Bills to watch in 2021

Before convening the 2021 legislative session (which began earlier this month) lawmakers filed roughly one thousand bills in advance of the New Year, known as “prefiles”. These bills can offer a look into what the legislative priorities will be over the next few months.

Below is a look at some of the most substantial bills introduced, which range from allowing law enforcement to seize your firearms without notice, to creating another barrier against candidates running for public office, and much more.

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Elections / Ethics

Two bills (S.188 & H.3520) would prevent an individual from running for public office if they owe money to either of the legislative ethics committees or the State Ethics Commission. If a candidate subject to this bill were to still appear on the ballot, the relevant election officials are prohibited from certifying that candidate.

Another bill (S.174) would define “election communication” and “independent expenditure committee” and require several disclosures. Under the bill, election communication would cover paid advertisements, printed mailers, newspaper ads, etc. that support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure, or seek to influence the outcome of an election. An Independent expenditure committee would mean two or more individuals who spend at least $500 on such election communications during an election cycle.

Those defined as an independent expenditure committee would be required to disclose identifying information about committee donors, the total amount donated to the committee, the committee’s debts and obligations, and much more, including anything additionally required by the State Ethics Commission.

Other ethics/election bills include:

  • S.309 – Creates a new campaign account monitoring department within the State Election Commission
  • S.312 – Makes it unlawful for a lawmaker or legislative candidate to accept contributions from certain regulated utilities (Dominion Energy, Duke)
  • S.391 – Makes it a felony for a public official to use their office for financial gain, per state ethics law

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Guns

This bill (H.3570) would allow law enforcement to search your property and seize your firearms without warning, a process which would be initiated through a secretive court proceeding. It starts with a complaint filed by either a law enforcement officer or a solicitor, which would be reviewed by the court. The court would look at factors such as the person’s history of threats or violence, involuntary confinement, and drug and alcohol use as reasons to issue the warrant.

Only after up to seven days after the seizure would a person be entitled to a hearing, and there is no guarantee he or she would get their weapons returned.

Another bill (H.3418) would prohibit someone from owning a firearm if he/she is convicted of a crime that carries a prison sentence of more than one year.

To demonstrate how extreme this proposal is, here are just a few examples of violations that would permanently strip citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights:

  • Contempt of the General Assembly (includes “willfully” giving “materially incomplete” testimony to lawmakers under oath, or failing to comply with a legislative subpoena)
  • Slander and libel
  • Trespassing on state park property
  • Sale or possession of counterfeit cigarettes
  • State lottery fraud
  • Recording a movie in a theater on a cell phone (second offense)

Other gun bills include:

  • H.3036 – Requires drivers pulled over in a traffic stop to disclose all firearms that are in the car (it should be noted that concealed weapon permit holders must currently provide an officer with their permit if they are pulled over while carrying)
  • S.72 – Makes it unlawful to privately sell or transfer a gun without a license or going through a dealer that can run a background check, includes certain exceptions such as gifting a gun to a family member
  • S.32 – Allows lawful firearm owners to concealed carry a handgun, no longer requires a permit (H.3039 as well)
  • S.23 – Prohibits carrying or shooting of gun within 1,000 feet of any school property (K-12, college, etc.)
  • H.3119 – Prohibits law enforcement from enforcing unlawful gun laws. Preemptively nullifies a list of possible future legislation that would regulate firearms

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Education (Higher Ed and K-12) 

S.64 would combine two college oversight boards (the Commission on Higher Education and the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education) into a new college and university board of regents. The board of regents would have the power to approve the creation of new schools, set tuition rates, set enrollment levels, and prepare and present a budget for each college to the General Assembly. The new entity would also absorb the CHE’s power to approve bonds, which has held up projects desired by lawmakers in the past.

S.376 would allow for the creation of “auxiliary divisions” by colleges and universities, which would be exempt from various levels of state oversight and disclose. For instance, contracts and agreements made by these divisions would be exempt from oversight by the Dept. of Administration, the Joint Bond Review Committee, and even partially by the State Fiscal Accountability Authority. Employees of these divisions would be exempt from reporting requirements under the state employee database.

