House Lawmakers Vote To Use Lottery Money For School Buses

Lawmakers returned to Columbia today for the start of the new legislative season, and it was a busy first day

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Lawmakers walked through the Statehouse doors on Tuesday morning, eager to start the second half of the 122nd South Carolina Legislative Session.

House members focused their efforts on working through 41 vetoes that Governor Henry McMaster delivered over the summer.

A major veto dealt with a bill that would allow $17.5 million in funding from the South Carolina Education Lottery to go towards purchasing school buses around the state.

Last year, several school buses around the state caught on fire. They were part of the 1995 school bus series. Lawmakers worked to deliver more than $20 million towards school bus funding by way of the lottery.

However, Governor McMaster believed that the surplus lottery funding should only go towards scholarships.

There were talks throughout the Statehouse, that there would not be enough votes to override the school bus veto. In fact, some House Democrats explained that if House members didn't override a veto that would cut nearly $5 million towards HIV/AIDS funding, then they wouldn't vote to override the bus veto.

"I want you to know that I plan to vote today on veto number 15 [school bus funding] and it will look like I agree with the Governor," says House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland County, "Because we cannot be put in these situations to make choices between school children and people with AIDS." 

Despite efforts from some democrats, the House voted 107-8 to override the school bus funding veto, freeing up $17.5 million to purchase and lease new school buses.

"This is a huge step forward for us to buy new buses," says Molly Spearman, South Carolina Education Superintendent. "We will be able to buy about 250 new buses with the money they just gave us. It's not over. We have to go to the Senate, but we feel very hopeful over there as well."

There are still 350 buses from the 1995 fleet, that have caught fire, and 800 buses older than that, but Spearman says this is a step in the right direction.

Moving forward, lawmakers are focusing their attention on the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant fallout.

Six bills have been pre-filed and are expected to go before the House for debate within the next two weeks.

"We have no hesitations in moving forward with our bills and the packages that the House has proposed," says Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston. "Especially when it comes to reforming certain groups like your PSC [Public Service Commission], your ORS [Office of Regulatory Staff], your PURC committee [Public Utilities Review Committee]. I think those bills will move quickly."

"Fundamentally what comes out of all of that must be several things," says Rep. James Smith, D-Richland. "One is, rate payers are protected, there's some accountable process. We also need to make sure that South Carolina is directing the future in energy policy and it's not driven by special interest. Lastly, I want to make sure that we're not allowing any more campaign donations to individuals who are responsible for regulating utilities."

Lawmakers will return on Wednesday to continue the session and possibly begin taking up bills dealing with V.C. Summer.

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