State budget negotiators could act soon to help S.C. schools struggling to fill teaching jobs or find school resource officers by removing a cap on the amount that state retirees can be paid.
Those negotiators — from the S.C. House and state Senate — started work Monday to try to reach a compromise on differing budget proposals passed by the two legislative bodies.
However, negotiators said Monday they likely won't adopt a state budget before the legislative session officially ends Thursday. Instead, they expect to finish work next week on state's $8.2 billion general fund budget. That would force the Legislature to return to Columbia after its scheduled end to approve the spending plan that takes effect July 1.
As those negotiators try to reach a compromise on competing House and Senate budget proposals, here are four issues to watch for:
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▪ Uncapping salaries: State lawmakers could decide to remove the $10,000 earnings cap for working state retirees.
The S.C. House adopted a one-year law Thursday to let most retired state workers stay on the job or return to a state job and be exempt from the $10,000 salary cap.
Supporters say removing that cap would be a short-term fix to keep retiring teachers in the classroom and hire more armed school resource officers for about 590 public schools — a priority for parents and state officials after 17 students and teachers were killed at a Florida high school on Valentine's Day.
Unless the $10,000 salary cap is removed, experienced S.C. officers will retire and go to work in the private sector, law enforcement advocates said. Meanwhile, about 1,000 teachers are expected to retire this year as a popular retirement program ends.
▪ SLED lab: Budget negotiators could decide to add $54 million to the budget to pay for a new forensics lab for the State Law Enforcement Division.
SLED Chief Mark Keel says his agency needs a lab with more space to test DNA and process rape kits. The House approved the money. But Democrats argue the $54-million price tag is too high.
▪ Abortion. An outright ban on virtually all S.C. abortions died in the state Senate last week after an hours-long Democratic filibuster.
But House members put a last-minute, one-year law into their version of the budget that would ask the federal government for a waiver to allow the state essentially to defund the state's three abortion providers. Representatives want permission to spend federal money, which now goes to the clinics for non-abortion services, with other health clinics that do not perform abortions.
▪ More solar power: The House voted Thursday to give the state’s rooftop solar industry a break from looming restrictions that, industry officials say, threatened to kill jobs and raise the price of sun power for homeowners.
The House added a one-year law to its version of the budget that loosens a cap on rooftop solar energy expansion. The cap — solar can make up 2 percent of a utility's power portfolio — would rise to 4 percent if the one-year law makes it through budget negotiations.
The effort, pushed by state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin, also calls for the formation of a panel to study solar energy and report back to the Legislature by 2019.