— A state Senate subcommittee advanced legislation Wednesday that would allow early voting in South Carolina. The bill would give voters a 10-day window to cast their ballots before Election Day and require at least one polling center to be open in each county. It’s similar to a bill that passed the Senate in 2011, but died without a vote in the House. Supporters say there is more public support for expanded voting in South Carolina this year.
— The House gave its approval to legislation that targets Horry County’s flow control laws. In an 89-28 vote, legislators decided to ban county control over trash disposal services. While the bill is technically statewide, it actually targets Horry County’s Solid Waste Authority. The SWA is a county-run entitiy that owns the only solid waste landfill in Horry. The bill’s supporters claim the SWA holds an unfair monopoly, but the authority’s supporters say it helps keep trash services running more efficiently and effectively. (Background from similar bill last year)
— A proposed ban on texting while driving is headed to the House floor. The House Education and Public Works Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that would not allow a driver to send or read an electronic message on an electronic communication device. A person who violated the ban could be charged with a felony if they cause a fatal accident. The bill passed the committee unanimously, with two representatives abstaining. A similar bill cleared the House last year, but did not reach a vote in the Senate.
— A House panel advanced a bill that targets sweepstakes-style video gaming machines in the state. The bill would close a perceived loophole in state law that is used by businesses which operate the machines. Law enforcement officials consider sweepstakes games to be video poker by another name. The bill heads to the House Judiciary Committee next week. It cleared the Senate earlier this month. Opponents say it’s hypocritical of the state to target one form of gambling while allowing other forms to exist.
— Welfare cuts will be partially restored in April after two years of cuts, the director of the state’s Department of Social Services told House budget writers Wednesday. Lillian Koller said her agency was able to get enough South Carolinians off welfare rolls and into jobs so that only 15,500 or so are still receiving benefits. For those still getting welfare, the payments will rise by 10 percent beginning April 1. Koller’s predecessor started the cuts in February 2011 as the agency faced a $28 million deficit.
— The state Department of Agriculture is seeking $14 million so it can own a larger share of the land at the State Farmers Market. The Associated Press reports Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers told a House panel Wednesday that his agency wants to buy seven pieces of property totaling 30.5 acres. It’s the second year Weathers has requested money for the deal, although this new asking price is lower than it was in 2012. Several lawmakers halted the deal at the time, saying they were uncomfortable with so much money going to a landowner who also happened to be a major Republican donor.
—Meanwhile, the University of South Carolina is requesting nearly $41 million in additional funds next fiscal year, The State newspaper reports. A majority of the money would go towards maintenance projects across the school’s campuses, but school President Harris Pastides also included $5 million per year each for USC’s new online school and a new, expanded summer session in the request.
— Governor Nikki Haley’s choice to lead the state Department of Insurance (SCDOI) will have to wait longer before taking the job after his confirmation was delayed by a Senate committee for the second week in a row. Senators on the Banking & Insurance Committee seem reluctant to appoint Raymond Farmer as director of SCDOI. An insurance activist who opposes Farmer’s nomination and the CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce who supports it both spoke to the committee Wednesday. Farmer is a former lobbyist with the American Insurance Association.