Headlines from the State Capitol:
–The House voted to pass a pair of bills that are part of the House GOP’s tax-cutting proposal. The bills would lower both personal and small business income taxes. Democratic leaders, although concerned about paying for the cuts, dropped their opposition to a measure that would collapse the state’s income tax brackets after getting assurances they would not take effect until next fiscal year.
–The Senate sent to the Governor legislation that would officially implement new regulations on commercial trucks in South Carolina. Lawmakers drafted the bill in response to 12-year-old federal regulations that state troopers started enforcing last year. Many lawmakers reluctantly supported the regulations, saying they created a burden on businesses.
–The House also approved a bill that would loosen many restrictions on hunting wild hogs, coyotes, and armadillos on private property. The bill, which passed 97-1 Tuesday, is an attempt to slow the growth of the non-native animals, whose populations wildlife officials say have grown significantly in recent years. The bill now heads to the Senate.
–The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would ban drivers from using their cell phones while in construction or school zones. It would also bar those under 18 from using a phone at all while behind the wheel, unless it is a hands-free device. The bill now heads to the Senate floor. A version that passed the House last month would have banned texting for all drivers, but senators said that alone would have never passed their chamber. Opponents question how texting is worse than other forms of distracted driving.
–The Senate Finance Committee took up next year’s budget Tuesday. As WSPA-TV reports, the biggest debate right now is over how big of a raise state employees should receive. The House budget included a two percent across-the-board raise, but some Democrats say the number should be larger after five years of salary freezes.
–Expect abortion to pop up during the during the budget debate. A Senate panel voted Tuesday to only allow abortions on the state health plan to be covered if the mother’s life is at risk. That means abortions would no longer be covered for victims of rape and incest. Supporters say unborn children should not be harmed no matter how they were conceived. Opponents argue it’s traumatizing and unfair to victims.
–The latest Winthrop poll released Tuesday shows that Gov. Nikki Haley’s approval rating and disapproval rating among South Carolinians was almost exactly the same. 37 percent of those polled say they approve of the governor’s work performance, while 36.5 percent disapprove. Nearly a quarter said they were unsure.