Headlines from the SC State Capitol:
–The House stayed late into the evening to pass a bill 65-49 that offers tax incentives for parents of children enrolled in private schools. It marked the first time in eight years of heavy, often negative, political fighting that a private school choice bill has passed either the House or Senate. Among other things, the bill would allow parents to take up to a $4,000 tax deduction for tuition and allow tax credits for others who donate to scholarship funds for poor and disabled children. Democrats unanimously opposed the bill, saying it would take away nearly $37 million from public schools.
–By an 85-22 vote, the House also sent to the governor’s desk a bill that would ban camping and sleeping on the Statehouse grounds. The legislation targets Occupy protesters who began camping on the grounds in October. The ban is similar to temporary regulations approved by the state Budget & Control Board in December that expired last week. A small group of Occupy members has since returned. They say they are being targeted because of their message.
–The House also approved a law that would allow concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. The chamber voted 83-7 to end a ban on pistols inside a restaurant, so long as the business grants permission and the CWP holder does not drink alcohol while there. A small group of opponents said the Trayvon Martin case showed a need for caution before expanding concealed carry laws.
–The Senate, meanwhile, unanimously approved a bill denying jobless benefits for workers fired for misconduct. The proposed law would automatically deny benefits if a person was fired for misconduct, with small exceptions. Senators moved soon after an audit found the state Department of Employment and Workforce paid more than $50 million in benefits to workers fired for cause. The bill now heads to the House after another formal vote.
–A Senate subcommittee endorsed a bill that would provide exceptions to the state’s $600,000 liability claims limit. The bill was brought forward in response to a Spartanburg amusement train crash last year in which a six-year-old was killed and dozens more were injured. A compromise would allow local governments to decide if they wished to pay beyond the cap. Some senators had warned raising the cap could double the state’s insurance premiums.
–Has anybody seen Rep. Eric Bikas (R-Easley)? The second-year Republican and restaurant owner has not been to the Statehouse since late January, when House Speaker Bobby Harrell ordered him removed from the chamber for wearing a polo shirt and sneakers. Bikas would not talk to reporters Wednesday, but told blogger Will Folks the dress code issue was the last straw in a string of disputes with Harrell.
–In the latest election tidbits, a former Columbia city councilman announced he would run as a Republican for the seat of retiring State Rep. Jim Harrison… The son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond hopes to succeed former state Sen. Glenn McConnell after McConnell became lieutenant governor earlier this month… And State Sen. Phil Shoopman (R-Greer) will face a Republican primary challenger upset over how Greer was split in last year’s redistricting.