SC Legislature ends with complaints of stimulus rift

COLUMBIA — South Carolina legislators wrapped up their regular session tonight by approving restrictions on the payday lending industry that will limit the number of loans to one at a time and track customers who incur them.

Legislators called it the most significant legislation passed in a session overshadowed by feuding between lawmakers and Gov. Mark Sanford over federal stimulus money. Many pointed to the unchanged, 7-cent per pack cigarette tax as their biggest disappointment among the bills left undone as they head home.

"We remain the lowest in the nation in a year we're scrambling to fund essential services," said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia. "I had really hoped this would be the year."

The stimulus fight "sucked all the energy out of the legislative process," said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews. "The victims are the citizens of South Carolina."

Lawmakers did approve one stimulus-related measure at the last minute. School districts would be able to apply for some of $160 million in interest-free construction bonds in each of two years. A federal provision automatically qualifies Charleston County for $13.5 million and Greenville County for $15 million. The remaining 83 districts can split $131 million, with 60 percent of that specifically for rural schools.

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