— Statehouse Democrats slammed Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration Tuesday, a day after one of her Cabinet agencies announced it will no longer have a staffer at 17 of its local branches to help people with their unemployment benefits. Democrats in both the House and Senate claimed the governor was too easily dismissing the needs of jobless South Carolinians, even going so far as to say that Haley had declared “war on rural South Carolina.” Haley responded the actions were necessary after federal funds dried up.
— In a 98-3 vote, the House approved a bill that would ban drunken driving on mopeds in South Carolina. Currently, South Carolina has an exemption in state law that does not classify mopeds as “motor vehicles.” As a result, their drivers cannot be prosecuted under DUI laws. Law enforcement officials claim that drivers whose licenses are suspended due to drunken driving will often buy mopeds, instead. The bill now goes to the state Senate, where it died without a vote last year. Background:
— A sweepstakes machine bill crept ever closer to becoming law after it passed the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The proposed law would clarify that the machines are illegal under the state’s video poker ban. However, supporters argue the games are no different than sweepstakes promotions because a customer must first purchase a product before they play. Real opposition surfaced among lawmakers for the first time Tuesday, after six committee members voted against the bill. This came after it passed the Senate with relative ease last month.
— The owner of a restaurant and construction business has won the Republican nomination for an open seat in the South Carolina House. Mike Burns edged out marketing consultant Chris Sullivan by just 49 votes, according to early returns. Since no Democratic candidate has filed (nor any other party’s candidate, for that matter), Burns is a shoo-in to win the March 5 special election in House District 17. Burns would replace Tom Corbin, who resigned his seat after winning election to the state Senate in November.
— Although the Senate itself did not meet Tuesday, several of its committees did. That included the Senate Finance Committee, which advanced a small tax hike on the state’s top wage earners, according to The State newspaper. The bill actually updates the state’s tax code so it matches with federal income standards. However, because Congress recently allowed the tax rate to rise on the upper two percent of wage earners, the state tax code would also effectively include an increase.
— Former Sen. Jim DeMint is getting involved in state politics again, albeit indirectly. DeMint, who retired from the Senate in January, announced he is using his remaining $300,000 in campaign money to start up a new conservative think-tank in South Carolina. DeMint said he hopes the new Palmetto Policy Forum would offer “innovative” ideas for education, energy, and tort reform. He told reporters that his former state director Ellen Weaver will become the forum’s president and chief executive.