Sweepstakes ban passes SC legislative deadline, school-funding and gambling changes stalled

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Sweepstakes ban passes SC legislative deadline, school-funding and gambling changes stalled

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, April 30, 2012   |  905 Words  |  

A bill that would explicitly outlaw video sweepstakes machines in South Carolina remains on track in the General Assembly, but a law that could change an important school-funding formula will be all but dead after today's "crossover" deadline.

Those are among the bills with local implications that legislators must advance from the House of Representatives to the Senate -- or vise versa -- to keep them in play for this session.

Any bill that advances after May 1 can't even be discussed in the other chamber without a two-thirds vote, a nearly impossible hurdle for bills that are at all controversial. And because this is the second year of the two-year session, bills not approved before the session ends in June must be reintroduced next year and start all over, no matter where they sit in the committee or floor-debate process.

Here's a rundown of bills of local interest that needed action to remain viable.

SURVIVED

  • A bill to outlaw "sweepstakes" video-game machines (H4675 and S1065): The machines have popped up all over the state, including in Bluffton, Beaufort, Port Royal and Hardeeville. Courts have issued conflicting rulings concerning their legality.
  • In Beaufort County, three establishments featuring the games were raided and shut down last year. In February, a Beaufort magistrate judge ruled the sweepstakes machines manufactured by HEST Technologies were illegal gambling devices. Other judges around the state have ruled differently.

    A Senate bill to ban the machines, which supporters say would save time and legal expense by clarifying the law, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in March but was blocked by Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010 on a pledge to bring back video poker to the state.

    A similar bill, however, passed the House last week.

  • Quelling hog, coyote and armadillo populations (H4943): The House overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that allows night hunting of wild hogs, coyotes and armadillos from March through June. Hunters will be allowed to use bait, electronic calls and night-vision devices.
  • Hogs and coyotes increasingly are threatening crops, livestock and other animals, according to state wildlife officials. Outdoors enthusiasts and farmers acknowledge they can't rid the state of these invasive animals, but they hope easing restrictions on hunting them will reduce the populations.

    ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK

  • Changing the funding formula for schools (H3239):
  • A bill authored by Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, to change the calculation of a school district's "taxpaying ability" appears dead for this session.

    The calculation is important because it helps determine how a large pot of money is passed from the state to school districts. In recent years, Beaufort County, with its relatively high real estate values, has received little or no funding as a result of the formula, which is based on a district's assessed property tax base.

    As it did last year, the House included a proviso in next year's state budget giving Beaufort County schools a larger share of state money than it would otherwise receive. State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, felt confident it would pass the Senate.

    Permanent relief, though, is still a work in progress, Davis said.

    Herbkersman's bill would have changed the funding formula to consider a county's average wage relative to other areas of the state.

    "The whole funding system has to be reconfigured," Herbkersman said, adding his legislation probably will be worked into a new, larger bill next year aimed at streamlining school funding. "I think we've got good commitments from people in the House to do that next year" including support from Majority Leader Kenneth Bingham, Herbkersman said.

  • Allowing counties to establish local gambling operations (H3931): Herbkersman also co-sponsored a bill to allow counties to authorize casino gambling and pari-mutuel betting, such as dog and horse racing, which are illegal in South Carolina.
  • Legislators backing the bill say it is unrelated to a proposed casino for Hardeeville, which would be operated by Cherokee Indians under federal, not state, authority.

    Herbkersman said the bill could help bring other gambling establishments to counties, providing additional tax revenue in places that choose to have it.

    "That's probably not going to happen. There's not a whole lot of interest in it at this point," Herbkersman said Monday.

    The (Columbia) State newspaper contributed to this report.

    Related content

    1. SC General Assembly
    2. SC lawmakers propose bill to quell hog, coyote, armadillo populations: March 23, 2012
    3. 'Sweepstakes' machine ban stalls in S.C. legislature: March 21, 2012
    4. Bluffton Rep. Herbkersman among sponsors of gambling bill: Jan. 19, 2012
    5. County's legislators discuss top priorities for 2012: Jan. 9, 2012