Across South Carolina

Cigarette tax increase would fund insurance


COLUMBIA --- State legislators are signing on to a bill that would raise the state's cigarette tax by 50 cents to cover subsidized private insurance policies.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell said Tuesday that the bill he'll introduce this week won't expand traditional Medicaid programs for the poor. South Carolina's 7 cent per pack tax is the nation's lowest.

But he said the legislation he's circulating for co-sponsors would raise about $150 million to be matched by federal Medicaid dollars to pay for insurance coverage.

Mr. Harrell says his proposal would give employers a tax break of up to two-thirds of what they pay for policies. Qualified workers couldn't make more than 200 percent of federal poverty standards -- less than $22,000 a year.

In other news

LAWMAKERS DEALT a setback to a bill requiring South Carolina schools to offer students only healthful options in vending machines and the cafeteria. The House Education Committee postponed a vote Tuesday and sent the measure back to a subcommittee.

A BILL THAT WOULD allow mixed martial arts contests in South Carolina has advanced. With no debate, the bill won unanimous approval Tuesday from the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. It now heads to the House floor. The sport combines elements of karate, judo, jujitsu and kickboxing. State law currently bans the fighting events.