Carolina Ledger http://carolinaledger.com following the money. finding answers. Fri, 25 May 2018 17:27:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 http://carolinaledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/cropped-cropped-Favicon21-150x150.jpg Carolina Ledger http://carolinaledger.com 32 32 S.C.’s state fiscal transparency website 9th in national survey http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/22/s-c-s-state-fiscal-transparency-website-9th-in-national-survey/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/22/s-c-s-state-fiscal-transparency-website-9th-in-national-survey/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 15:53:17 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3821 South Carolina ranks ninth in a national survey of state fiscal transparency websites, according to a report by two groups advocating good government. The report, by U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, reviewed how successful states are at providing online public access to government spending records. State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s fiscal transparency […]

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South Carolina ranks ninth in a national survey of state fiscal transparency websites, according to a report by two groups advocating good government.

The report, by U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, reviewed how successful states are at providing online public access to government spending records.

CG Richard Eckstrom

Official photo of Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom

State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s fiscal transparency site scored an 87 percent, with S.C. as one of only six states to provide the public with an annual financial report that summarizes state finances.

Open-records requests declined by two-thirds upon the creation of Eckstrom’s transparency website in 2008, saving time invested by staff and saving an estimated tens of thousands of dollars, the non-profit groups reported.

S.C. is also among few states that pulls from its existing budget to create and maintain its website, according to the report.

Some states have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their transparency websites,” said Eckstrom in a statement.

But we’ve always used existing internal resources for our site to save taxpayers money. This report proves that it’s not necessary to spend lots of money on a high-priced website to provide high-quality information to the public.”

We could make an ‘A’ this coming year if we receive credit for new information we’ve recently added that provides details on financial incentives the state awards to attract film productions in South Carolina,” said Eckstrom, a certified public accountant.

A lot of work goes into keeping the site up to date and constantly improving it with information that’s not just new but that’s also useful to the public,” he said, praising his staff. “My staff tackles that challenge head on.”

The transparency site serves as the state’s public checkbook, providing detailed information about agency spending, including payments to vendors.

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How real energy reform died in 2018 http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/11/how-real-energy-reform-died-in-2018/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/11/how-real-energy-reform-died-in-2018/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 19:05:05 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3815 Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year. Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market. The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from […]

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Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year.

Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market.

The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from independent producers if power could be obtained cheaper that way. Aimed at cost savings to ratepayers, the bill didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing until April. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, long after the deadline for the bill to cross over to the House and be eligible for consideration.

The Senate approved the proposal after the Beaufort Republican attached it onto an energy oversight bill on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, senators tried to skirt Davis’ amendment by attaching the oversight proposal onto a separate bill that would repeal the 2007 Base Load Review Act prospectively. That law made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, whether or not they reach completion.

As a result, ratepayers are continuing to pay for two abandoned Fairfield County nuclear reactors.

Lawmakers have pursued only short-term solutions to the problem, said Davis. “We have done nothing, in my judgement, to address the underlying problem,” said Davis, who responded with a third attempt at passage. He tacked his proposal onto the repeal bill.

Ultimately, the Senate refused the cost savings proposal 27-17.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey agreed with Davis’ solution. But the Edgefield Republican fretted including the proposal would threaten the bill’s passage, just hours short of the official end of session.

The bill failed to clear both chambers before the end of the day, anyhow. The House rejected the Senate’s version, forcing it to a conference committee, where senators and House members can hash out their differences.

Legislators are scheduled to return to the Statehouse later in May and June to take up a limited number of bills, including the budget and legislation tied to the nuclear project.

But any chance at substantive energy reform policy in South Carolina is dead for the year.

Sen. Shane Martin, R-Pauline, buoyed Davis’ side of the debate, citing retirement system reform as an example of why lawmakers shouldn’t wait to pass energy reform.

Lawmakers in 2017 passed legislation to shore up the state pension’s more than $20 billion deficit, funding the $28 billion plan with more contributions and reducing the debt repayment schedule. A joint Statehouse committee planned a phase two fix to the plan, eventually considering overhauling how the retirement system is structured.

That committee last met in February, and lawmakers advanced no significant retirement reforms in 2018.

“I will not get another chance,” said Davis.

Ratepayers likely won’t either.

