S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 24, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1224.bills.htm

Silly season upon us
By Andy Brack, Publisher
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 24, 2006 - - Some would say that just after the holiday season is over, the real silly season begins.

Yes, the S.C. General Assembly is scheduled to return to Columbia on January 9. Already, there's a full slate of business because almost 400 bills have been prefiled and sent to committees for work to start.

There are a spate of bills that focus on serious problems and challenges for South Carolina, such as measures to increase the minimum wage, restructure government and deal with isolated wetlands, eminent domain powers, workers' compensation laws, gang activity, family court reform and child abuse.

Legislation also has already been proposed on hot-button issues, including measures related to abortion and increasing taxes on cigarettes and gasoline. There are even proposals to bring back video poker and allow for riverboat gambling.

Pre-filed bills generally can be split into three categories - - bills that rehash losing battles of the past that lawmakers are gearing up to try again; bills that reflect big priorities of legislative leaders for the coming year; and new ideas to tweak state laws.

Here are a few observations based on bills filed so far:

Immigration. House members seem fairly obsessed with immigration legislation. They've authored 11 different bills that range from toughening enforcement and creating study committees on the issue to multiple reforms of current immigration laws. Meanwhile, only one immigration bill was introduced in the Senate.

Environment. Of the 398 bills filed in both chambers, just over a dozen dealt with environmental or outdoors issues. Among the interesting ideas were bills that called for an electronics recycling program, requirements for state buildings to shift to using fluorescent bulbs and a proposal that would require large state buildings to meet green building standards.

Education. In a state at or near the bottom on many education measures, it is somewhat surprising that less than 10 percent of bills introduced dealt with education. Among measures already in the hopper are those to end the popular "TERI" teacher retirement program, establish a statewide "virtual" charter school, exempt veterans from some tuition and increase the stipend for Palmetto Fellows who study science and math.


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Health. Just over two dozen bills highlight health-related issues. None appear to deal with a big voter concern - - the rising cost of health care and insurance. One bill does call for uninsured patients to not be charged more than insured patients at hospitals. Other health bills include a call to allow stem cell research in the state, several bills to ban smoking and a proposal to require restaurants to post whether they use trans fats.

And then there are bills that might make you raise an eyebrow (or two):

  • Walkers. A House bill would exempt hospital beds, walkers and wheelchairs from state sales tax. (Sound like special-interest legislation?)

  • Cell phones. A Senate proposal would prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones except in emergencies. (You'd think they had enough on their hands.)

  • Consumption. A House bill calls for the Common Sense Consumption Act to provide that a manufacturer, packer, distributor, carrier, holder, marketer, seller or association of one or more of these entities is not subject to civil liability in cases based on weight gain, obesity or a health condition associated with obesity in the consumption of food and nonalcoholic beverages.

  • State horse. Another bill would establish the Marsh Tacky as the official state horse.

  • Foreign language printing. A House measure would prohibit a state or local entity from printing and producing written material in a foreign language unless required by federal law and to require a state and local entity to print and produce written material in English only.

  • State voicemail. There's a proposal to ban state employees from using voicemail to bypass picking up the phone when they're at their workstations.

And our all-time favorite:

  • Curbing happy hours. House Speaker Pro Tem Doug Smith proposed a measure that essentially would limit happy hours to one day a week and keep bars from selling drinks at less than half price.

'Tis the season to be jolly - - at least for awhile on certain days.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

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Davis to join Statehouse Report as new editor

South Carolina newsman Bill Davis of Charleston will join S.C. Statehouse Report as editor starting in January, publisher Andy Brack announced.

"Bill will bring a refreshing but seasoned pair of eyes to covering what's going to happen at the Statehouse for the Report," Brack said.

Davis, the son of noted scholars and the grandson of a former White House AP correspondent, has been a reporter and writer for papers in three different states over his 10-year career.

Last year, Mr. Davis was a national finalist for short form reporting award, placing third, as well as the winner of the SC Press Association's top award for feature/profile writing for weekly papers for a piece he wrote on Gov. Mark Sanford. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Davis also covered the Virginia General Assembly when he worked for a daily paper in that state. Davis is a married, father of two, living in Charleston, S.C.

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  • MEGAPHONE: Woe to highway department

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