COLUMBIA, S.C. — When they return to the Statehouse next week for this year’s session, South Carolina lawmakers will be tasked with debates on ethics reform, the treatment of monuments on public grounds, even a bill considering the abandonment of daylight savings time. They’ll also be trying to navigate the fallout from the abandonment of a multibillion-dollar nuclear construction project that’s left the state’s ratepayers holding the bag. A look at some of the issues up for grabs in the 2018 session, which begins Tuesday:
To be certain, a significant amount of legislative energy will be focused on the aftermath of the debacle surrounding the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. Last year, panels in each chamber took testimony from executives from both SCANA and Santee Cooper, as well as regulatory entities, interest groups and ratepayers angry they’d been stuck with billions of dollars in SCANA’s debt payments on a failed project.
In November, the House Judiciary Committee approved six bills that would block SCE&G from continuing to charge customers $37 million a month for the scuttled reactors and refund at least some of that money, actions lawmakers acknowledged could prompt legal action from the company. But Senate lawmakers appeared hesitant to support bills that included refunds or rate freezes, setting up a reconciliation conflict during the session.
Lawmakers have filed a myriad of other bills related to the catastrophe, including one that would change qualifications and requirements for state regulators tasked with considering utility rate increases, and another to require both chambers to retain a nuclear energy expert to help lawmakers determine how to sell the state’s ownership in V.C. Summer. Bipartisan Senate proposals would “require improved transparency” at the Public Service Commission, the state’s regulatory agency for utilities.
The years-long probe into corruption allegations among some South Carolina legislators carried on in last year’s off-session, with the indictment, resignation and subsequent guilty plea of former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn. His father, veteran GOP political consultant Richard Quinn, faced charges of his own, including illegal lobbying and conspiracy, although those were dropped in his son’s plea deal.
The cloud of the continuing probe, which thus far has landed a half-dozen current and former lawmakers in court, still hangs over the Statehouse where lawmakers are gearing up to tackle bills dealing with related issues. A House bill installs each chamber’s ethics committee as custodian for records related to special interest caucuses, while another proposal would prohibit anyone who has contributed to an elected official’s campaign from being appointed to any post by that official over the next four years.
Lawmakers in both chambers have proposed repealing South Carolina’s Heritage Act, which prohibits the removal of any historical monument without a two-thirds vote by the Legislature. The measure, passed in the wake of the 2000 move of a Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse dome to a nearby Confederate soldier monument, has drawn both fierce defenders and opponents, spurred in part by the 2015 debate over removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds entirely.
Two other lawmakers want to build a monument at the Statehouse to honor black Confederate veterans, despite a State newspaper review of pension records showing the state never recognized armed African-American soldiers during the Civil War.
A separate, bipartisan proposal would memorialize Robert Smalls with the first monument on Statehouse grounds to honor an individual African-American. In 1862, Smalls hijacked a Confederate supply ship he worked on, steered his family to freedom and delivered the ammunition-laden vessel to the Union. He went on to become a state legislator and five-term congressman.
DAYLIGHT, ELECTRONIC INFLUENCE & SPORTS STIPENDS
One House proposal will put the question of whether South Carolina should stop observing daylight savings time on the ballot for voters in 2018, while another would create the offense of “driving under the influence of an electronic device.” A Senate proposal would allow stipends for collegiate athletes in good academic standing and set up a trust fund for them, funding by proceeds from sports revenues.
Kinnard is adding issues related to South Carolina’s Legislature to her beat coverage this year. Reach her at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP, and read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.