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Senate approves two nuclear reforms as session winds down http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/10/senate-approves-two-nuclear-reforms-as-session-winds-down/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/10/senate-approves-two-nuclear-reforms-as-session-winds-down/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 20:07:57 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3803 Updated 5:04 p.m. Repealing the law that led to V.C. Summer and its abandonment The 2007 law used to justify charging ratepayers more than $2 billion for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County is one step closer to repeal. On Thursday, with roughly three hours left in the two-year legislative session, the S.C. Senate […]

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Updated 5:04 p.m.

Repealing the law that led to V.C. Summer and its abandonment

The 2007 law used to justify charging ratepayers more than $2 billion for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County is one step closer to repeal.

On Thursday, with roughly three hours left in the two-year legislative session, the S.C. Senate voted to repeal the law and clearly define the terms, prudent and imprudent.

The House responded by tacking onto the bill an amendment to strip all 18 percent of one utility’s rate hikes under the decade-old law, eventually forcing it to a conference committee. A similar rate cut proposal is gridlocked in conference committee, where senators are insisting on a 13 percent rate cut.

The project’s senior partner, South Carolina Electric and Gas has maintained its actions—including abandonment—were prudent under the Base Load Review Act, which passed easily through the House and Senate.
Under the bill, the Public Service Commission, which arbitrates rate cases, would judge whether current and future petitions are “prudent.” In other words, commissioners would be tasked with determining whether a utility is exercising a “high standard of caution, care, and diligence,” according to the bill.

 

Previously, the BLRA lacked a clear definition for those terms.

The repeal, however, would apply only to future petitions before the PSC.

A consumer advocate with a single mission

A second Senate-passed bill would create a consumer advocate to act solely on behalf of ratepayers.

Lawmakers responding to the $9 billion nuclear debacle have said the Office of Regulatory Staff, which is currently tasked with protecting ratepayers, has a conflicted mission.

The agency is also concerned with the welfare of the utilities and with economic development. The bill would streamline the agency’s mission by abolishing those two tasks.

Additionally, the bill would give ORS subpoena power to demand utilities release documents needed to defend ratepayers.

The two-year legislative session ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday. But legislators may reconvene in May and June to take up the budget and V.C. Summer related reforms.

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Opinion–Statehouse showing minimal urgency on nuclear reform http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/08/opinion-statehouse-showing-minimal-urgency-on-nuclear-reform/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/08/opinion-statehouse-showing-minimal-urgency-on-nuclear-reform/#respond Tue, 08 May 2018 23:49:10 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3797 The S. C. Senate has voted to give priority status to two nuclear reform bills with just two days remaining in the two-year legislative session. But after this year’s popular nuclear reform bills idled in the Senate, and after substantive nuclear bills idled in both chambers, it’s difficult to believe legislators are serious about protecting […]

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The S. C. Senate has voted to give priority status to two nuclear reform bills with just two days remaining in the two-year legislative session.

But after this year’s popular nuclear reform bills idled in the Senate, and after substantive nuclear bills idled in both chambers, it’s difficult to believe legislators are serious about protecting ratepayers.

Lawmakers have had four months to affect substantive change, not counting the months-long head start both chambers had in committee in 2017.

Only one nuclear reform bill has moved through both chambers into a House-Senate conference committee, where lawmakers are set to debate on Wednesday a rate relief proposal—between 13 and 18 percent—for South Carolina Electric and Gas customers. Currently, 18 percent of an SCE&G customer’s bill pays for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.

Within weeks of announcements that SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA, and junior partner, state-owned Santee Cooper would abandon two $9 billion nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, two special Statehouse committees began holding hearings to discover what caused the failure.

By January, the full House had before it a basket of bills aimed at restructuring nuclear regulatory agencies, and at restoring ratepayer losses and preventing similar, future nuclear debacles. The House acted quickly, completing much of its nuclear reform work by early April.

House members are up for re-election in 2018.

Three of those bills never cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. One was aimed at restructuring Santee Cooper and requiring it to seek approval from the Public Service Commission before hiking rates.

The second would have restructured the PSC, which approved nine rate hikes on SCE&G’s customers to fund the Summer project.

The third would have disbanded the Public Utilities Review Committee, which oversees the PSC, replacing it with a similar committee. Senators Luke Rankin, R-Conway, and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, are two of the three senators on the PURC. They are also on the Judiciary Committee.

A greater loss than these nips and tucks, however, is the Legislature’s missed opportunity to clear a path for competition in the energy market.

