A daily review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
Members of the South Carolina House and Senate will be back in negotiations Thursday as they try to hammer out a deal on a road funding bill.
The House on Wednesday rejected the version of the bill senators passed last week. Both chambers want to increase the gas tax — by an eventual 10 cents in the House proposal and 12 cents in the Senate. The competing plans would also increase various vehicle registration fees.
House budgetwriters were unhappy with a Senate measure which would set aside about $150 milllion for tax credits of South Carolinians who wish to reimburse their gas tax money or expenses from road wear damage. State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said the amount would be the equivalent to half of what the new tax increase is expected to raise in its first two years.
“I would not want to accept what the Senate did,” he said on the House floor Wednesday. “Especially when I would have to tell my constituents… for the first two years, the money is not going to roads.”
Simrill had pushed for any new revenue to be dedicated for a special trust fund which would only pay for road maintenance, upgrades or repairs. But the Senate scrapped the fund to help pay for the tax credits.
However State Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, questioned if the bill has a chance with little more than a week remaining in the regular session. Especially since the legislation nearly failed to pass the Senate before a compromise was reached in that chamber last week.
“If we take out those very things that were able to garner the support of a lot of senators, then the very process could fall apart,” Ott said. “And we would have to go home and explain to our constiuents one more time that we failed to pass a roads bill for the state of South Carolina.”
Legislators will also have to decide how much control at the state Department of Transportation they are willing to cede to the governor. Currently, all but one of the eight-member Transportation Commission members are nominated by legislative delegations and okayed by a legislative panel. The governor then approves the nominees and legislators must give their approval before the commissioner can be removed. The House has proposed giving the governor full control of the picks, with the advice and consent of the legislature.
— A proposal approved by the House on Wednesday would make it much easier for legal gun owners in other states to carry in South Carolina, although the measure is unlikely to pass this year. Current state law only recognizes concealed weapons permits in 23 states with similar requirements to get a CWP as in South Carolina. However, the bill approved by a 85-23 vote would expand the right to residents of 16 other states which already recognize South Carolina CWP permits on their own but have looser requirements.
— A bill allowing the growth of industrial hemp has cleared the Senate and is expected to be accepted by the House this week, meaning farmers could begin planting the crop in a research pilot program. The Charleston Post and Courier reports a limited number of farmers would be allowed to grow, process and sell hemp. Clemson University, and the S.C. Department of Agriculture will also conduct research on any potential benefits for the state.
— A new study questions whether the state of South Carolina is getting a worthy return on the hundreds of millions it has spent or allowed on new business incentives. The State newspaper reports South Carolina’s government gave up $433 million in taxes to companies moving or expanding here in fiscal year 2015 alone. But a report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts found South Carolina does not effectively evaluate if the tax breaks it offers for new business construction are offering a strong return on investment.
— South Carolina’s highest court ruled Wednesday the state can continue requiring some teens convicted of serious sex crimes to appear on a sex-offender registry and wear an electronic monitor for the rest of their lives. The justices had already ruled that it was legal to list juveniles for life on a registry that can only be viewed by law enforcement. Wednesday’s ruling extends that to an online public registry for particularly severe crimes. A teen who was 15 at the time of his placement on the registry challenged the law.