The House and Senate will take a two-week furlough for the Easter holiday, so “Legislative Update” will take one, as well. Both chambers will be back in session on April 9.
— Gov. Nikki Haley will “happily sign” into law a bill that aims to shut down sweepstakes cafes in South Carolina, her spokesman said. The comments from Rob Godfrey came shortly after the legislature ratified the bill on Thursday. The bill specifies that sweepstakes machines are considered illegal gambling under the state’s video poker law. That has been the position of state law enforcement officials, but several judges have ruled the games were allowed under a loophole in the law.
— A House panel advanced a bill Thursday that tries to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed mentally ill. The bill would require the names of anyone ruled mentally insane by a South Carolina court to be placed into a federal database used for gun background checks. It is already illegal to sell guns to a person in that situation, but the lack of reporting means the system does not flag the person when a gun shop owner runs a background check. The bill now goes to the full House Judiciary Committee.
— The Senate Medical Affairs committee sided with waste management companies against county governments Thursday, voting in favor of a bill that would not allow counties to control their garbage flow. The bill tries to end a practice known as “flow control,” in which a county can require all local waste to go towards its own landfill. Those opposed to flow control consider it a government-sponsored monopoly. Supporters say it helps prevent out-of-state trash from making its way into the community. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
— State fire officials are close to banning the release of “sky lanterns,” which are small, paper hot-air balloons that are sometimes released into the sky at festivals and celebrations. However, they are considered a fire hazard and can create trouble when they land in a dry, vacant area. The ban was added to South Carolina’s version of the 2012 International Fire Code last year and will become law if the General Assembly does not move to prevent it before summer. The Senate approved the fire code in a 32-9 vote Thursday.
— A Senate panel modified a tax exemption to benefit the Darlington Raceway, as the track reduces its seating. Darlington currently receives a special exemption from the state’s admissions tax under a loophole that allows it to keep half of the 5 percent tax on each ticket sold. But that is only so long as the track holds 60,000 spectators or more. A plan to make the seats wider (and thus reducing their number) would drop Darlington below the 60,000 threshold. The proposal to lower that threshold now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.
— South Carolina will no longer be penalized with a loss of special education money, Education Superintendent Mick Zais announced Thursday. A release from Zais’s spokesman said that South Carolina’s congressional delegation was able to include language ending the penalty in a stopgap spending measure approved in the U.S. House Thursday. South Carolina lost $36 million in federal funds this year for cutting too much from education during the recession. The state Department of Education is still in court trying to get that money back, arguing a perpetual penalty is unfair.
— State Rep. Bill Chumley (R-Woodruff), who is under fire for using the state plane to fly in a conservative talk show host to testify in a Wednesday hearing, told The State newspaper Thursday that he will not repay the $6,390 it cost. Chumley said he had gotten clearance from the State Ethics Commission and was proud of the irritation it caused Democrats. Meanwhile, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) wrote a letter to the Ethics Commission requesting their opinion on the appropriateness of using the state plane to transport Williams.
— About two dozen people spoke out on a possible effort to require more healthy purchases with food stamps in South Carolina, The State newspaper reports. South Carolina is looking for federal permission to begin requiring that food stamps be used on healthier foods. The overwhelming majority of speakers (including those who said they received food stamps) opposed the idea, saying they did not want restrictions on what they can buy with what is already a comparatively low amount of money. State health officials are hoping the restrictions encourage recipients to seek healthier options and lower the state’s growing obesity rate.