Senate passes Panthers tax break bill, capping 2019 legislative session

Amendments between the House and Senate versions still need to be ironed out in conference

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — A long day of debates and votes on several key bills wraps up a busy legislative session.

A bill that would give the Carolina Panthers $115 million in tax breaks to move their headquarters to York County got the most buzz throughout the afternoon, but some lawmakers say the end of the legislative session is symbolic of the back-and-forth nature of this year’s legislative session.

Some members of the South Carolina House of Representatives point to their neighbors down the hall as the reason some key bills could not get passed.

“I don’t believe you’ve got to hijack twenty-one bills for one particular cause that you have. Sometimes too many things get in the way that shouldn’t be when we’re trying to make good policy,” said Rep. Nathan Ballentine (R-Richland County).

After three hours of debate, the Senate voted in favor of the so-called “Panthers bill”, 27-15.

“It’s more than just a facility for headquarters. It’s practice fields that could be used by high schools and other teams, they’re building theaters, hotels, they’re building restaurants. It becomes a small city within a city,” said Sen. John Scott (D-Richland County).

Meanwhile, some Senators say their colleagues were too enamored with the idea of bringing the NFL to the Palmetto State to focus on the facts.

“Before you enter a deal to get a cell phone contract, you read it. I’m a lawyer, I wouldn’t advise a client to sign this deal, but it’s the NFL,” said Sen. Dick Harpootlian (D-Richland County).

Some lawmakers say the Senate should have focused more time on other bills, like education reform.

“Ten thousand teachers showed up to tell South Carolina how important their jobs are, to tell this body how important these jobs are in what they do, and to put our children first. We’ve got to do that if we want to put our state first,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland County).

Either way, lawmakers say they have their work cut out for them this summer.

“Some of my goals this summer are to try and see what we can do to get some of the good legislation we’re leaving on the table across the finish line by this time next year,” said Sen. Kristina Shealy (R-Lexington County).

In a tweet, Governor McMaster applauded the Senate for passing the Panthers bill, saying that it reinforces his commitment to make South Carolina a competitive business environment.

Since the House and Senate have different amendments in their versions of the bill, some lawmakers will come together in conference to iron out the bill before they can send it to the Governor’s desk. That discussion will happen in the next few days.

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