Bills update 2021: what passed and what to watch

Last week (Saturday, April 10) was the 2021 crossover deadline, which means bills that failed to pass one chamber (House or Senate) and cross to the other by this date would need a two-thirds vote to be considered.

As this is the first year in a two-year session, bills that failed to meet this deadline will likely be placed on hold until 2022. It should be noted, however, that this rule has not stopped lawmakers from inserting language from dead bills as provisos in the state budget, temporarily giving them the effect of law.

Here is an update of important bills that met the crossover deadline, meaning they could become law this year.

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S.491 – Issuing $550 million in general obligation bonds

This joint resolution would authorize the issuance of $550 million in general obligation bonds – to be paid back by taxpayers with interest – for a number of “infrastructure” improvements at the Port of Charleston.

According to the Post and Courier newspaper, the proposed amount includes up to $400 million toward construction of a rail yard, with the remaining $150 million for a barge program to move shipping containers between the Leatherman and Wando Welch terminals.

The Nerve calculates that the borrowed $550 million would break down to about $105 for every man, woman and child in South Carolina.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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H.3096 – Allowing persons to carry a handgun without a permit

H.3096 would allow lawful gun owners to carry their handgun – either concealed or openly – without the need for a concealed weapons permit (CWP).

The bill keeps restrictions in place that prevent individuals from carrying inside locations such as courtrooms, schools, churches, and the statehouse grounds. It also preserves the right of businesses to deny individuals from carrying while on their property.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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H.3605 – Repealing the requirement to hold joint, open budget meetings

This bill would repeal the law requiring the House and Senate budget-writing committees (House Ways and Means, Senate Finance committees) to hold joint, public hearings on the governor’s proposed state spending plan.

To date, however, there is no record of these joint, open budget hearings ever being held.

Instead, the budget is formed in an array of separate subcommittees, often held simultaneously and without being streamed to the public, making it impossible for both citizens and other lawmakers to track the budget’s development.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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S.447 – Diverting gas tax dollars to pay local officials

This bill would pay each member of the Lee County Transportation Committee (CTC) $100 for each meeting attended, for up to fifteen meetings. This bill would also make the legislative delegation chairman an ex-officio, non-voting member of the CTC, although it does not prohibit that lawmaker from receiving payments for attending meetings.

Under the bill, members would be paid from “C” fund revenues – which comprise the counties’ share of gas tax revenue, used to fund local road improvement projects. This comes at a time as road repairs across the state are running behind schedule.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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H.3786 – Considering pay raises for state officials

This bill would direct the Agency Head Salary Commission to come up with new salary recommendations for the following state officials: the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, the Attorney General, the Comptroller General, the Superintendent of Education, the Adjutant General, and the Commissioner of Agriculture. Specific salary amounts would ultimately be decided by lawmakers. The current annual salary for these officials is $92,000.

The Nerve in 2014 reported on a similar study to explore pay raises for the state’s top officers. The study recommended raising their base pay by a common percentage, although a specific amount was not given.  

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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S.147 – Immunity from COVID-related legal action

This joint resolution would provide immunity to businesses, nonprofits, state agencies and healthcare facilities from covid-related lawsuits if they adhere to public health guidance, defined roughly as any applicable guidance from state or federal public health agencies.

These groups would not be entitled to immunity if a claimant could prove circumstances such as intentional misconduct or a failure to follow public health guidance.  

The resolution would only apply to cases arising between March 31, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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H.3194 – Authorizing the sale of Santee Cooper (and making small changes before it’s sold)

First, this bill would give preliminary authorization for the sale of Santee Cooper and its assets, plus the assumption of its multi-billion dollar debt load. To carry out this task, the bill would form a committee comprised entirely of lawmakers to consider offers and negotiate terms of the sale. Once settled on an offer, the committee would present the deal to the full General Assembly and governor for approval.

Second, it would make a number of small changes to the utility itself, such as having the full General Assembly confirm board members (appointed by the governor), reducing the term length of board members and imposing a two-term limit, and requiring them to have at least a college bachelor’s degree. It would also mandate stronger notice requirements when it wants to raise its rates. However, as Santee Cooper is statutorily obligated to charge rates sufficient to repay its debt, there is little customers can do to prevent future rate hikes.

It is unclear why lawmakers are attempting to reform Santee Cooper if they are determined to sell it. Investing money and resources to reform the utility may only incentivize lawmakers to keep it under state control, an arrangement which has resulted in billions in debt that ratepayers will be paying for decades to come.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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S.499 – Election law challenges and appointments

This bill (S.499) would establish that the House speaker and Senate president, on behalf of their respective bodies, have an “unconditional right” to intervene in a court action that challenges:

  • the validity of an election law
  • an election policy
  • the manner in which an election is conducted

Following the 2020 election, state lawmakers have filed a high volume of election-related bills, some of which (if passed) may prompt court challenges. S.499, however, does not place any parameters on the inclusion of “election policy” or “manner in which an election is conducted”, leaving the door open for lawmakers to intervene in disputes unrelated to actual legislation.

Furthermore, the bill would require that the five members of the State Election Commission (currently appointed by the governor) must be confirmed by the Senate. The Senate would also have confirmation power over the SEC executive director, responsible for supervising county election boards and voter registration, who is currently selected by the commission unilaterally.  

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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S.200 – Method of execution for death row inmates

This bill would clarify that execution by electrocution is the default method for death row inmates, and that another option may only be chosen if it is available. Historically, that second option has been lethal injection (South Carolina is facing a shortage of lethal injection drugs); however, the bill adds that inmates may elect to die by firing squad. Currently, only three states allow for execution via this method.  

If an inmate who has elected to die by firing squad or lethal injection receives a stay of execution to delay his or her death, the request must be renewed or the method of execution would revert back to electrocution.

*Bill sponsor(s) can be seen at the top of the bill page

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