S.C. Politics Today: Voter ID up next for Senate debate

January 27, 2010 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We must act swiftly to reform the ESC from a check writing agency to the job placement agency our state needs."

- House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, on responding to a state audit that determined the state's Employment Security Commission could benefit from several reforms, including placing it under control of the governor.

SCHMOOZING

When and where lawmakers will eat and drink for free today - and who's buying.

8-10 a.m. Breakfast, Blatt Building, Room 112, by the S.C. Association of Nurse Anestethetists

Noon-2 p.m. Lunch, State House Grounds, by the S.C. Baptist Association

6-8 p.m. Dinner, Clarion Hotel, by the Clarion Hotel

6-8 p.m. Reception, Columbia Marriott Hotel, by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce

CAPITOL CONNECTION

Voter ID up next for Senate debate

The Senate is expected to begin debating a controversial voter identification bill today, after Republicans moved the measure Tuesday into a priority slot on its calendar.

The House-passed bill would require all voters to show a photo ID when attempting to vote, and requires a poll manager to verify the photograph is that of the person seeking to cast a ballot.

Right now, voters may cast a ballot with a voter registration card, a South Carolina driver's license or a photo ID issued by the state.

Democrats allege the bill is aimed at suppressing voter turnout. But Republicans who are pushing for the a new law say voter fraud is not an issue in South Carolina - yet.

"Here, the problem (voter fraud) hasn't made it down to South Carolina in the severity it has (in some other states)," said Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg. "But if we are forward thinking, we can prevent some of that stuff from coming to South Carolina, while still speeding up the lines."

The bill also establishes a 16-day early voting period before a primary or general election. Right now, there is no early voting provision in the law for the Palmetto State, but voters can vote an absentee ballot prior to an election.

Many do, using the 30-day absentee period to cast an early ballot.

"I operate from history, and my history tells me it's more to this than is being presented," said Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg - that we are trying to fix a problem where there is no problem.

Matthews said the bill will create problems for South Carolina's elderly population, for younger, more mobile voters, and will slow the voting process down.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said he wants the legislation to be amended to grandfather in voters who registered before during the civil rights era, prior to 1980, "because they have suffered enough" in the process of gaining the right to cast a ballot.

Democrats predicted the debate will become caustic and damage relationships within the body. Republicans said the bill must be passed soon in order to meet U.S. Justice Department pre-clearance requirements, though they could not identify a date.

- Roddie Burris

DOG HUNTING BILL LESS RESTRICTIVE

Even a bill with fewer restrictions on deer hunting with dogs was too strong for most dog drivers who offered their opinions Tuesday at House subcommittee hearing that ended with strident disagreement among legislators.

The committee replaced the House bill (H.3723) with a less restrictive Senate bill (S.1027). The original House bill penalized hunters if their dogs wandered onto neighboring property. The Senate bill only calls for penalties if the hunters follow their dogs with guns ready to shoot deer on the neighbor's land.

Neither the dog hunters nor the landowners pushing for property-rights considerations liked the change. But some of the most heated words came from legislators.

Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, went so far as to say the House bill would be "the first leg in the chain to do away with hunting in South Carolina. For us to try to put a nail in the coffin of hunting in this state is a disgrace."

Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, offered only a slightly more tempered opinion, saying legislators needed to come up with some way to balance dog hunting with property rights. "If dog hunters and the still hunters and the landowners don't come together and come up with something, the still hunters and the landowners are going to band together with the animal rights groups . . . and we'll be down the quickest path to lose dog hunting forever."

The dustup has been brewing for years, as neighbors complain that hunters allow dogs to chase deer across property the hunters don't own or lease. Dog hunters say the sport is part of Lowcountry heritage, and responsible hunters try to keep dogs on their property.

Scott Major, who prefers to still hunt from a stand on his Orangeburg County land, warned legislators to get something done or face dire consequences.

"One day you're going to turn on the national news and they're going to say 'There's a shootout at the OK Corral in Jasper County with six people killed over dog hunting,'" Major said.

The subcommittee passed the less restrictive bill to full the House Agriculture committee, though subcommittee member Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, pledged he would introduce another more restrictive bill.

- Joey Holleman

5 FEWER SCHOOL DAYS PASSES HOUSE PANEL

South Carolina teachers statewide must take five days off without pay under a cost-cutting measure approved by a House panel.

The committee voted Tuesday to take away five paid teacher work days. All administrators must take 10 days of furlough.

The move would save roughly $100 million.

The panel also voted to suspend all end-of-year tests not required under federal law. That means high school students will not take end-of-course tests. There will be no end-of-year social studies testing in grades three through eight. A few primary grades will take science tests.

The proposals go to the full House Ways and Means Committee.

Legislators are also considering not paying for new teachers to enter a national certification program.

bill would delay SCE&G RATE Hike Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, filed a Senate resolution Tuesday asking S.C. Electric & Gas to delay its requested 9.5 percent rate increase until the economy improves.

Jackson, who represents Senate District 21, told the Senate he has been approached by numerous residents asking for assistance with their soaring utility bills.

"I think the timing is horrible, it's insensitive of SCE&G, and they should reconsider," Jackson said.

The resolution, which has attracted several co-sponsors, was read and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

SCE&G asked the Public Service Commission to approve the rate hike Jan. 15. The company said it needed the increase to help offset $700 million in federally mandated environmental emission reductions at its plants.

If granted, the projected increase could raise the average residential power bill by $11.69, and be phased in over a year.The company already put in place a $1.90 a month raise to pay for a new reactor at its Jenkinsville plant, and anticipates additional increases that will raise residential rates by $40 by 2019, to pay for a second reactor.

- Roddie Burris

HOUSE DEMS URGED TO FIGHT EDUCATION MOVE

Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said he has urged all House Democrats to vote against a measure expected to be debated this week that moves the state superintendent of education from a separately-elected position to one appointed by the governor.

"You will have many (other) opportunities to restructure state government," Ott told House Democrats Tuesday. "Let's think about what's in children's future best interests in this state."

- Roddie Burris

ONLINE

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