Headlines from the State Capitol:
–The House passed a bill Thursday that would strengthen the state’s open records law to give the public easier access to government documents. It would require state and local government agencies to charge “current market value” when they respond to “Freedom of Information Act” requests. Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken), a former reporter himself, said some government agencies will charge high copying costs to discourage requests. The bill would also end legislators’ exemptions from open records laws. Some lawmakers fear the second part could doom the bill in the Senate.
–Earlier in the day, the House voted to eliminate $11 million worth of sales tax exemptions. The bill, part of the House Republican tax reform plan, is much smaller than an original $220 million in exemptions that was first proposed last month. Legislators steadily chipped away at that list over the past three weeks. Most of the eliminated breaks now are for obscure exemptions such as railroad cars, zoo animals, and petroleum asphalt sold to out-of-state customers.
— The Senate also approved legislation that would allow homeschooled children to play sports at their local public school. The measure, which passed 36-0 Thursday, would allow home school, Governor’s School, and charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities at the nearby public school they are zoned to attend. Similar bills have previously died in the Senate.
–Representatives once again delayed talk of privatizing school buses, voting to set up a special committee to study the issue. That came only moments after privatization supporters lost a floor vote 66-40. Supporters say the state has been studying the issue for years and that South Carolina’s bus fleet is antiquated and poorly run. Opponents voiced the suspicion of their home school districts over whether the state would pay its share if local districts were to run the system.
–State Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Winnsboro), who doesn’t seem fazed about burning bridges in his final months as a legislator, revealed to the Columbia Free Times that the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) receives a special loophole in state lobbying law. The organization, which provides proposed laws for legislators to take back to their home states, has recently caught flak from progressive groups for its crafting of voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Any other organization has to extend an invite to its conventions through legislative groups (the GOP caucus, for example), but ALEC is specifically exempted in South Carolina’s ethics laws.