Legislature opens with warning against acting rashly
By MEG KINNARD
Jan. 09, 2018
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers launched into their new session on Tuesday with debate on how to deal with ramifications from a multibillion-dollar nuclear construction debacle, and warnings to members not to be swayed by an intense lobbying effort by a company poised to buy one of the failed project's co-owners.
"This is gearing up to be a huge lobbying effort," Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said. "My request is that you not make a decision on anything until you've had the opportunity to hear a lot more."
Last year, Massey presided over a panel looking into the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station failure. SCANA Corp. pulled out of the construction of two new reactors on July 31 following the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse.
SCANA and Santee Cooper, South Carolina's state-owned utility, had spent about $9 billion on the project, which now sits idle. Thousands lost their jobs in the failure, and state and federal authorities are investigating.
Dominion Energy has proposed a $14.6 billion takeover of SCANA, a deal that also includes $1.3 billion in refunds for taxpayers.
It's been expected that lawmakers would focus on legislation related to the failure, including proposed fixes to pay ratepayers back for the $2 billion in SCANA's debt interest they've been charged so far. In the House, floor debate on half a dozen bills could begin as early as next week.
Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman urged members not to act rashly on their bills in any way that might potentially hamper the state's ability to attract new business.
"We simply must not act quickly to satisfy the whims of the moment," Leatherman warned. "Correct action is more important than quick action."
Nikki Setzler, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, reminded the chamber that state-owned utility Santee Cooper, the project's minority owner, was also partly to blame for the project failure and could have brought its concerns to lawmakers possibly as early as 2011 but didn't.
"There's enough blame to go around," Setzler said.
The House took up Gov. Henry McMaster's budget vetoes from June. They overrode the governor's decision to veto more than $20 million in proceeds from the state lottery to pay for new school buses.
The House on Tuesday voted to override some of Gov. Henry McMaster's budget vetoes.
In June, the governor crossed out more than $20 million in lottery proceeds to replace several hundred two-decade old school buses with rear-mounted engines that are expensive to maintain and more prone to catch fire.
McMaster said he issued the vetoes reluctantly and only because he thought the state needed to find a more stable way to buy new buses. House leaders agreed before their vote.
The 20 of the 41 vetoes that were overridden now go to the Senate, where Republican Sen. Harvey Peeler of Gaffney called South Carolina's aging school buses "yellow firebombs" on Tuesday after several recent engine fires and said South Carolina must replace the most dangerous buses in its state-owned fleet now.
Also Tuesday, a group representing black business leaders in South Carolina released its list of priority issues for the session. South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce Chairman Stephen Gilchrist told The Associated Press that the group supports the expansion of offshore drilling, a move that could offer an economic boon for some of the state's impoverished areas, including many occupied by minorities.
Last week, the Trump administration announced a five-year drilling plan that could open new areas of oil and gas exploration in areas off the East Coast from Florida to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades.
Gilchrist said the chamber also supports better coordinating workforce development efforts and lowering tax rates to make South Carolina more attractive for businesses, one of the proposals that emerged from a recent meeting at the White House with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Kinnard is adding issues related to South Carolina's Legislature to her beat coverage this year. Reach her at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP, and read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.