the Statehouse to become a public health coordinator at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. The Associated Press reported that Jamie Shuster approached new DHEC director Catherine Templeton last week about creating the new position. She would oversee the health aspects of DHEC’s dual mission.
–Governor Nikki Haley signed “Benji’s Law” into effect Tuesday. The law, which passed the Legislature a few weeks ago, would tighten regulations for amusement train rides. It’s named after 6-year-old Benji Easler, who was killed in a Spartanburg “kiddie train” accident last year.
–As the June primaries draw nearer, more candidates are surfacing to challenge sitting legislators. Rep. Bill Chumley (R-Woodruff) has only been in the House for 14 months, but has upset several of his constituents by sitting out local town hall meetings, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reports. Now, he faces a primary challenge from insurance attorney Kevin Owen, who is seeking public office for the first time… Meanwhile, several challenges are heating up in heavily conservative Lexington County.