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2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

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1.18: Legislative hostage season begins
(Week of May 7, 2002)

MAY 3, 2002 - - Now that the likelihood of new bills getting approved has passed because of a May 1 deadline, the scope of work before the House and Senate is much more narrow. What's going to happen over the next five weeks is a nimble dance for positioning on existing measures, most of which are jammed up in the 74-page-long Senate calendar.

More than anything, the legislative hostage season has begun.

When the House and Senate pass different versions of similar legislation, the proposals go to conference committee for compromise. It's in that compromise process that bills get held up, deals are cut and negotiators do a legislative dance to get what they want in the final proposal.

Right now, two major bills effectively are being held hostage:

  • Truth-in-sentencing. House Speaker David Wilkins really wants a law that would be truth-in-sentencing - - having criminals serve 85 percent of the time they are sentenced. The Senate version, however, calls only for criminals who were sentenced to 15 years or more to qualify under the proposal. The compromise position appears to be making the 85 percent threshold apply to all felons. Currently, negotiators are trying to work through equalizing sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine as part of the bill. Sentences involving crack cocaine, a much more addictive version of the drug, are lighter under current law. Senate negotiators want to see the penalties equalized.

  • Lottery expenditures. House and Senate negotiators fundamentally differ on how to spend part of the millions in lottery proceeds. Essentially, the House wants to spend $27 million in the funds to help pay for improvements to K-5 education. The Senate, however, wants to spend $48 million on tuition assistance for technical schools. Compromises being discussed include a straight split of funds between programs and another that splits it based on a percentage formula.

With both bills at similar points in negotiations, what's reportedly happening behind the scenes is shuttling between conference committees - - if truth-in-sentencing gives a little here, lottery spending will give a little there. In other words, each of the measures is kind of holding up the other.

Look for movement to happen soon, in part because negotiations on another bill - - the $5.6 billion budget - - seems to be contingent on the outcome of the lottery and sentencing bills. Conferees on the budget bill are expected to be named early next week. Also, lawmakers are getting pressure for movement on the lottery bill because many high-school seniors are stalling in making college decisions based on whether tech school tuition will be free.

In coming weeks, the legislative parrying will continue as House and Senate members try to get support in conference for their versions of bills.

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



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