A daily review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
— A proposal which tries to decriminalize student misbehavior in the classroom advanced in a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday. But The State newspaper reports that only happened after the panel added language the bill’s sponsor did not want, but law enforcement representatives did. The proposed law is an effort to define “disturbing schools,” a vague term that historically meant protecting students or faculty from outside agitators, but has increasingly been used to charge students with excessive or dangerous misbehavior. The panel added language that still allows students to be charged if they continue misbehaving after repeated, verbal, on-the-spot warnings to stop.
— Legislators honored the late State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after his sudden death from undisclosed health-related issues. Neal’s desk was draped with a black cloth to mark his absense. House Speaker Jay Lucas remembered the longtime Democrat as a “giant” in the chamber who commanded attention with his floor speeches. Lucas cut short Wednesday’s House session without any legislative action out of respect for Neal, who represented southeast Richland County for 23 years.
— In his first interview with members of the press corps since becoming governor last month, Gov. Henry McMaster reiterated that he would not support increasing the state’s gas tax to pay for needed road repairs unless he had no other alternative. He floated re-evaluating current highway spending or getting additional federal funds. But he said he considers poverty to be South Carolina’s biggest issue that must be addressed in his first term.
— Senate Democrats want to make technical college free for residents with high school diplomas. Seventeen Democratic senators announced a proposal Wednesday that would spend $76 million each year to offer free tuition and other financial assistance for students in the state’s technical colleges. But Republican education leaders questioned where the money would come from.
— A bill that cleared the state Senate this week and reached the House on Wednesday could usher an end to tax-free internet shopping in South Carolina. Right now, sales taxes on goods purchased online are supposed to be voluntarily reported by consumers, but the 2011 requirement is little-known and unenforced. A bill sponsored by State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, would require e-commerce vendors like Amazon to include the price of the tax at the time of sale. The bill passed 38-5, with opponents saying it is effectively a tax increase on South Carolinians who were previously unaware of current law.
— A longtime Statehouse ethics watchdog has retired from his current post and become a lobbyist for progressive causes. Former Common Cause South Carolina executive director John Crangle had led the group for 31 years and was involved in several ethics investigations against members of the General Assembly. He told the Columbia Free-Times that he will now work as public relations director for the South Carolina Progressive Network.