Legislative update: What lawmakers passed and what’s still in play

SC State House Happenings

South Carolina lawmakers met last week (May 12) to take up legislation dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and to pass a resolution funding state government through the year until they can return and write an official budget. But they also took the opportunity to pass and introduce a handful of other bills too, some entirely unrelated to the pandemic.

Below is a summary of the legislation passed last week, and more importantly, what bills could still become law later this year. 

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What they passed

Most notably, lawmakers passed a continuing resolution (H.3411) to continue funding state government at current spending levels until lawmakers return to Columbia to write/pass the state budget. Most notably, the temporary funding resolution:

  • Removes the Governor’s ability to spend the federal COVID-19 relief funds his office received (nearly $2 billion), stipulating that only the legislature can spend those funds. Instead, lawmakers made $155 million of existing state surplus dollars immediately available for the governor to spend on COVID-19 at his discretion – but only with the review and comment of the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee.
  • Appropriates $25 million of state surplus dollars for statewide COVID-19 testing.
  • Appropriates $1.5 million of state surplus dollars for an emergency contract (bypassing the normal procurement process) to procure a grants management service, ostensibly to ensure the state properly spends federal COVID-19 relief funds – despite the detailed spending and accounting guidance state agencies are already receiving from the state Comptroller General.
  • Requires state agencies and colleges/universities to account monthly for COVID-19 funds received directly from the federal government. The resolution also allows them to spend previously restricted/earmarked funds to maintain their “critical programs.”

Lawmakers, however, passed a slew of other bills, too. S.635, now the law, allows South Carolinians to vote by mail in the state’s June primary (more details here). That bill would originally have created a new special license plate, but lawmakers struck that language and replaced it with the language from S.867 – a process that bypasses the normal legislative process in order to fast-track a bill.

H.3967 prohibits leg, waist, or ankle restraints from being used on pregnant inmates. H.3998 creates a state tax credit to incentivize the creation of low-income housing projects, to match a federal tax credit already available for these projects. Meanwhile, S.76 extends a plethora of tax favors which expired in 2019, including a tax exemption for energy-efficient mobile homes, and a large credit for angel investors who invest in certain South Carolina-based small businesses.

Finally, both chambers passed the end-of-year “sine die” resolution, which outlines when and for what reasons the General Assembly can reconvene. The resolution schedules a special session for September 15-24, but the Senate president and House speaker can call them back into session any time before then. In addition to funding matters and the state budget, lawmakers could also consider any of the following in special session through September 24:

  • Legislation passed by one chamber prior to May 14
  • Legislation concerning COVID-19 and related matters
  • Local legislation that has the unanimous consent of the local legislative delegation
  • Bills already in conference committee
  • Legislative elections for positions filled by the General Assembly
  • Gubernatorial vetoes

The resolution officially ends the legislative session on November 8, which means that a short-notice special session could occur at basically any point for the rest of the year.

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What could pass later this year

Since the “sine die” resolution allows consideration of any bill that has passed one legislative chamber, it is possible that each of the following bills could become law when lawmakers reconvene later this year.

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. 

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.)

H.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.

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.

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 here, here, and here for an analysis of each bill.)

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.

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.

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).

H.3759 & S.419 – Reshaping public education around “workforce development” (a different version has passed each chamber)

Aside from a myriad of tweaks to education policy, both bills (House & Senate) would create a career pathways system beginning as early as kindergarten, in which state economic development and workforce agencies would work with the Department of Education to align k-12 education with state and regional workforce needs, among other things – giving economic planners direct input into student coursework. The bills would also ditch instruction based on “fostering artistic creativity” and “critical thinking” in favor of curricula explicitly designed to meet workforce needs as determined by the Department of Commerce. (Read more here)

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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New 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 (as passed by lawmakers in a sine die resolution), 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, several new bills were filed last week, including:

  • 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
  • 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[A1] 
  • 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

For the complete list of new bills filed this week, click here.


 

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