A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government
No one can accuse the South Carolina Senate of working quickly.
The Senate usually prides itself on spending more time debating and analyzing legislation than the House and, as a result, senators often refer to themselves as the “more deliberative body.” The simple fact is that Senate rules are designed to create a more drawn-out process. In order to pass, legislation usually requires a coalition of supermajority support and any senator can often use the rules to block a bill they don’t like.
But, even by Senate standards, last week’s budget debate was slow. Senators got bogged down in a filibuster Wednesday over whether two colleges should be docked a total of $69,00 for gay-themed literature, then got sidetracked the next day into a debate over whether Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration should make a hacking report public.
Finance Committee Chair State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, made it clear last week he was not happy with the lack of progress. “I’m frankly getting really frustrated,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday. “It seems to me that we’re more interested in going (home for the weekend) than we are in getting a budget done.”
The powerful 33-year veteran rarely reveals any frustrations while speaking to the body, making his remarks last week significant. “We’ve done almost nothing,” he said. “Most of the issues that we’ve taken up to this point don’t even deal with monies. As long as we continue to do in this Senate what we’ve been doing, we ain’t going to get a budget.”
It remains to be seen if Leatherman’s words carry any weight behind them. Senators will return to continue debating the budget Tuesday.
— One program the Senate did include in the budget last week were “school choice” tax credits for disabled students. Lawmakers last year voted to allow taxpayers to claim a credit if they donate up to $10,000 towards scholarships for children with disabilities. But the program would have expired in July without lawmakers renewing it in this year’s budget. Lawmakers have agreed to see if the pilot project works before deciding to make it permanent.
— Most of the conversation outside the Statehouse on Tuesday will almost certainly center on House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, winning his court case Monday. A circuit judge ruled that state Attorney General Alan Wilson went outside his jurisdiction when he requested a State Law Enforcement Division investigation into Harrell’s campaign finances last year, then turned over the report to a grand jury in January. The judge ruled the House Ethics Committee is the only body which can handle ethics complaints against House members. Wilson plans to appeal.
— Meanwhile, the libertarian thinktank which filed the original complaint against Harrell says it won’t send the case to the House Ethics Committee. South Carolina Policy Council president Ashley Landess told The State newspaper that she believes Harrell committed a criminal offense, and does not want to hand the complaint off to a House staffer with connections to the Speaker. However, the paper notes the Ethics Committee could still decide to investigate on its own if it chooses.
— And, speaking of public corruption, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says it will release details of an ongoing bank fraud, illegal misuse of public funds, and public corruption case during a court hearing in Charleston Tuesday. However, prosecutors aren’t saying who is being charged or what exactly they are accused of doing. The Charleston Post & Courier speculates the hearing will involve new charges in the ongoing S.C. State University investigation.