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Fate of Key Bills Remains in Limbo as Session Winds Down

With the 119th session of the General Assembly in the home stretch, the fate of several key bills remains in limbo, including a bid to eliminate the S.C. Budget and Control Board, an effort to strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Act, and a push for more judges.

The S.C. Senate passed a version of the budget last week, but many bills considered significant haven’t moved in weeks or months. All lingering bills will die when the session ends in early June.

Among bills with the most potential impact is the S.C. Restructuring Act (H. 3066), which would do away with the Budget and Control Board, that many-headed hydra charged with overseeing a good part of South Carolina government.

Under the measure, an estimated “90 percent of the money and 82 percent of the employees” from the Budget and Control Board would be moved into a cabinet-level Department of Administration, according to a plan announced earlier this year by House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

The bill initially was passed by the House last year, and both chambers approved their own amended versions this year. A conference committee was appointed last week after the Senate earlier this month rejected the House’s latest version.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said she is committed to restructuring state government by creating a Department of Administration that would take over many of the current functions of the Budget and Control Board.

Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey did not respond to a request by The Nerve for a comment on the bill’s progress.

Another bill which has garnered a good bit of attention this year is H. 3235, which seeks to strengthen South Carolina’ Freedom of Information Act.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, would close several loopholes in the state FOIA law, derided by some as among the weakest in the nation.

Among issues the current bill would address is an exemption that shields from disclosure memoranda, correspondence and working papers of legislators and their immediate staff.

Taylor’s bill passed the House in late April and was sent to the Senate on May 1. It was then introduced and referred to a subcommittee chaired by Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston.

Attempts by The Nerve to reach Taylor and Campsen on Friday were unsuccessful.

A measure that would boost the number of family court and circuit judges in South Carolina appears to be on hold even though S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal has said the state ranks last in the nation in terms of judges per capita.

H. 4699, introduced by Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, originally called for six additional circuit court judges and six additional family court judges for next fiscal year.

The measure has since been amended so that the number of circuit court judges to be added to the state’s judicial rolls would be three rather than six, but Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, has voiced concerns with the bill.

“Of all the things we need in South Carolina, more judges is not one of them,” Peeler said earlier this month, according to a story in The State newspaper.

Attempts by The Nerve to reach Bannister and Peeler on Friday were unsuccessful.

A pair of bills that would reform South Carolina’s public higher education system by creating a board of regents appear to be heading nowhere.

Both bills, H. 3025 and H. 3036, were introduced in the House at the start of the two-year session in January 2011 and sent to the chamber’s Education and Public Works Committee.

However, nothing has happened with either bill in more than a year.

Proponents of a board of regents say such a system would bring a coordinated vision to public higher education in South Carolina.

Under the current system of independent boards, parochialism and duplication waste precious resources, they claim.

Speaking of duplication, it appears a bill that would reduce risk to “angel” investors – and also replicate three existing programs that do more or less the same thing – has stalled, as well.

H. 3779, named the Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act for the late Upstate legislator who died in 2010, would provide up to $5 million per year in state tax credits for angel investing, a high-risk, high-reward form of venture capital investments.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, was passed by the House in mid-April and introduced and read by the Senate on the same day, then referred to the Senate Finance Committee. But it’s had no movement since.

South Carolina already has programs that invest in fledgling companies, including SC Launch, an affiliate of the S.C. Research Authority; and the S.C. Venture Capital Investment Authority.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.

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