Leftover bills could pass as legislature returns for special session

South Carolina lawmakers return for a special session this week, primarily with the goal of passing a new state budget and allocating the remaining federal COVID-19 aid – along with considering legislation to address absentee voting for the upcoming election.

But under the rules passed by lawmakers earlier this year (called the “sine die” resolution) any bill that has passed at least one legislative chamber – House or Senate – can be considered and voted into law. As such, it is possible that each of the following bills could pass in the next two weeks.

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S.227 – Allowing certain municipalities to impose a property tax (passed the Senate)

This bill would allow the 60 municipalities in South Carolina that do not currently have a property tax to impose one. Since state law uses the previous year’s property tax rate to set the property tax cap for each year, cities which don’t have property taxes at all cannot impose one.  Under this bill, any municipality without a property tax (or any new municipalities created after January 1 of this year) could do so. 

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H.3757 – Data Warehouse (passed the House)

The bill would centralize the wealth of data already collected by state agencies into a massive data warehouse that tracks children from preschool through the workforce (and possibly beyond). The warehouse’s purpose would be to assist state planners in meeting the needs of the state’s economy and improving the “education delivery system” – the bill’s term for the public education system. In other words, it would be used to sync the state’s economic development and public education systems so that children can be better funneled into the jobs prepared for them. (Read more here.)

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4332 – Expanding the use of economic development bonds (passed the House)

This bill would expand the possible use of “economic development bonds,” which are general obligation bonds backed by taxpayers and issued by state government to fund economic development projects. All general obligation bond debt is ultimately secured by taxpayers’ personal property, thanks to a little known constitutional provision requiring an automatic statewide property tax should state government fail to make a bond debt payment. Currently, economic development bonds can be issued for anything from land acquisition to employee training, but this bill would add “freight transportation” to that list without defining that term.

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S.259 – A fund to acquire private property to turn into floodplains (passed the Senate)

This bill would create a new fund for the purpose of acquiring properties to turn into floodplains or open spaces. Under this bill, local governments, state agencies, and even private environmental groups called “land trusts” could obtain grants and loans for home buyouts and floodplain restoration. To be eligible for buyout, the home must have suffered flooding-related damage of over $1,000 twice in ten years.

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H.4819, S.994 & S.988 – Paying local transportation officials using gas-tax dollars (passed either the House or the Senate)

All of these bills are local bills that would use local gas-tax dollars to pay local transportation officials (appointed by lawmakers) in Union, Lee and Kershaw counties to attend their meetings. (See herehere, and here for an analysis of each bill.)

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S.9 – Regulating drivers in the left lane (passed the Senate)

This bill would require that drivers using the leftmost lane on an interstate highway must be passing another vehicle, with exceptions for traffic conditions which make driving in the right lane impractical. A driver may also cruise in the left lane if there isn’t another car directly behind them. Drivers who fail to comply would be subject to a $25 fine.

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H.3455 – Licensing for residential swimming pool contractors (passed the House)

This bill would require residential swimming pool installers to register for a license, a process which includes a credit report, an annual fee, an affidavit showing a year of experience, three letters of reference, and a $5,000 surety bond for work to be performed that is worth $5,000 or more. This is in addition to any local business licensing requirements.

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S.176 – Execution by electric chair becomes the default method (passed the Senate)

This bill would subject death row inmates to execution via the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are not available (which they are currently not).

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H.4209 – Creating the SC Farm Aid Fund (passed the House)

This bill would create a fund to give grants to farmers who lost at least 40% of their crops as a result of catastrophic weather events. The fund would be administered by the Department of Agriculture with the help of the newly created Farm Aid Advisory Board.

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Other bills that shouldn’t pass this year – but still might

Despite the rules limiting what can be taken up during a special session, legislative leaders have used procedural maneuvers to pass legislation that, under the special session rules, could not be taken up until the following year. For example, they can remove language from a bill eligible to pass and replace it with the language from one that isn’t.

It should also be noted that under this year’s special session rules, lawmakers are allowed to discuss and pass bills dealing with “COVID-19 and related matters” – a topic encompassing a wide range of policies.  

That being said, here are some of the more significant recently filed bills;

  • H.5476 – Expanding Medicaid as authorized in the Obamacare legislation
  • H.5477 – Allowing a person to deduct net COVID-19-created losses on their 2019 tax return for up to 25% of their taxable income
  • S.1259 – Shields businesses, hospitals/healthcare professionals and state agencies from coronavirus-related lawsuits if they follow proper public health guidance
  • S.1260 – Clarifies that pepper spray is not illegal under a law which prohibits civilians from possessing tear gas
  • H.5474 – All individual and group health insurance plans must cover telemedicine, DHEC must complete a study on the practice, and licensing boards shall maintain licensure for telehealth
  • S.1205 –  Making it illegal to have items that can be used for graffiti in your possession on DNR-owned land, with a penalty of up to three years in jail for a third offense
  • H.5487 – Removing the power for a citizen to conduct a “citizen’s arrest”
  • H.5475 – Creating a state revolving loan fund to be administered by the Department of Commerce, to provide loans to businesses in the food and beverage industry during the COVID-19 virus emergency
  • H.5473 – Resolution disagreeing that grounds exist for further state of emergency declarations, and declaring the state of emergency expired 15 days after issuance if the General Assembly does not vote to allow it to be extended
  • H.5491 – Prohibiting state and local governments from ordering the closure of any business
  • H.5484 – Creating an essential services study committee to decide what is essential in the crisis
  • H.5482 – Expanding workers’ compensation for first responders and correctional officers with COVID-19 illness, and applying this retroactively
  • H.5489 – Allowing people to opt out of vaccinations for health or religious reasons (already allowed under current law for any reason, not merely health or religion)
  • S.1212 – Temporary suspension of signed petition requirements to run for school board
  • S.1262 – Prohibits agencies from purchasing state memorabilia to sell that is not a South Carolina or United States end product
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