Politics & Government

Quit? Fired? No jobless benefits, under plan

The Senate took a big step Thursday toward hammering out an agreement to overhaul the state's troubled Employment Security Commission, settling a dispute over the conditions under which discharged workers covered by unemployment insurance may be denied benefits claims.

Senators had wrangled for days over the issue, as Republicans looked for ways to rein in exploded benefits costs, while Democrats insisted the insured workers had certain legal rights to the claims.

"We just took a big controversy out of that bill," said Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, president tempore of the Senate.

The agreement stipulates that claims can be denied to an insured worker who voluntarily leaves his job and that workers fired for cause may be denied benefits for a period of between five and 26 weeks, as the law currently states.

Under the proposed Senate overhaul, the employment department, not the existing commission, would make determinations for those workers' cases.

The proposed Senate overhaul abolishes the Employment Security Commission as it now exists and moves the agency under the South Carolina Department of Workforce, which would be operated by an executive director appointed by the governor, from three applicants selected by a jointly appointed screening committee.

The agreement makes insured workers immediately ineligible for earned benefits if they are discharged from work for illegal drug use.

The second part of the agreement hammered out Thursday creates a laundry list of behaviors for which an insured worker can be completely denied benefits, if the worker discharge involves "gross misconduct."

Gross misconduct can include such behavior as an employee's willful or reckless damage to the employer's property resulting in more than $50 damage, employee theft valued at more than $50 and committing criminal assault or battery to another employee or customer.

The House passed a different version of a restructuring plan for the state employment agency on Wednesday.

The Senate will resume debate on its overhaul proposal next week.

- Roddie Burris

Yucca solution sought in Legislature

South Carolina lawmakers said Thursday they have to do something about the Obama Administration's ditching plans to open the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Nevada.

State senators on Wednesday unanimously signed on to a bill that would require that the state's electric utilities put money earmarked for a national nuclear waste repository instead into a state fund until the federal site begins operating. The state would use interest from that to get its own long-term storage plan operating by 2012.

The bill was introduced a day after Gov. Mark Sanford said the state may have to take legal action to keep Yucca Mountain open as an option, claiming political deals were made and 25 years of promises were being broken after South Carolinians had put $1.2 billion into the project.

- The Associated Press

Clyburn: loans for energy efficiency

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said Thursday he will try to sell an idea to Congress to allow South Carolina residents to take out loans to make their homes energy efficient and pay on the balance each month through their electric bills.

Clyburn said the proposal by the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina is "revolutionary" and can be duplicated nationwide after it gets a test run in the state.

"Everyone we talk to about this thinks it's a very good idea," Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said.

Clyburn said he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify capital for the low-interest loans, which will average about $5,000. He plans to push for the plan to be included as part of forthcoming multibillion-dollar legislation to create jobs.

"It's a win-win-win," Clyburn said.

Homeowners and renters could borrow to buy new heating and air-conditioning units or insulation and automatically pay back the money on their monthly bills. The money to do so would come from the energy savings they see as a result of the improvements.

Electric companies would benefit because the demand to produce more energy would go down. It would put people in jobs that specialize in energy efficiency, carpentry and other professions that help make homes better able to withstand the elements, Clyburn said.

- The Post and Courier

TATTOOS FOR 18-YEAR-OLDS OK'D

House lawmakers approved a bill Thursday lowering to 18 the age at which South Carolinians can get tattoos. Current law requires a recipient to be 21. Tattoo recipients must still show a picture I.D. The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, and Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, has already cleared the Senate and now moves to the governor's desk.

- Gina Smith

BAN ON SECRET CAR COMPARTMENTS

You better think twice before altering your ride. This week House members voted to ban "secret compartments" in vehicles. That includes modified fuel tanks and additions to existing compartments or spaces. Those found guilty of owning, operating, installing or selling a vehicle with a secret compartment would face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or two years in prison. The bill now moves to the Senate.

- Gina Smith

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