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South Carolina senators on Wednesday approved a scholarship accounts program that expands private school tuition vouchers, making them available to a wider population.

On Wednesday, senators made what the Associated Press called “consequential changes” to the voucher proposal by expanding it beyond those who qualify for Medicaid to allow middle-class families to apply.  The program, if approved next by the House, would allow public tax money to pay for costs of K-12 education, a Republican priority for about two decades.

“Instead of being a program that’s strictly for children in poverty, it would now be a program for children in poverty and the middle class,” GOP Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry.

But Democrats complained the bill was a gimmick and would open the door to raid use of public funds for private school tuition thereby eroding public schools.

In other news this week:

Ruling on other Murdaugh allegations allowed in murder trial. In a major ruling this week for the prosecution in the double murder case against disbarred Hampton County lawyer Alex Murdaugh, S.C. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman ruled Thursday that prosecutors could call witnesses to testify how Murdaugh allegedly stole money — as long as they can show the testimony is linked to the killings. Witnesses testified without the presence of the jury to decide whether they would give evidence in the case. Prosecutors say the financial misdeeds are at the heart of the motive to shift focus on what Murdaugh was doing; defense lawyers say that stretches believability because deaths would put more scrutiny on Murdaugh.

S.C. bill to shield drugmakers for death penalty advances. The state Senate Corrections and Penology Committee approved a bill that would shield the identities of the companies that dispense the drugs used for inmates in death row.

Fentanyl bill passes House.  House Republicans and a few Democrats passed legislation Feb. 1 to criminalize fentanyl trafficking. The bill was amended by voice vote on the floor for mandatory minimum sentences, which Democrats say can trap addicts who need treatment instead of incarceration.

Weaver wants $25M for teacher pay bonuses. Ellen Weaver, the new state superintendent of education, wants $25 million for teacher pay bonuses.

S.C.’s Haley plans to announce presidential run on Feb. 15.  According to the Washington Post, “Haley could release a video signaling her decision as soon as this week, a strategy, as described by multiple people briefed on the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly, intended to drive attendance and enthusiasm for an in-person announcement event in the coming weeks.”

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