BRIEFS:  Merrill resigns seat; Leatherman seeks special session

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Merrill resigns House seat before hearing

Suspended GOP S.C. Rep. Jim Merrill of Daniel Island resigned from his legislative seat late Thursday before a Friday hearing related to a string of corruption charges he faces, according to published reports.

UPDATE, 11 40 a.m., 9/1:

In the last two weeks, two GOP candidates have said they would run for Merrill’s seat.  Last week, Mount Pleasant town councilman and funeral director Mark Smith announced his intentions.  Earlier this week, attorney Shawn Pinkston also said he would run for the seat.

Last year, First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe of Orangeburg got an OK from the state Supreme Court to continue a state grand jury investigation that started with the downfall of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014 over misuse of campaign funds.


In December 2016, Pascoe’s grand jury indicted Merrill, who operates a direct mail political consulting firm, on 30 state ethics-related charges from using his office for financial gain to failing to report money properly received as a consultant who works with a lot of politicians.

Since then, Pascoe has expanded the probe with ethics indictments of state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, and Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington.  Like Merrill, they were suspended.  All three denied wrongdoing in the past.

Merrill’s sudden resignation, which reportedly was effective 10 a.m. today, generated speculation in the media that there might be a plea during today’s 11 a.m. court hearing in Columbia. We’ll provide more details as they’re available.

— Andy Brack, editor and publisher

Will the House bow to Senate’s pressure on school buses?

S.C. Sen. Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman threw down a gauntlet this week and called on his colleagues to avert “horror of horrors” by releasing state money to replace hundreds of aging school buses prone to catching on fire.


In mid-June, Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $17.5 million of lottery surplus money for new buses that was set aside by the General Assembly. In a statement, McMaster said he vetoed the spending reluctantly and that he questioned the use of the lottery’s money for something outside of scholarships. Since that time, lawmakers have promised an easy override, but have said the vote will wait until January.

An override would release enough funds for the state to purchase 218 new buses.

But Leatherman’s call alone won’t be enough to release the funds. A special session to override the veto cannot be done without a change of heart in the House, which controls the state budget and therefore needs to be the body to consider the veto first according to legislative rules.

House leaders have cited the $50,000 expense of convening a special session as one of the reasons to wait until January. Earlier this summer, House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, told Statehouse Report coming back for a special session wasn’t an option for the school bus issue alone.

“Looking at the best way of being stewards of the taxpayer dollar, if there is a way to accomplish that same goal without spending funds bringing the General Assembly back to Columbia, that is the preferred route,” Simrill said then. “Does it behoove us to go back into session now or is that something that can wait until January, that the same goal is accomplished?”

His stance about not calling a special session has been reiterated in recent reports and echoed by House Speaker Jay Lucas.

Both have said the state Department of Education has other funds with which to purchase the buses in the meantime — an argument that state Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown has refuted.

—  Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent


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