COLUMBIA -- State lawmakers will soon butt heads on whether to make it easier or more difficult for voters to cast ballots.
They also will resume debate on limiting or even outlawing payday lending and on increasing taxes on cigarettes.
Tuesday brought the first peek at 116 prefiled House bills for the session that begins Jan. 13. This is year one in a two-year cycle in which the legislative slate is wiped clean and all bills before the General Assembly must start anew.
Inspired by last month's long lines at the polls, several bills attempt to ease voting frustration by allowing S.C. residents to vote early without first having to offer up an excuse as they are required to do under the state's absentee balloting system. Thirty-two states allow no-excuses early voting.
Another bill would let residents register and vote on the same day while a third aims to make college identification cards with photos an accepted proof of ID at the polls.
In contrast, a bill by Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, would require photos on voter registration cards.
"You've got to have a driver's license or photo ID to just get into the federal courts these days," Delleney said Tuesday. "It's just amazing to me that people would object to a photo requirement for something as important as exercising your right to vote."
Delleney said he is concerned about national media reports of voter fraud in which those not registered to vote have cast ballots.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper filed a bill he says would loosen the state's concealed weapons law.
"All you do with the concealed weapons law is un-arm law-abiding citizens," Cooper said.
Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, filed a bill calling for a ban on smoking in any place that serves alcohol. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, extended the smoking ban to restaurants and recreation areas.
Also this session, payday lending will be under assault as several bills look to outlaw the practice and others want to cap interest charged on the loans at 36 percent.
A bill limiting the industry passed the Senate last session but never made it to the House floor.
Also, debate will heat up once again on raising the state's lowest-in-the-nation tax on cigarettes.
Rep. Michael Pitts, R-Laurens, has filed a bill to raise it to 37 cents a pack from 7 cents a pack, bringing South Carolina in line with Georgia. The national average is $1.19 a pack.
Pitts wants to use proceeds to attract and retain nurses in South Carolina to combat a nursing shortage while Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, prefers the tax revenue pay for smoking cessation and health care programs.
Galvanized by attempts last session, a tax increase is thought to have a good chance of passing this session.
Last spring, lawmakers approved a 50-cent a pack increase that Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed. The bill's supporters didn't have the two-thirds votes to override, but House Speaker Bobby Harrell vowed to work toward a cigarette tax increase this session.
The state's economic crisis also is inspiring legislation. One bill, similar to one introduced last year by Senate president pro tem Glenn McConnell, would cap state spending at the spending average of the previous 10 years.
Another bill seeks to save money by ending the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive program.
The Senate will prefile its bills today.