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Report: S.C. needs tougher jobless laws

A new report on the state's troubled jobless benefits agency cites technology problems and too generous benefits and says the state could save $1.3 billion in 10 years with tougher laws and enforcement.

Legislators began reviewing The Lucas Group report Thursday as the Senate debated an overhaul of the Employment Security Commission and House members prepared to take up their version of the overhaul next week.

The Senate debate hasn't gotten far as arguments erupted over a proposal to require random drug tests for people drawing benefits. Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, filed two proposals and pulled them, but promised to file a third version next week.

Nonetheless, the Senate agreed to the heart of its version of the overhaul proposal that renames the agency as the state Department of Workforce as part of the governor's Cabinet. The governor would appoint the agency's director.

Unlike the House, the Senate would keep three commissioners to handle claims appeals, but eliminate their role in overseeing agency operations. A House panel Wednesday approved plans that eliminates their positions in January and puts the appeals role before administrative law judges.

The Lucas report agrees with some of the findings of a Legislative Audit Council report released last month, particularly in pointing to technology shortcomings.

The report says it's difficult to evaluate how effective the commission is because it has so much difficulty generating reports. It says the agency's technology is outdated and it should be overhauled. The report also notes the agency should use technology more effectively to handle and process claims, including moving to an Internet-based or telephone system to help people find work and handle claims hearings.

The report also cites shortcomings in deciding who gets or keeps benefits:

- While 41 states disqualify people for all benefits in cases of misconduct, South Carolina is one of four that does not. In South Carolina, those workers may be eligible for benefits within five weeks. The average is just under 10 weeks with $72 million in benefits paid in 2009. However, 42 percent of those misconduct cases involved not showing up for work or being tardy and other states are more lenient in providing benefits for those fired for absenteeism.

- More checks on who is refusing to take work they are suited to perform. The report suggests an electronic reporting system so they can report when they've made job offers.

- Increased monitoring of whether people receiving benefits are actively looking for work.

- End the practice of paying benefits to workers when they receive severance, holiday or vacation pay from their former employers.

- The report says changes tied to tougher enforcement, reducing overpayments, severance and misconduct would save $74 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year and $122 million the following year.

Sanford: No Yucca Mountain hurts s.C.

Gov. Mark Sanford wrote a letter Thursday to members of the S.C. Congressional delegation asking them to press the Obama administration to reverse its decision not to open a Nevada nuclear waste site. The Obama administration has decided to abandon the Yucca Mountain project.

That decision, according to Sanford, will have dire long-term consequences for S.C., as this state has nuclear waste stockpiled at the Savannah River Site in Aiken.

Leaving the waste at the federal facility, Sanford said, is an environmental threat to the area. Sanford also wrote that SRS is a more attractive terrorism target so long as the nuclear waste is stored there, and the facility sits on a geologically unstable fault line.

- Staff Reports

Restructuring debate delayed

Lawmakers have postponed considering a bill that gives South Carolina's governor more authority.

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee meeting Thursday was canceled. The bill would create a Department of Administration that transfers parts of some agencies to a department under the governor's control. That includes purchasing and fleet management.

The House approved the measure last April.

Gov. Mark Sanford has urged legislators for years to give his office more authority.

- The Associated Press

Sanford takes care of boys; wife hawks book

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Thursday he has been taking care of his four children while his wife has been on the national media circuit promoting her memoir about the couple's marriage and breakup.

A week after Jenny Sanford published "Staying True," Sanford told reporters he hasn't yet read the book but will. He added he has not watched the national broadcast interviews featuring his wife promoting the book.

"She does a good job at anything she does," he said. "I haven't watched the interviews. I've been busy with the boys in the evening in her absence and work during the day."

Mark Sanford disappeared for five days last summer, only to return and admit an affair with an Argentine woman. His staff told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Jenny Sanford filed for divorce in December on the grounds of adultery, a divorce that will be final later this month. She has been living with the couple's four sons on Sullivan's Island while the governor has remained at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia.

Jenny Sanford has appeared on, among other programs, ABC's "20/20," CNN's "Larry King Live" and the Comedy Channel's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

The book is selling well, according to its publisher

Sanford's publicist Theresa Zoro of Ballantine Books said Wednesday the company has gone back to press three times and now has 166,000 copies in print.

- Staff and Wire reports

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I've been very casual about the whole notion of security since I started, having nothing to do with last summer but everything to do with that I'm independent. When I go for a run, I want to go for a run. I don't want to have an entourage. A lot of these guys like an entourage but that's not me."

- Gov. Mark Sanford, explaining to an Associated Press reporter his opposition to a bill in the General Assembly that would make it tougher for a governor to ditch his security detail.

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