Politics & Government

S.C. Politics Today: Haley, Barrett clash over bailouts, stimulus

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"He spent two tours in Vietnam and was about the business of carrying out his duties and responsibilities to this great country of ours. If anybody is a hero it is this victim. And I find it appalling that a member of this body would call his death a noble happening."

- U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., honoring Orangeburg native Vernon Hunter, an IRS employee who died when a pilot deliberately crashed his plane into a Texas IRS office. Clyburn was also responding to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who empathized with the pilot and used the death to advocate abolishing the IRS.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Notes from campaign 2010

Haley, Barrett clash over bailouts, stimulus

Republican gubernatorial candidates Nikki Haley and Gresham Barrett fired another salvo over each other's voting record, with Haley asking Barrett to apologize for his vote in favor of a bank bailout bill and Barrett noting Haley voted in favor of S.C. accepting federal stimulus money before opposing it.

Haley opened the debate, noting U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona had apologized for the Bush-administration bank bailout vote, claiming he had been "misled."

"Are you finally willing to admit that your vote to send $700 billion . . . to Wall Street banks was a mistake?" Haley's campaign asked in a press release.

Barrett has repeatedly said he believes he made the best decision based on what he knew at the time. He countered by noting Haley had cast two votes in favor of accepting $700 million in federal stimulus money last year.

"Now that the truth has come out, she's doing all she can to muddy the waters and cover it up," Barrett's campaign responded in a press release.

Haley has said that she voted against final passage of the state budget because of the stimulus, and that no other candidate has been as opposed to federal spending since.

- John O'Connor

SCHMOOZING

When and where S.C. lawmakers will eat and drink for free this week - and who's buying:

TODAY

8-10 a.m. Breakfast, Blatt Building, Room 112, by the S.C. Association of School Administrators

Noon-2 p.m. Luncheon, Blatt Building, Room 112, by the One-Voice, One-Plan Critical Needs Nursing Initiative

6-7:30 p.m. Reception, Embassy Suites Hotel, by the S.C. Association of Counties

THURSDAY

8-9:30 a.m. Breakfast, Blatt Building, Room 112, by the S.C. Nursery and Landscape Association and S.C. Greenhouse Growers Association

CAPITOL CONNECTION

ESC reform moves closer to Senate OK

The Senate cleared more major hurdles Tuesday en route to a proposed sweeping overhaul of the state Employment Security Commission.

Only a few obstacles remain now between the Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Greg Ryberg of Aiken, and an up-or-down vote on the measure that would transform the commission-led agency into a Cabinet office under the direction of the South Carolina governor.

The agency oversees job placement in the state and administers unemployment benefits to displaced workers, among other duties.

The agency, however, has been on a collision course with reform for at least a year now, as problems have piled up against its current operations, and poor management and a sinking economy seem to have all but sealed the commission's fate.

"The ship is going down," said Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, who has argued that the agency's problems could be addressed in a less sweeping fashion. "It's going to be a new agency."

Senators defeated a contentious amendment they spent days debating that would have required drug testing in connection with workers' rights to receive unemployment benefits.

But they ended the day by considering a final amendment that would significantly change the way the agency's new executive director is selected.

Ryberg said the proposal detours from the new framework that has been contemplated so far, and puts the Legislature back in control of the agency's lead official.

Debate is expected to resume today on the final proposed changes to the overhaul bill.

- Roddie Burris

BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR SUBSTITUTES

A panel of House lawmakers gave initial approval Tuesday to requiring background checks for all substitute teachers.

The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has agreed to waive the $8 fee for the checks that compare a substitute teacher's name and date of birth against SLED's comprehensive list of people with criminal records.

Most districts say they already conduct the checks even though they're not required by state statute.

The bill now moves to the House's full education committee.

- Gina Smith

NO FUNDS FOR FREE DENTAL VISITS

A bill to help prevent dental problems from hindering South Carolina students' health and education has been delayed over funding questions.

A House Education panel Tuesday postponed voting on a bill that would provide students with free dental checkups.

Dr. Jim Mercer of the South Carolina Dental Association said the measure is about fixing children's toothaches, so they can sit in school and learn. He said it will save the money long-term by preventing Medicaid costs due to tooth decay.

The Senate passed the bill last year.

The proposal would create a dental program in three to five of the state's poorest counties. Children would be screened for dental issues in several grades. A coordinator would line up dental visits for children who need them.

- The Associated Press

CELL PHONES WOULD PAY FOR 911 SERVICE

South Carolina lawmakers want to add a surcharge to prepaid cell phones and Internet phone lines to help pay for local 911 service.

The House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee approved the bill on Tuesday, sending it to the House floor. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will take up a similar bill on Thursday.

- The Associated Press

Sanford balks at early prison releases

Gov. Mark Sanford balked Tuesday at ordering the early release of nonviolent inmates to ease a $29 million deficit at the Department of Corrections. Instead, he said there needed to be consensus among all three branches of state government before any prisoners are set free early.

The governor's comments came during the state Budget and Control Board meeting. The panel cleared the way for the prisons agency to spend more money than it has. It's the third time in three years the prisons agency has run short of cash as budget cuts have taken a toll on its operations.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, a budget board member, told prisons director Jon Ozmint that state law already allows him to release inmates early.

"I tell you, at some point in time, we've got to come to grips with this," said Leatherman, R-Florence. He pointed out that the prisons deficit is being made up by other agencies that have also had to cut spending.

State lawmakers will continue budget deliberations today, and could offer concrete plans on spending for next year.

- Staff and wire reports

CUTTING STATE GOVERNMENT

S.C. lawmakers are seeking more than $500 million in cuts to balance the state's budget. House budget writers are expected to have their spending plan complete this week. Some of the cuts so far:

Furloughs

Budget calls for teachers to take five days off without pay, which would save the state $100 million. All state workers - those who work under dozens of state agencies outside of K-12 education and state colleges - would also have to take a five-day furlough. That would save the state about $30 million.

Teacher bonuses

In addition of furloughs, the state would end enrollment in a teacher certification program that pays $7,500 annual bonuses. The state would also limit reimbursements for the $275 teachers are allotted for classroom supplies.

No abortions

Abortions would be forbidden under the state health insurance plan, which would save the state money. Budget writers will likely address health care later in the week.

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