A daily review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
— Gov. Henry McMaster’s time as the leader of South Carolina’s Republican Party is coming under the microscope 17 years after the fact. It’s a poorly-kept secret that prosecutors have been investigating corruption accusations among South Carolina lawmakers the past two years. Much of the investigation has centered on State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, a legislator/consultant who has also helped run several campaigns in his private life.
Now, the Charleston Post & Courier reports the state investigation is looking into Quinn’s efforts to financially prop up the state GOP during McMaster’s time as chairman in 2000. According to the report, investigators are reviewing a 2004 audit that suggested Quinn and his consultant father Richard helped pay $85,000 in family’s money to make it appear the SCGOP had more money than it actually did. At the time, McMaster had been accused of neglecting his party’s finances.
The younger Quinn then submitted a letter to a reporter noting the strong bank accounts, without mentioning his family’s own contributions had accounted for more than 80 percent of that amount. The party wired the money back to the Quinns a week later, accoring to the report.
In a statement, Quinn would not comment on the report beyond noting that it happened 17 years ago and that he was “confident everything done by staff and supporters was above board (sic) and legal.”
— A state Senate agriculture panel on Wednesday advanced a proposed experimental research program for farmers to begin growing industrial hemp. Technically, growing the plant closely related to marijuana is legal in South Carolina under a 2014 law, but no state agencies are offering the required permits. Hemp contains much less THC than marijuana, which means it does not cause the same “high” sensation.
— The House was not in session Wednesday, having finished work on the budget in the wee hours that morning. Some of the ideas included in the $8 billion General Fund budget (more than $27 billion overall):
— House lawmakers nixed the idea of re-establishing a “Competitive Grants Review Committee,” that would offer grants to county governments, essentially setting aside state money for local projects. The grants program first was created in 2006 but was disbanded after critics said it amounted to a slush fund. The initial plan that passed the Ways & Means Committee last month revived the idea, but it was opposed by Gov. McMaster. A coalition of Democratic and Republican legislators in the rank-and-file House allied to oppose the idea, believing the money would be better spent by South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for statewide use.
— Lawmakers also reversed course on a proposal that would have trimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims of domestic violence, voting early Wednesday morning to restore a chunk of the $800,000 in domestic violence funds cut from an earlier budget draft. Those cuts were originally proposed as a way to cover costs related to Hurricane Matthew relief. But complaints from advocates led them to instead draw the repair funds from the state’s reserve fund.
— The University of South Carolina is still seeking $50 million from the state to help build a new medical school. The State newspaper reports that after House budget writers denied any money for the project in a proposed education bond bill, USC president Harris Pastides went to the state Senate on Wednesday to try again with a different group of lawmakers, asking a Senate committee if they could put the money back into the borrowing proposal when the Senate tackles it later this session.
— A Senate panel advanced a proposal calling for the S.C. Technical College System to take over faltering Denmark Technical College. College System President Tim Hardee told the panel enrollment at the two-year college in rural Bamberg County has dropped to only about 600 students from 1,800. Its cash on hand has also plummeted to about $285,000 from just over $9 million. Denmark Tech’s board of trustees opposes the move, saying they’re worried a state takeover could mean eventual closure.
— And senators confirmed a former football player with the Carolina Panthers as a new county-level judge. The Rock Hill Herald reports Michael Scurlock was technically appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster as York County’s newest magistrate, but governors almost always act on the recommendation of local legislators. Scurlock has lived in Fort Mill since his NFL playing career ended. He previously worked for the York County Sheriff’s Office and even flirted with a run for sheriff last year before withdrawing from the race.