As session wraps up, promising bills near the finish line

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South Carolina’s regular legislative session ends May 12, meaning just three weeks remain (including this one) to send most bills to the governor’s desk for signing. Fortunately, there’s some great legislation near the finish line. 

Below is an overview of these proposals, several of which SCPC has supported or sought to improve this year.

Tax relief  

We kicked off 2022 with a report pushing for lower, more simplified taxes in the Palmetto State, highlighting, among other issues, our highest-in-the-Southeast top income tax rate of 7%. The House and Senate shortly thereafter introduced legislation to cut the income tax and enact several other relief measures, including a plan by the Senate to give taxpayers back $1 billion using expected surplus revenue.  

Prioritizing the income tax is wise. It takes money directly from people’s paychecks and even creates a bill for some during tax season. Our bracket, in particular, causes a quick jump in tax liability with only moderate increases to income. Fortunately, the state is expecting a historic revenue surplus for next year, giving lawmakers a chance to pass major tax cuts, perhaps even bigger than their original proposals. We encourage them to seize this opportunity in the coming weeks as they reach an agreement on the state budget. 

Update as of 4/29/22: The Senate passed its version of the budget Thursday. No changes were made to its tax cut plan, which includes setting aside $1 billion in recurring revenue to lower taxes (specifically $886 million to cut the state income tax) and $1 billion in nonrecurring revenue to pay for one-time tax rebates. Read more about the plan here.

School board transparency 

The Senate earlier this month passed a bill pushing South Carolina school boards to livestream their meetings – a policy in line SCPC’s mission to empower citizens through greater transparency in government. In addition to the livestreaming component, the bill requires that meetings be open and accessible to the public, and that video recordings of meetings be posted online within two business days.  

The bill correctly asserts livestreaming would “increas[e] public engagement in district business” and “mak[e] the decision-making process more visible and accessible to the community …”. It would also be a useful tool for holding school board officials accountable for their actions and words. Going forward, we would encourage this level of transparency to be considered in other areas of state and local government as well.  

Update as of 4/29/22: The bill passed subcommittee Tuesday. It was scheduled to be taken up by the full House Education and Public Works Committee but lawmakers ran out of time before getting to the bill. The bill is expected to be heard in full committee next week.

Education flexibility 

South Carolina is on the verge of a massive school choice victory. The Senate last month passed a bill to let state education funds follow students beyond their normally designated schools. Under the proposal, that money could be used for private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring services, and even transportation to reach other public schools. Eligible students would get about $7,100 in their Education Scholarship Account (ESA) when the program starts in school year 2023.  

It’s refreshing to see lawmakers take a more flexible approach to education instead of simply pouring more money into the system. After all, how these funds are spent is arguably more important than the quantity of dollars available. ESAs embrace this philosophy – letting parents decide which education path is best for their children, at no extra cost to families.  

Update as of 4/29/22: The House Ways and Means Committee passed an amended version of the bill on Thursday. It now goes to the House floor. If passed by the House, the bill is a likely candidate to end up in conference committee (where lawmakers from the House and Senate meet to reach a compromise) in the coming weeks .

Election integrity

The General Assembly is close to passing a series of common-sense election reforms that include no-excuse early voting two weeks before an election, tightening absentee voting security, cleaning up the statewide voter registration database, and prohibiting state/local election bodies from accepting private funds. In simple terms, the bill would make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. Those who insist on violating election law would now face a felony, up to five years in prison, and thousands of dollars in fines.  

The biggest hurdle is a disagreement over the State Election Commission. The Senate wants confirmation power over the governor’s appointments to the commission and over the state election director; the House and governor insist on the status quo. Setting this aside, South Carolina has an opportunity to show the rest of the county what bi-partisan election reform looks like. We encourage a speedy compromise on the bill so that sensible voting policies can begin to take effect this year.

Update as of 4/29/22: The House sent the bill back to committee, a not-so-great sign for its chance of becoming law this year. However, it’s still possible for lawmakers to recall it from committee for a vote on the floor.

Removing barriers to healthcare

A bill passed by the Senate would finally eliminate much of our Certificate of Need (CON) regime, which requires healthcare providers to go through an extensive regulatory process before constructing or expanding facilities or making certain purchases. CON even lets competing providers challenge the requests, sometimes resulting in much-needed projects being stuck for years.

Predictably, the outcome hasn’t been great for healthcare. A study by the Mercatus Center found that CON laws are associated with higher spending and less access to rural hospitals. It also found that certain mortality rates are higher in states with CON regulations. South Carolina already ranks low in healthcare, so CON repeal should be an easy choice for lawmakers.  

Update as of 4/29/22: The bill did not move this week. Its most recent committee meeting was on April 19.

Protecting property rights 

In January, we analyzed a bill that would create a process for private petroleum pipeline companies to use eminent domain – a serious power that involves the taking of private property. At the time, we recommended that lawmakers make permanent a temporary law banning the private companies from using eminent domain, ensuring that the power be reserved for government (the law also makes an exception for utility companies.) 

For now, it seems we’re on the right track. The governor this week signed a bill banning the use of eminent domain by private pipeline companies through June 2024. The policy ensures that for at least two years, citizens need not worry about their property being taken or occupied by such companies. As noted in our analysis, the pipeline project in question would run more than 100 miles inside South Carolina near its western border with Georgia.  

Unlike the other proposals, this is now law.  

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