The House and Senate are both back from their two-week Easter furloughs. So, that means the Update has also returned from its own sabbatical.
— The Senate is fast-tracking a bill that would offer $120 million in incentives for Boeing to expand its North Charleston jet assembly facility. On the same day the company announced that it plans to expand its plant and hire at least 2,000 more workers, the Finance Committee voted to approve $120 million in bonds that can be used for utilities, site preparation, and other infrastructure. The proposal now goes to the Senate floor.
— South Carolina’s unemployment agency announced Tuesday that it will lay off over 100 employees as it restructures how jobless benefits are handled. Officials with the Department of Employment and Workforce say the agency will no longer offer one-on-one help with benefits at its offices around the state. Instead jobless South Carolinians will have to file claims online or by phone. Interim director John Finan said federal funding is vanishing and that only a small number of recipients are using the in-person help.
— The House approved a measure that would legalize charity raffles in South Carolina. Lawmakers voted 104-6 to ask voters in 2014 whether or not the state’s Constitution should be changed to allow raffles. While the games are held across the state, they are technically considered illegal gambling under the Constitution. Enforcement is rare, however. The Senate has already approved the change.
— Both the House and Senate Judiciary committees approved nearly identical bills Tuesday that would tighten up requirements barring a person deemed mentally incapacitated from buying a gun. The legislation advanced to the full House and Senate would require county judges to report the names of people who have been found to be “mentally incapacitated” or committed to mental institutions. That information would then be added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. People deemed mentally unfit are already banned from owning a gun. But, without their names in the database, such a ban is difficult to enforce.
— A pair of bills that would have raised South Carolina’s gas tax were halted by a House panel Tuesday. While members of the Ways & Means subcommittee applauded Reps. B.R. Skelton (R-Pickens) and Tommy Stringer (R-Greer) for trying to find a solution for the state’s aging highways, they said any additional highway dollars should come from South Carolina’s General Fund for now. Skelton’s proposal would have raised the tax by 10 cents, and then tied it to the price of oil. Stringer’s would have raised by 5 and tied it to the Consumer Price Index to adjust for inflation.
— Meanwhile, the Ways & Means panel advanced a bill that would end a practice of taxing travelers for room service, spa treatments and other conveniences that can be added to hotel bills. The measure approved unanimously Tuesday would delete certain items from additional 5 percent accommodations taxes on hotel stays. A person is taxed for the conveniences if they add the items to their hotel bill, but not if they are paid for separately. It’s estimated the change would reduce revenue by $1.8 million next fiscal year. The bill now heads to the full Ways & Means Committee.
— The Senate Finance Committee also passed legislation that would continue to let Darlington Raceway receive a special tax exemption, even as NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway reduces its seating. A tax loophole currently allows Darlington to keep its 5 percent ticket tax, but only so long as the track holds at least 60,000 spectators. Since speedway officials are planning to reduce the number of seats in the near future, legislators decided to change the exemption so that any NASCAR-sanctioned track which hosts at least one annual race could receive the exemption. The full Senate will soon debate the idea.