A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
The state Senate on Thursday narrowly approved a bill that would require cell phone users pay the same type of tax paid by landline phone customers. But opponents are crying foul, saying the cell phone money would subsidize landline services.
Senators voted 22-20 on Thursday to expand the service fund to cover cell phone providers. The bill now goes to the House, where it faces a tough fight. Supporters say it’s an issue of fairness, as cell phone services do not currently pay into the Universal Service Fund. The federal government requires states maintain that fund to pay for telecommunications services, particularly in rural areas. However, the fund’s revenue has been falling as more customers drop traditional phone service altogether.
The bill would also expand the required fee to cover Voice over IP phones (essentially landline phone service through the internet).
Landline customers pay the 2.65 percent Universal Service fee on their phone bills each month. Cell phone users already must pay a federal tax, but that money does not go to the state. Under the bill passed Thursday. cell phone customers would pay between 1.1 percent and 1.3 percent of their monthly bill into the state fund.
The bill passed despite Senate Republicans voting against it by a 17-8 margin. Moderate Republicans were helped by the chamber’s Democratic Caucus, who supported it 14-3.
The measure now heads to the House, where the larger (and more conservative) Republican majority makes it much less likely to pass in its current form.
— The state Senate has refused to give priority status to a bill that would fund road and bridge construction, leaving its status very uncertain as the Legislature enters the final month of its regular session. Opponents of raising the gas tax were able to rally enough “no” votes to prevent the two-thirds majority needed to set the bill to special order. The motion failed 26-19. Democrats condemned the vote, saying Republicans were not serious about reform. Conservatives said they want to work on a compromise that would override the governor’s threatened veto.
— A Senate panel advanced a bill Thursday that would require the State Law Enforcement Division investigate all cases where a police officer kills a suspect in South Carolina. Most police agencies already turn officer shootings and major injury investigations over to SLED, with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department being the main exception. SLED supports the bill. The subcommittee also passed a bill that assures people have the right to film police in public.
— Hundreds of autistic children would be able to qualify for treatment through their “Obamacare” health insurance under a bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday, the Charleston Post & Courier reports. The measure that passed overwhelmingly on Thursday would ensure that those who have health insurance through through the federal health insurance exchanges would be able to get autism treatment on those plans under a 2007 law known as Ryan’s Law. That law requires the State Employee Health Plan and other types of insurance to cover autism treatment.