One Senate bill would have required utilities to purchase power from independent power producers if utilities could obtain the power cheaper through those producers. The bill was aimed at cost savings on behalf of utilities’ customers.

It was April before the bill received a hearing. It cleared the Judiciary Committee in early May with no promise of picking up speed before the end of the legislative year. A similar House bill died in committee.

The two bills receiving priority status are—

A bill to repeal the 2007 law that led to the nuclear debacle. The bill would be a prospective repeal, preventing future applications under the Base Load Review Act. That law made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, whether they reach completion or not. The bill also more clearly defines prudency and imprudency. SCANA has repeatedly said its actions were prudent under the BLRA.

The second bill would create a consumer advocate whose job is to advocate only for the customer. The Office of Regulatory Staff currently functions as an advocate, but its mission is thought to be conflicted. The ORS is concerned with financial stability of utilities, also.

Whether the conference committee settles on a 13 percent rate cut, or opts for the full Summer rate relief, and whether the remaining two bills ultimately become law, legislators will have accomplished the bare minimum in an election year.

Lawmakers may return to Columbia to take up limited legislation, including the budget and budget-related bills, after May 10.

But in the end, these minimal changes can hardly be called a great victory for customers.

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House rejects Senate’s temporary 13% rate cut on SCE&G bills http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/25/house-rejects-senates-temporary-13-rate-cut-on-sceg-bills/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/25/house-rejects-senates-temporary-13-rate-cut-on-sceg-bills/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 20:06:20 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3786 The state House has rejected a Senate proposal to temporarily cut South Carolina Electric and Gas customers’ rates by 13 percent until the matter can be settled by the Public Service Commission later this year. The House proposal slashed to zero the 18 percent surcharge SCE&G bills ratepayers for two abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield […]

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The state House has rejected a Senate proposal to temporarily cut South Carolina Electric and Gas customers’ rates by 13 percent until the matter can be settled by the Public Service Commission later this year.

The House proposal slashed to zero the 18 percent surcharge SCE&G bills ratepayers for two abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

By allowing SCANA to continue to collect money from hardworking SCE&G ratepayers for a failed and fraudulent nuclear project, the Senate is sending a clear message that it prioritizes big business over South Carolina families,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The proposal is headed to a conference committee, where six senators and representatives will work out the two chambers’ differences.

The legislative process is designed to work out policy disagreements by way of a conference committee, rather than caving to a particular body’s demands. The House is committed to advocating for full and total relief for SCE&G customers and our conferees stand ready to continue the fight for ratepayers.”

Of the 18 percent—or roughly $27 per month on the average customer’s bill—that funds the nuclear reactors, approximately $22 goes to shareholders. The other $5 pays for bonds issued to fund the nuclear project.

Senators went out of their way to ensure a rate cut wouldn’t ultimately doom SCE&G.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster does not support any ongoing charges to ratepayers for the project.

Doing the right thing on behalf of the people we have been elected to serve should always take priority over the concerns of any company, and in the strongest possible terms, I urge the Senate to do the right thing and make sure no South Carolinian pays another dime for power plants they will never get,” McMaster said in a statement on Wednesday.


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What endless war teaches us about the strike on Syria http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/19/what-endless-war-teaches-us-about-the-strike-on-syria/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/19/what-endless-war-teaches-us-about-the-strike-on-syria/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 02:19:56 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3781 The United States since the beginning of the so-called War on Terrorism has been embroiled in endless war. So after President Donald Trump last week echoed the same phrase—“mission accomplished”—declared by former President George W. Bush shortly after the Iraq invasion of 2003, the pundits didn’t seem too hopeful. Understandably so. The U.S. has a […]

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The United States since the beginning of the so-called War on Terrorism has been embroiled in endless war.

So after President Donald Trump last week echoed the same phrase—“mission accomplished”—declared by former President George W. Bush shortly after the Iraq invasion of 2003, the pundits didn’t seem too hopeful.

Understandably so.

The U.S. has a habit in modern history of intervening internationally and sticking around for a while.

The question is why. To perpetuate conflict, you need a perpetual enemy. That’s entirely different than saying terrorists aren’t a threat at any level. But at some point, we need to stop and examine our role in creating enemies around the globe.

And how do we create enemies?

We first create casualties.

A rise in terrorism coincided with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a 2014 report by the peace education group, Vision of Humanity.

Drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 424 and 969 civilians. Civilian casualties under the Obama administration fell to an average of two civilians per three strikes, down from three civilian deaths per strike under the Bush administration, according to the non-profit journalism project, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

To put this in perspective, roughly 370,000 people have died because of the war violence in the Middle East, a 2017 report by Brown University found. Roughly 200,000 civilians have died because of violence in the conflicts. More than 10 million Afghanis, Iraqis and Pakistanis are war refugees.

The report also found the U.S. Military is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries. Federal funding of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan has topped $170 billion. The cost of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria is roughly $5.6 trillion.

By contrast, the Department of Defense reported last year that the cost of the conflicts totaled $1.5 trillion.

And why do we create enemies? I’m forced to believe either officials think they’re responsibly defusing the threat of terrorism at home and abroad, a paradigm history doesn’t support, or there’s some benefit to creating perpetual instability globally.

A 2014 piece for National Public Radio examined several global conflicts involving U.S. troops over the past several decades.

U.S. support has consistently given rebels a boost in the short term, sometimes leading to outright victory. But battlefield success is never the end of the story. Unanticipated consequences often play out years later, casting the mission in a very different light,” wrote the author.

So while we fund conflicts in the Middle East—the State Department funneled $300 million into Qatar and $1.3 billion into Saudi Arabia just in April—and build infrastructure for our military there, I hope Trump’s mission (air strike) in Damascus, Syria is indeed finished. But I’m skeptical.

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Why officials siding with utilities on solar is no surprise http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/18/why-officials-siding-with-utilities-on-solar-is-no-surprise/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/18/why-officials-siding-with-utilities-on-solar-is-no-surprise/#respond Wed, 18 Apr 2018 20:47:18 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3771 Following South Carolina’s 2017 nuclear debacle, the General Assembly has shown no interest in opening up the energy marketplace on behalf of ratepayers. One of the state’s major utilities is fighting for its life. Lawmakers helped salvage SCANA last week—indirectly—after defeating a measure to lift a two percent cap on rooftop solar electricity generation. The […]

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Rooftop solar panels. Image source: pexels.com.

Following South Carolina’s 2017 nuclear debacle, the General Assembly has shown no interest in opening up the energy marketplace on behalf of ratepayers.

One of the state’s major utilities is fighting for its life. Lawmakers helped salvage SCANA last week—indirectly—after defeating a measure to lift a two percent cap on rooftop solar electricity generation. The measure would have facilitated the expansion of solar energy generation statewide.

It’s debatable whether it’s moral in the first place for the law to require—as it currently does—utilities to provide energy credits for solar customers in the first place. But blocking the expansion of solar won’t fix our energy woes.

It shouldn’t surprise us, however. Government manipulating the marketplace is routine.

Just take a look—

How the Governor’s deal Closing Fund works

Incentives to lure businesses to South Carolina

The job market that Washington built

Trade groups seek $950,000 from state Legislature to draw workforce

How non-economist bureaucrats engineer the economy

Department of Employment and Workforce builds skilled worker pipeline to rural S.C.

The measure was defeated because it lacked a two-thirds majority needed for approval.

The best lawmakers can do for us is to remove blockades to economic growth. Otherwise, they should stop building the economy on the shaky foundation of their own ideals. They’re just not qualified for it.

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Planned Parenthood by the numbers http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/13/planned-parenthood-by-the-numbers/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/13/planned-parenthood-by-the-numbers/#respond Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:10:01 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3766 The state Senate rejected two attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in amendments to its $8.2 billion general fund budget, which passed on Thursday. Senators Richard Cash, R-Powdersville, and Shane Martin, R-Pauline, tried eliminating $34 million in Medicaid funds, targeted for family planning providers that perform abortions. Federal law prohibits federal Medicaid funding for abortions except […]

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The state Senate rejected two attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in amendments to its $8.2 billion general fund budget, which passed on Thursday.

Senators Richard Cash, R-Powdersville, and Shane Martin, R-Pauline, tried eliminating $34 million in Medicaid funds, targeted for family planning providers that perform abortions.

Federal law prohibits federal Medicaid funding for abortions except when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, or when it’s considered a danger to the woman’s life.

How many abortions are performed in South Carolina annually?

In 2016, 10,716 abortions were performed per 1,000 women age 15 to 44. That number was down from 11,643 the year before.

How many abortions are performed by Planned Parenthood annually?

