A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government
A judge will hear renewed arguments this morning as lawyers representing House Speaker Bobby Harrell seek to get South Carolina’s top prosecutor removed from an ethics investigation into one of the state’s most powerful politicians.
Harrell’s attorneys have asked Circuit Judge Casey Manning to stop Attorney General Alan Wilson from presenting the case before the State Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is considering whether Harrell should be indicted on several ethics counts.
Wilson sent the allegations to the Grand Jury following a formal complaint by the libertarian thinktank South Carolina Policy Council. The complaint claims Harrell improperly reimbursed himself with campaign funds and used his office to benefit a pharmacy he owns. Harrell has repeatedly denied the claims, calling it a “vendetta” by his political opponents.
During a first hearing in March, a Harrell staffer testified that Wilson made an implicit threat against the speaker. The staffer claimed Wilson was lobbying for Harrell’s support on a new anti-corruption unit at the time. Wilson denies any quid pro quo.
Harrell’s team could also argue the case is a separation of powers issue. If so, they could ask Manning to rule that an ethics investigations should be handled by the legislative House Ethics Committee rather than the Attorney General’s Office, which is part of the executive branch. Manning made a similar ruling for Gov. Nikki Haley during her ethics case in 2012.
— It was against this backdrop that a House panel tried to come up with a compromise on an ethics reform bill that has stalled the past two months. The Associated Press reports the panel voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a new 12-member commission that would investigate alleged ethics violations. The commission would be a mixture of all three branches of state government. However, a spokesman for Governor Nikki Haley rejected the idea, saying that legislators would still have the final power on punishing their own.
— State senators voted unanimously Thursday to replace the upcoming Common Core education standards — but not immediately. Initially, opponents of the new standards sought to repeal the math and reading standards of Common Core immediately. But they agreed to wait after learning that curriculum in line with Common Core is already being used in classrooms statewide. If passed, the legislation would require the state to come up with new standards prior to the 2015-2016 school year. The bill now goes to the House.
— State senators on Wednesday took controversial language out of the state budget that would have docked a combined $69,000 from two colleges over LGBT-themed literature. The Senate Finance Committee voted 11-7 to reject cutting $52,000 for the College of Charleston and a little over $17,000 from USC-Upstate. House Republicans had pushed for the cuts as part of the proposed state budget in March, in an effort to punish both schools for requiring students to read a pair of gay-themed books.
— A regulatory panel has postponed a decision on whether to allow the impending sale of the Charleston School of Law (CSOL). In a statement, members of the Commission on Higher Education said they need more time to review over 100 pages of documents they received this week on the impending sale of the school to Florida-based InfiLaw System. The commission hopes to make a decision at its meeting next month.