Across South Carolina

Senate to hear plans for 4-K expansion


COLUMBIA --- South Carolina's expansion of a full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten program will be considered by the full Senate.

The Senate Education Committee approved legislation Wednesday that covers about 4,200 poor children in the 37 school districts that sued the Legislature over education funding.

"This is extremely important legislation," committee Chairman Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, told the panel before a voice vote approving the measure.

The legislation extends a pilot program for the 2008-09 school year. The following year, lawmakers will have to determine the size of the program given the size of the state budget.

The Senate is expected to send the legislation to its Finance Committee to study the anticipated cost of extending the program.

Committee OKs bill for reservists' education

COLUMBIA --- Any South Carolina National Guard or Reserve member who has won a Bronze Star or a higher award would get free tuition at a state college or technical school under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

"We want to reward those who have put themselves in harm's way," said Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, a sponsor of the measure.

The Bronze Star is awarded in all service branches for combat heroism or meritorious service not involving air operations.

The proposal, which moved to the full Senate, also requires the service members to have been granted a so-called combat patch for service in a theater of war.

A study estimates it would cost the state about $46,000 a year.

Sanford shares idea on how to pay taxes

COLUMBIA --- Gov. Mark Sanford wants to give taxpayers a choice on how they pay taxes.

Mr. Sanford toured the state Wednesday, touting his plan to raise cigarette taxes in exchange for income tax cuts.

But in a twist, the governor said he wants to use the extra revenue to allow taxpayers to choose between paying taxes at the current rate of 7 percent while taking eligible deductions, or paying a flat tax of 3.4 percent.

Mr. Sanford believes lowering the state's top income tax rate will help the economy.

Increasing the cigarette tax to 37 cents would pay for the estimated $107 million in tax relief, said the Republican governor.

Lawmaker wants AIDS testing confidential

COLUMBIA --- School officials wouldn't be notified that a student has HIV under a proposal that one legislator hopes will increase AIDS testing.

Some students don't want to get tested because they fear more people will find out if they test positive, state Sen. Brad Hutto said.

The requirement also is pointless because, by law, school officials can't do anything with the information, the Orangeburg Democrat said.

The legislation was approved Wednesday by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.

South Carolina ranks ninth nationwide in the number of AIDS cases per capita. More than 15,000 South Carolinians have HIV or AIDS, and about 800 new cases are diagnosed every year in the state.

-- Edited from wire reports