- Associated Press - Monday, January 8, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - House Republicans will open this year’s legislative session by finding ways to protect consumers after a costly nuclear power plant debacle left South Carolinians billions of dollars out of pocket, according to their leader.

House Majority Leader Gary Simrill told The Associated Press on Monday that GOP lawmakers are focusing on bills that lower utility rates and prevent consumers from paying more toward the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.

Last year, lawmakers took testimony from executives from project co-owners SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper, as well as ratepayers angry that they’d been stuck with billions of dollars in SCANA’s debt payments on the abandoned reactors.

The House Judiciary Committee approved six bills to stop customers from being charged $37 million a month for the scuttled reactors and refund at least some of that money.

Now, for Simrill, it’s important to brief House members who weren’t involved in that debate on the legislation. Simrill said his caucus will begin discussions this week, and they’re hopeful that floor action could begin as early as next week.

Virginia-based Dominion Energy has proposed a $14.6 billion takeover of SCANA, which could result in major in refunds for customers. Simrill said the pending deal could be good for the state, but it doesn’t affect lawmakers’ responsibility to do right by those customers.

“We’re beholden to the ratepayers of South Carolina,” Simrill told AP Monday. “We want businesses in South Carolina to thrive, but there has to be a good connection between the business and the community, in that it’s a win-win.”

State and federal authorities are probing the $9 billion failure, which resulted in thousands of job losses.

Simrill said that he’s also prioritizing continued reforms of the state retirement system, hoping to fix shortcomings uncovered in an audit.

“One of the things you always hear is, you don’t earn as much money in state government, but you have a good retirement system,” Simrill said. “Then you start looking into that system and realize, (it’s) subject to failure.”

An entitlement reform proposal would codify a system already enforced administratively by the state Department of Social Services, requiring able-bodied adults to actively seek work in order to receive food stamp benefits.

Another proposal would use only the state portion of a child’s per-pupil funding to create an optional education savings account directed by parents of students meeting certain eligibility qualifications, such as students with diagnosed disabilities or who are in foster care. Under the proposal, funds may only be used by parents on an approved list of services and providers to customize their child’s education.

A plan to combat the state’s opioid crisis also will be a GOP legislative priority, Simrill said.

In an op-ed over the weekend, House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford laid out his party’s priorities, including reducing the state income tax and expanding gambling and medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday unveiled his $8 billion executive budget proposal, which includes cutting all income tax rates by 1 percent.

“The only good thing you can do with tax is reduce it,” McMaster told reporters.


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.

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