— The House budget-writing committee got the most attention Tuesday as it advanced several proposals to the full House. The Ways & Means Committee effort that got the most buzz was language that bars colleges from using the state’s planes for athletic recruiting trips. The proviso targets Clemson, which has rented state planes multiple times in the past two years for football recruiting trips. Most on the committee believed that to be an inappropriate use for the planes, but Clemson’s supporters said the school reimbursed the state for each flight.
— Meanwhile, the committee’s Republican majority also rejected an effort by Democrats to expand Medicaid in South Carolina. The effort tried to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act, which would add coverage to also include anyone earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Republicans oppose the expansion, believing it is too expensive and not solving the state’s serious health issues.
— The Ways & Means Committee also indicated legislators would once again suspend a 1991 state law that requires them to fund local governments at 4.5 percent of the previous year’s revenue. Legislators have suspended the law every year since the economy faltered in 2008. Democrats complained that, without the full funding, local governments would struggle to provide all of the services the state mandates and could instead raise taxes. Committee Chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) has appointed a study group to come up with a replacement for the 1991 law.
— And finally, the committee advanced a proposal that would shift more money into road projects. The idea sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) would redirect nearly $83 million in auto sales tax revenue over the next two years. It would be specifically for state roadwork that is not eligible for federal aid. But some on the committee questioned if the diverted money would hurt other parts of the state budget, such as education.
— In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would let concealed weapons permit holders carry their guns into restaurants that serve alcohol, if the restaurant allowed it. However, they could not drink alcohol themselves. But opponents were nervous about the idea, saying “guns and alcohol don’t mix.” They attached a minority report to the bill, which makes it more difficult to pass under Senate rules.
— State Attorney General Alan Wilson partnered with several state legislators to introduce legislation Tuesday that would make it harder for those considered legally mentally ill to buy guns. The legislation is in response to a near-tragedy at Ashley Hall School in Charleston. In that case, a woman who had been documented as mentally ill was still able to buy a handgun because stores did not have access to her health information. She then attempted to use the gun at the school, but could not get it to work.
— Wilson also said Tuesday that he would return about $7,000 in campaign contributions he received from Harrell and a political action committee connected to the Speaker. Harrell’s personal contribution was meant to sponsor an inaugural bill in Wilson’s honor. Last week, Wilson referred an ethics complaint against Harrell to the State Law Enforcement Division for investigation. In a statement Tuesday, Wilson said he wanted to avoid the appearance that his office could be compromised by the money.
— A House Public Utilities panel put a freeze on an effort to make solar energy more economically viable in South Carolina, The State newspaper reports. The subcommittee adjourned debate on a proposal by Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia) that would allow companies to offer low-cost financing for extremely expensive solar panels. However, that would have exempted solar companies from the regulations that other utilities in South Carolina must follow. A majority of the GOP-controlled panel was reluctant to go that far without further studying the issue.