A daily review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
A week of debate ended in the state Senate Thursday on a bill that would raise the gas tax to help fix the state’s roads. Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said the debate was just a warmup for what is to come.
“We finally got started on the roads bill this week doing what I think really has to be done before we really get into the bill,” Leatherman told senators Thursday afternoon. “Let the members have their say on how they see it affects their constituents, affects the state.”
Leatherman gave senators marching orders to be prepared to move forward next week with the proposed legislation. “My thought with you is to come prepared to work nights as needed next week,” he said.
This week many amendments were proposed to the Senate bill that would increase the state’s gas tax by 2 cents per gallon each year over six years. South Carolina’s current 17 cents per-gallon tax one of the lowest in the country and has not increased since 1987.
A majority of Republican senators want a bill with three main components: a gas tax increase with an offsetting income tax reduction and restructuring of the state Department of Transportation to reduce the legislature’s influence in the agency. Democrats and Senate GOP budget leaders say they consider both options irrelevant to a roads debate and refuse to back them.
The House has already passed their version of a roads bill that address fixing highways and bridges.
Leatherman said it’s time his chamber acted on legislation. “I can tell you this Senate in my opinion absolutely must deal with the roads bill this coming week.”
— Gov. Henry McMaster reiterated his opposition to the bill Thursday, adamently telling reporters in a Statehouse press conference he would veto any gas tax increase that reached his desk. The Charleston Post & Courier reports the governor then urged Charleston County Republicans to contact their local legislators in opposition to the bill.
— The murder of four inmates at a state prison earlier this month, combined with the stabbing of an officer during a dorm takeover last week, prompted concerns from senators about the situation at South Carolina’s prisons agency. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told a Senate panel Thursday his agency is having trouble providing the proper security level given relatively low pay and dangerous conditions. Stirling said South Carolina has some of the lowest pay in the nation for correctional officers.
— South Carolina property owners currently have the right to block land development near their home by issuing what’s known as an “automatic stay,” which halts construction until a judge can hear the dispute. Under a bill which passed a state House subcommittee on Thursday, developers could resume construction after 30 days if a judge does not rule before then. The Senate approved a different version of the bill earlier this year with a 90-day limit. The measure has been a top priority for legislative Republicans who argue stays are abused by conservation groups to block permits as soon as they are approved by state regulators.
— McMaster wants his Cabinet agencies to go through a four-step process known as the “Rotary” test for any new regulations they propose. In a new executive order announced Thursday the 16 agencies McMaster controls as governor could only push regulations in response to “fact-based” needs, be fair to all involved and not an “unnecessary burden,” beneficial to all South Carolinians and which build “goodwill among businesses and communities.”