Other education bills include:

  • H.3080 – Requires high school students to pass either the ACT or ACT work exam in order to graduate, earning a score of at least 20 or “silver” respectively (recent data showed the average ACT score in South Carolina was 18.3, which would be considered failing under the bill)
  • H.3069 – Allows the Inspector General to conduct audits of school districts for fraud, waste and abuse if requested by a state or local official
  • H.3081 – Creates an online anonymous survey for teachers to rate things such as administrative support, student behavior, parental involvement, and more. The results would be published online
  • S.322 – Enacts a Teacher Bill of Rights, which includes legal recourse for a teacher if a school or district violate such rights
  • H.3248 – Establishes a higher education funding formula that ties university and college appropriations to General Fund revenues, creates two additional higher education funds, establishes “auxiliary divisions” similar to S.376

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Energy

Under this bill (S.132) the Public Service Commission (PSC – the utility regulatory body accountable to lawmakers) could authorize the issuance of new bonds to pay the remaining costs of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project, or costs resulting from anytime the governor issues a state of emergency. The debt would be guaranteed by law through a new ratepayer charge, which, under the bill, the state vows never to change or revoke (except to ensure bondholders are paid in full).

The new charge wouldn’t even technically have to be lower than what customers are paying normally (instead the new charge could “mitigate rate impacts”, which does not necessarily mean a net reduction in cost).

Other energy bills include:

  • H.3194 – Authorizing the sale of Santee Cooper, lays out an extensive process for doing so
  • S.293 – If the PSC finds that a water utility failed to provide service because of poor planning, they can deny the utility from earning a rate of return for the length of the period the utility did not provide service
  • S.301 – Prohibits a utility from including legal fees into its rates if the company has been found in violation of the law
  • S.313 – Subjects electric cooperatives and municipalities that generate power to PSC regulation
  • H.3195 & H.3272 – City water companies cannot charge residents who live outside city limits higher water rates than those who live within

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Spending

H.3277, also filed last year, would pay each member of the Union County Transportation Committee (CTC) $75 for each meeting attended, for up to ten meetings. Funds would be paid from the counties’ share of gas tax revenue, which is used to pay for local road projects. It’s worth noting that CTCs are appointed by the county legislative delegations, and lawmakers also have the option to appoint themselves.

This bill (S.260) would create a new teacher salary account, which would be funded by diverting various streams of state sales and use tax. The bill places few parameters on the fund itself, requiring only that be used to adjust the minimum teacher salary in relation to how much revenue is collected.

Other spending bills include:

  • H.3481 – Suspends transfer of funds to the SC Retiree Health Insurance Trust Fund so that they remain in the operating employee health insurance operating account through the fiscal year
  • S.3128 – Opens up the state retirement plan and state health/dental plan to school board members
  • S.251 – Directs the Executive Budget Office to compile and report agencies’ carry forward Other Funds each fiscal year
  • S.264 – Creates a disabled self-employment fund for the purpose of paying grants to disabled business owners
  • S.395 – Requires each expenditure in the state budget to be itemized, and expenditures for multiple purposes must include an explanatory proviso

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Other

S.240 would give private pipeline companies the power to take residents’ private property using eminent domain. It would also classify these companies as public utilities and subject the construction and expansion of pipelines to state approval.

To be clear, petroleum pipeline companies are in fact technically non-essential private companies, despite the attempt to re-classify them as public utilities under the bill. This was acknowledged by lawmakers in a temporary 2016 law clarifying that pipeline companies do not have the power of eminent domain, stating that they are not defined in state law as public utilities and do not meet the current “public use” requirement.

Two other bills (H.3382 & H.3441) would be to the direct financial benefit of lawmakers. The first would place a question on the 2022 ballot asking whether lawmakers’ pay should be increased to over $42,000 per year (meanwhile their job remains part-time). The second would pay lawmakers for attending meetings of committees after the legislative session has ended, even if they are not actually members of those committees.

Other bills to watch this year include:

  • H.3446 – Calling for an amendment to the state constitution that would increase the total number of justices on the S.C. Supreme Court from five to seven
  • S.33, S.133, & S.141 – Call for an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to impose “fiscal restraints”, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and more (read more about why these policies are dangerous here)             
  • S.157 – Prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in a single house or apartment
  • S.396 – Strikes the FOIA exemption for documents related to economic development
  • H.3278 – County councils, upon request of a member of the county legislative delegation, must provide office space and funding for delegation operations, including compensation for delegation staff. The appropriation amount is decided by the delegation
  • H.3357 – Funds must be withheld from a local government that removes a monument or memorial

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To see the full list of more recently filed bills, click here.

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