QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Even Ray Charles would see a pattern developing here. The Republican Party has the governor and both the House and the Senate. That’s absolute power and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Republican Party is rotten to the core.”
Dick Harpootlian, S.C. Democratic Party chairman
Where legislators will be eating and drinking this week and who will be picking up the tab:
Tuesday, 6 to 8 p.m. – Members of the Senate and staff, reception, Mezza Restaurant, 701 Gervais St., sponsored by S.C. Nursing Association.
Where legislation stands after the ninth week of the S.C. Legislature’s session:
Budget: S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley lambasted House budget writers for not including her proposal to cut $140 million worth of taxes in their spending plan for the coming year. Republican leaders fired back that their much broader tax overhaul is on its way. The Republican governor said she’s going to loudly criticize legislators daily until they put her plan to cut corporate and personal income taxes in the 2012-13 budget. Floor debate on the Ways and Means Committee’s $6.5 billion spending plan will start Monday.
Pension reform: A bill meant to shore up South Carolina’s pension system for roughly 220,000 public workers was sent to the House floor. The Ways and Means Committee approved a bill requiring newly hired employees to work 30 years to collect full retirement benefits, up from 28. It would require workers to contribute more toward their retirement. Other parts of the bill are meant to prevent what’s called “spiking.” Benefits would be based on employees’ last five years of pay, rather than three. Money paid for unused vacation and sick days at careers’ end couldn’t be rolled into benefit calculations. Neither could overtime pay. Employees covered by the retirement system for law enforcement still could count overtime and retire after 25 years.
Texting and driving: The House approved a bill banning drivers from texting or reading electronic messages on S.C. roadways. Opponents question how texting is worse than other forms of distracted driving and argue enforcement will be difficult.
Private-school choice: A measure offsetting parents’ cost of private school tuition and home school expenses moved to the House floor. The bill is projected to reduce state revenues by $37 million in 2012-13, cheaper than earlier “choice” plans but there is no plan for how to pay for it. If passed, parents could take a $4,000 tax deduction per child for tuition paid, $2,000 for home-school expenses and $1,000 for students who attend a public school outside of the district where they live.
Party registration: A House panel advanced a bill requiring S.C. voters to sign up as a Republican or Democrat to vote in party primaries. Voters currently do not register by party and can vote in either primary, but not both. Those who remain independent would not be able to vote until the general elections. State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, said he’ll offer an amendment allowing the parties to decide whether to allow independents to vote in primaries. Opponents say the bill would deny many voters the chance to have a say in who represents them, since primaries often determine the winner in South Carolina.
Occupy Columbia: The Senate unanimously approved a bill preventing Occupy Columbia from renewing its around-the-clock protest on State House grounds. The 35-0 vote would ban camping and sleeping around the state capitol.
Colleges and smoking: A House panel advanced a bill clarifying that S.C. colleges can go smoke-free. The measure specifies in state law that college boards can ban smoking on campus. At least five universities and nine technical colleges in South Carolina have enacted smoke-free campus policies.