SC politics: Senate panel advances private-school choice bill

March 13, 2014 

Senate panel advances private school choice bill

A state Senate subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday aimed at clarifying the state’s existing private-school choice program.

That program offers tax credits to taxpayers who donate money for grants for special needs students to go to private school.

The bill, if it passes, only would impact the current choice law that legislators passed last year. That bill sunsets after only a year as part of the state’s budget year that ends June 30. But, lawmakers said, the bill’s improved language could be included in the budget that takes effect July 1, which lawmakers are writing now.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, said lawmakers still may try to make the school choice program permanent – rather than renewing it, year after year, in the budget. But state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said he expects some senators would object to that.

The bill makes adjustments, recommended by the state Department of Revenue, to clarify the process of applying for a tax credit.

It also would make students eligible for scholarships after a medical professional says they need special education, instead of relying solely on a program, administered through public schools, for determining whether a child has special needs.

Lourie asked the panel to add language to the law that requires the nonprofits that give out grants prove students are eligible.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Democrat wants election offices open on Sunday

State and county election offices should open Sunday, the first day that candidates can file for the June primaries, state Rep. Bakari Sellers, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, wrote the S.C. Election Commission on Thursday.

Some county offices will not open Sunday. They include the state’s three most-populated counties – Richland, Greenville and Charleston.

“Although we appreciate that March 16th is a Sunday, we are shocked that these offices refuse to open and allow citizens to offer themselves for public office,” Sellers wrote to S.C. Election Commission director Marci Andino.

In an interview, Sellers said the state “needs to go above and beyond” to assure open access after hundreds of candidates were thrown off ballot in 2012 over a filing technicality.

“We don’t need to lose any more confidence in the process,” he said. Sellers said he plans to introduce legislation that would require county election offices to be open every day during the two-week filing period.

The primary filing period runs from noon Sunday to noon March 30. Those dates happen to be on Sundays this year for the June 10 primary.

State and county election offices are not required to open on weekends except in the last 72 hours of a filing period when they must be open at least four hours a day, election commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.

That means elections offices will be open for at least four hours on March 29 and March 30.

With two weeks to sign up, “we don’t think (weekend closings) will hamper anyone’s ability to file for office,” Whitmire said.

Mace, Cash announce ads

Charleston PR executive Nancy Mace announced her first television ad Thursday in her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in June’s GOP primary. Easley businessman Richard Cash also launched a radio ad this week, airing in the Upstate.

Mace and Cash are among six Republicans who have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission announcing their intention to run. A seventh Republican candidate, Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn, said Thursday he also intends to run. Candidate filing for the seat starts Sunday.

Jamie Self and Andrew Shain contributed.

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