Originally created 04/08/06

Workers' compensation bill weak, Sanford says



COLUMBIA - Gov. Mark Sanford isn't thrilled with workers' compensation legislation that passed the House this week.

"South Carolina's businesses - especially our small businesses - cannot sustain the current trend of increases in workers' compensation premiums, which is why it's key that this bill be strengthened in the Senate," Mr. Sanford said in a statement.

Senate leaders have vowed to be cautious and deliberative in their approach to changing the state's workers' compensation system and have left open the possibility that a bill might not pass this year.

A day of intense debate over the complex issue ended Wednesday in the House with both sides claiming victories.

One group of legislators blocked an attempt to exclude injuries suffered over extended periods of time, such as hearing loss and carpal tunnel syndrome, from workers' compensation. Other lawmakers cheered that they limited eligibility for the Second Injury Fund, which is intended to compensate employers for hiring disabled or previously injured workers.

The House is off for spring break next week. Senators, though, return Tuesday to begin debate on property taxes and the budget.

They spent much of this week debating - ultimately passing - legislation that restricts local governments' ability to keep poultry farms from infringing on towns.

The bill allows only the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to regulate the farms and would void local ordinances that are stricter than state law.

Also this week:

- A House Ways and Means subcommittee approved two proposals to increase the cigarette tax.

Proponents say there isn't enough support in the full committee, at least not yet.

But Ways and Means member Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, sees significant progress.

South Carolina's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax of 7 cents is "just absolutely too low," Mr. Clyburn said.

"I feel that you will see a cigarette tax increase in the next 24 months," he said.

- The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill banning smoking in restaurants, bars, lounges and recreational facilities.

- The General Assembly approved a measure that increases the fines for violating child restraint laws. Violators would have to pay up to $100, instead of $25, but could have the fine waived by proving the acquisition, purchase or rental of an approved child restraint system.

- The Senate passed bills restricting the purchase of pseudoephedrine, a common cold medicine ingredient also used to manufacture methamphetamine, and allowing people to vote outside their home precinct in emergencies. The House approved different versions.