From October 2015 through September 2016, 321,384 abortions were performed at Planned Parenthood affiliate centers.

Abortions comprised three percent of procedures performed there. But 12 percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients underwent abortions.

How is Planned Parenthood funded?

Thirty-seven percent–or $543.7 million–of Planned Parenthood’s income comes from government reimbursements and grants, according to the organization’s most recent annual report.

How much of Planned Parenthood’s funding is from abortions?

An abortion pill costs up to $800, while the procedure costs up to $1,500. Based on the number of abortions performed, anti-abortion advocates have estimated up to 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue comes from abortions. But this is impossible to know because the cost varies nationwide and is based on a woman’s ability to pay. The organization doesn’t publicize this figure.

What other functions does the provider perform?

Seventy-five percent of the services and procedures performed by Planned Parenthood cover contraception, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

The family planning organization issued 730,329 emergency contraception kits (like the morning-after pill) from October 2015 through September 2016.

Sources:

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control

Planned Parenthood annual report

The Washington Post fact checks Planned Parenthood’s three percent and anti-abortion group’s 94 percent figures

Calculating Planned Parenthood’s abortion revenues

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The real problem with “rogue agencies” http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/04/the-real-problem-with-rogue-agencies/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/04/the-real-problem-with-rogue-agencies/#respond Thu, 05 Apr 2018 01:20:27 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3758 Gov. Henry McMaster’s characterization last week of state-owned Santee Cooper as a “rogue agency” illustrates a larger problem. Quasi-governmental agencies—like Santee Cooper, which sells a product—can’t serve two masters. The utility hired lobbyists who worked to thwart McMaster’s efforts to sell it, according to emails released last week by his office. Agencies lobbying the Legislature […]

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Official photo of Republican Gov. Henry McMaster

Gov. Henry McMaster’s characterization last week of state-owned Santee Cooper as a “rogue agency” illustrates a larger problem.

Quasi-governmental agencies—like Santee Cooper, which sells a product—can’t serve two masters.

The utility hired lobbyists who worked to thwart McMaster’s efforts to sell it, according to emails released last week by his office.

Agencies lobbying the Legislature to protect their own interests, whether by in-house liaison or by contracted lobbyist, isn’t new.

The State Ports Authority, the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, and the John de la Howe School, a McCormick County school for children with behavioral problems—to name a few agencies—paid more than $48,000 to lobbyists in 2017 to represent their interests.

Many agencies hire their own liaisons as a go-between to connect with legislators. Others—like colleges and universities—spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on lobbyists.

And that’s a problem for the taxpayer.

It’s one thing for an agency to lobby lawmakers—we can debate the merits of that another day. It’s another for state-owned or taxpayer-funded agencies—quasi-governmental agencies that charge for a product—to employ lobbyists to protect their interests.

Under its current model, Santee Cooper’s interests are conflicted, at best.

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Whistleblower protection bill likely dead for 2018 http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/04/whistleblower-protection-bill-dead-for-2018/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/04/whistleblower-protection-bill-dead-for-2018/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 22:24:07 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3754 A proposal to protect whistleblowers is likely dead for the year after the state House voted on Wednesday, by voice vote, to send it back to the House Judiciary Committee. Each chamber must approve a bill by April 10 for it to be considered by the other chamber. The bill is aimed at preventing agencies […]

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A proposal to protect whistleblowers is likely dead for the year after the state House voted on Wednesday, by voice vote, to send it back to the House Judiciary Committee.

Each chamber must approve a bill by April 10 for it to be considered by the other chamber.

The bill is aimed at preventing agencies from retaliating against whistleblowers. It would include provisions for an employee to take civil action against an agency if blowing the whistle results in lost wages or benefits.

Also included is a provision to award whistleblowers 25 percent of any net cost savings to an agency during the first year, which resulted from a public employee’s report.

Sponsor, Rep. Laurie Funderburk cited in defense of the bill a 2016 voicemail left by a SCANA accountant with a Santee Cooper employee working on the V.C. Summer site of two since-abandoned nuclear reactors. The voicemail alluded to known mismanagement of the project by SCANA.

“The fact that nobody felt comfortable coming forward and reporting this to somebody,” said Funderburk, a Camden Democrat, “gives me great pause.”

Republicans fretted the proposal could encourage frivolous claims.

But the bill would allow agencies to fire employees who do not make claims in good faith.

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