A look back at the issues the South Carolina General Assembly addressed during its session last Tuesday through Thursday:
Even though video-gambling interests donated more than $26,000 to the Republican Party Caucus, the GOP still led the charge to ban the $2 billion industry. Democrats received far less money but do not support a ban. House Minority Leader Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, is currently under investigation for sending a letter to 500 video-gambling operators asking for contributions to help the party fight the ban, which Gov. David Beasley supports. The Senate Finance Committee voted to eliminate video gambling.
The House passed a bill requiring all inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences; current law only makes those convicted of serious crimes serve an 85 percent minimum before being paroled. The proposal also calls for sentencing based on prior record and type of crime. The sentences would not be mandatory, but judges who deviate would have to explain why. The bill could eliminate the parole board within 20 years. After a final vote, the bill will go to the Senate.
Students at Honea Path Middle School are learning how complicated the legislative process really is. Rep. Ronny Townsend, R-Anderson, spoke to the class about how a bill becomes a law and asked for suggestions for a new bill. Now the class is pushing for a resolution that allows 13-year-old youths to drive all-terrain vehicles and prevents skaters from suing property owners when they get hurt.
State representatives approved a resolution rescheduling judicial elections for March 11. The General Assembly was supposed to vote on more than 50 judges last week, but a dispute between the House and Senate once again prevented the elections. Senators are challenging a 200-year-old system that makes their votes equal to those of state representatives.
The House budget writers offered state workers a 2 percent pay raise for ballooning health-care costs -- the smallest in five years and lower than employees anticipated. The original legislative proposal was for a 2.5 percent raise, but lowering that freed up $6 million for other uses. An aging work force and changes in federal laws that reduce limits on mental-health care have driven up costs, director of insurance services James Bennett said.
Sex offenders could be held in a state mental-health facility even after they serve their prison sentences under a House bill called the Sexually Violent Predator Act. Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, the bill's primary sponsor, said offenders would be monitored until they were no longer a threat to the community. Offenders could appeal each year for a new trial.
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