A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government
Governor Nikki Haley on Tuesday sent a letter to federal officials seeking an emergency disaster declaration for a February ice storm that immobilized many rural Midlands counties for days.
If the Federal Emergency Management Agency were to approve a major disaster declaration for 21 counties, it would allow state and local government agencies to be reimbursed $3 for every $1 spent on repair and recovery efforts due to the storm.
Haley’s office estimated that government agencies and power utilities sustained nearly $55 million in damage during the storm. That number does not include damage to private property.
Haley declared a State of Emergency for the entire state on Feb. 11. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division reported over 348,000 customers statewide lost power after ice weighed down power lines. Some rural areas did not recover their power for a week.
The governor’s office also stated the Highway Patrol responded to over 4,900 calls during the storm. In all, the disaster request seeks the declaration for 21 counties — Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Berkeley, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Colleton, Dorchester, Dillon, Edgefield, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Marion, Orangeburg, Saluda, Sumter, and Williamsburg.
“The effects of the storm were strongest in some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the State,” Haley said. “The percentage of people below the poverty line in six of the hardest hit counties averages around 25 percent, making community recovery from the widespread debris and power outages more difficult.”
— The Affordable Care Act (better known as “Obamacare” to its opponents) was front and center at the Statehouse on Tuesday. A group of protesters were arrested for standing in front of and blocking the entrance to the Capitol’s underground parking garage. The eleven arrests came as the S.C. Progressive Network tried to increase the visibility of its “Truthful Tuesday” rallies that push for the state to accept additional Medicaid funds under the Affordable Care Act.
— It was not a coincidence that the protests came the same day that the state Senate began debate on a bill that tries to declaw the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina. While H.3101 cleared the House last year as an effort to “nullify” the law, senators are trying to instead change it to an “anti-commandeering” bill that they believe stands a better chance in a court challenge.
But the leader of South Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce made it clear Tuesday that he believes such an effort would end up hurting South Carolina from an economic development perspective. SC Chamber CEO Otis Rawl said out-of-state businesses may be uneasy expanding into South Carolina if it has different insurance laws than elsewhere across the country.
— Another week, another senior state legislator has announced his retirement. This time it’s State Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, who has staked out a position as the House GOP’s point man on education issues. Owens currently chairs the House Education and Public Works Committee and has served in the chamber for 12 years. He is the sixth member of the House to announce he will not seek reelection this fall.