The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen in their respective bids for governor.
The Chamber is the state's largest business-oriented advocacy group.
Barrett, the group said, "has a solid jobs plan and economic vision for the state" including maintaining South Carolina's right-to-work labor rules, comprehensive tax reform and emphasis on finding alternative energy sources. Barrett, of Westminster, is competing against Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, state Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, and Attorney General Henry McMaster for the nomination.
Sheheen, D-Kershaw, got credit for supporting comprehensive tax reform, port expansion, improvement to the technical college system, low-cost energy sources and small businesses. His experiences in the General Assembly, the Chamber said, "make him equipped to handle the demands leading the state."
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State Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston and Superintendent of Education Jim Rex also are running on the Democratic side.
This is the first year the state chamber has endorsed candidates for governor.
"It is vitally important the business community be involved in the 2010 race for governor," said Otis Rawl, president and CEO of the chamber, citing the difficulty of creating jobs in a poor economy. "The chamber is a bipartisan organization that knows real and sustained success for South Carolina will not happen unless both parties work alongside one another."
McMaster's campaign responded to the endorsement, noting that chamber members who work for financial institutions "owe a special debt of gratitude" to Barrett for his 2008 vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program bank rescue bill.
The chamber is a lobbying group used to working with Columbia and Washington legislative insiders, McMaster's campaign said, though McMaster has frequently touted his ability to work with lawmakers from his time as Attorney General.
- John O'Connor
Democrats will hold gubernatorial debates
The Democratic candidates for governor will hold a series of debates beginning next month, according to the S.C. Democratic Party.
The first debate will be April 24 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, when the party comes to the capitol to hold its annual convention.
Other debates will be in the Pee Dee in May and Charleston in June. The primary is June 8.
Texting while driving ban passes House
South Carolina motorists who are caught sending or reading text messages while they drive would be fined $25 under legislation that won key House approval Wednesday.
With a 98-18 vote, the House gave second reading to a bill that was criticized as little more than a show, after its fines and penalties were reduced.
"We've got a feel-good piece of legislation," said Republican state Rep. Nathan Ballentine of Irmo before the vote.
Opponents of the measure spent more than an hour trying to broaden the list of activities banned while driving, as they also tried to limit the penalties for texting and driving.
Republican state Rep. Kris Crawford of Florence wanted the bill to say people could be ticketed for taking off a jacket, smoking, eating a sandwich or putting on makeup while driving. He also wanted it to include a ban on drivers handling their iPods or laptop computers while behind the wheel.
Those measures were handily rejected. But others were overwhelmingly supported. The bill started with a $100 fine with two driving record points. But amendments cut that to $25, no points and a ban on reporting violations to insurance companies.
And police couldn't confiscate phones, look through text or e-mail messages or require phone companies to provide them. Nor could they use texting-and-driving stops as a basis to search drivers, passengers or cars.
The legislation is expected to get routine final approval today before being sent to the Senate, which is considering its own version.
- The Associated Press
CARD CHECK PASSES SENATE
The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that Republicans say will preempt future attempts by the federal government to promote labor unions in South Carolina by any method other than a secret ballot.
Card check, so-called because of federally proposed legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, allows union managers to recognize employees' desire to organize by publicly displaying a card, and thereby bypassing a ballot election.
That legislation has not passed Congress, but South Carolina is a right-to-work state and Senate Republicans wanted to guarantee the secret-ballot process currently outlined in state law by making it part of the state Constitution.
The resolution, criticized by Senate Democrats as a meaningless waste of time, passed the Senate with 33 votes, meeting the two-thirds vote standard to earn passage.
- Roddie Burris
REPORT: JOBLESS FUND NEEDS QUICK FIX
South Carolina must quickly take steps to stop the billion-dollar bleeding within its bankrupt Unemployment Insurance Reserve Fund, lawmakers were told Wednesday, or the state's economy will suffer greatly.
The state risks losing control of the unemployment insurance system to the federal government because of its unpaid debt to Washington, which now stands at more than $773 million, and counting.
The Lucas Group, a Boston-based consultant, warned members of the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee Wednesday that a federal takeover, made possible when the state's unemployment insurance system is indebted to the federal government for two consecutive years, would likely mean an across-the-board hike in employment taxes on S.C. employers.
Each week, the state's debt to the federal government grows by $16 million because of the state's inability to afford unemployment benefits.
The Lucas Report was commissioned by lawmakers to review the state's Unemployment Insurance system and make recommendations to the Legislature on how best to repay the state's debt and return the system to solvency.
South Carolina is on pace to owe the federal government $2.1 billion in borrowed principal and more than $467 million in interest by year's end if it fails to correct problems with its Trust Fund, the Lucas Group said.
The report makes several recommendations to lawmakers.
Another of the report's most urgent recommendations is that South Carolina work with its federal delegation to convince federal officials to reduce the debt the state owes and secure an extension of a waiver on the interest it owes.
Lawmakers say they will use the report to craft legislation that restructures the Trust Fund and the way it is funded.
- Roddie Burris