Weekly Legislative Update: Apr 2 – Apr 4, 2019

What lawmakers did:

It has been a busy week at the State House, as any bills that do not cross over to the opposite chamber by next Wednesday (April 10) cannot be considered this year without a two-thirds majority. Accordingly, a number of bills passed both chambers this week.

The House Education Committee passed a slightly amended version of the data warehouse bill (H.3757). This bill would create a massive data collecting system that tracks children from preschool through the workforce (and possibly beyond). Despite several tweaks and an attempt at privacy protections, this version is nearly identical to the one proposed last year (read more here). The meeting was originally scheduled to be live-streamed, but the stream was pulled with no explanation. This bill is now on the House floor calendar awaiting debate.

The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee also passed H.4004 – a bill to create a new form (and a committee to oversee it) for end-of-life instructions for patients. This bill carries serious concerns, not the least of which is that it does not require the patient’s signature and is entirely executed by the doctor.

Several concerning bills also passed the full House. H.3620 would allow retired public employees to return to work after a year and to draw both pension benefits and salary. This policy has been enacted in the past and contributed significantly to the current $81.9 billion pension deficit.

The House also passed two Santee Cooper-related bills. H.4261 would fire the board of directors, amend the required qualifications for board members, and create a new legislative oversight committee. H.4287 is a joint resolution authorizing the Santee Cooper joint legislative study committee to oversee the process of selling the utility. Both of these bills give lawmakers responsibilities over Santee Cooper that should properly belong to the advisory committee already in existence and that is fully accountable to the entire state, being composed of five constitutional officers (including the Governor).

Finally, the House amended H.3307 to remove the language prohibiting civil asset forfeiture (the seizure of private property allegedly involved in the commission of a crime), and passed the bill. Now the legislation would simply create a database for and require an annual audit of seized property, and require the Prosecution Coordination Commission to submit a report of asset forfeitures and recommendations “to improve” forfeiture laws.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee finalized its version of the House budgetand it will be published next week and debated the week after.

The full Senate passed S.276 on Wednesday. Under this bill, anyone who threatens violence “by use of a dangerous weapon” in any “public gathering place” could be arrested and forced to get a mental health evaluation as a condition of bond. If the individual does not pass the evaluation, the solicitor could refer him to a mental health court or he could be required to get counseling. This bill contains serious due process concerns.

The Senate also passed S.342, which mandates training and licensing for alcohol servers, and S.712, a special law that would ratify a 2001 transfer of service territory from the Belton-Honea Path Water Authority to the Broadway Water and Sewerage District. Under state law, special purpose districts must be enlarged or altered by the local county council, but as this has not been done, S.712 is an attempt to ratify the territory transfer by special legislative act. This is a flagrant – and unnecessary – violation of the constitutional prohibition of special laws.

 

What they said:

During the Senate Finance budget discussion, Sen. Tom Corbin remarked:

“With the looming debt we’re looking at for the retirement system, we could be in the billions and billions and billions of dollars. I just think its prudent that we pay off our debts as expeditiously as possible, regardless of where they are.”

The Senate Finance Committee budget has not yet been published, but unfortunately the House budget robbed the debt service fund for the second year in a row, allocating the money to economic development and school district capital improvements – and this week House lawmakers passed a bill that would place a further drain on the state’s insolvent pension system.

The pension is one of several scenarios currently in motion that could cause a domino effect to produce a budget shortfall. If the state cannot make a bond debt payment, it would trigger a statewide property tax on all taxable property without warning, without debate and without limit.

 

What they filed:

Several concerning bills were filed this week. H.4418 would create a “Displaced State Employee Readjustment Fund” and give first priority for new state jobs to employees who were “displaced” due to their agency or “quasi-agency” being sold. This is clearly designed to give special consideration to Santee Cooper employees should the state-owned utility be sold. Another bill – H.4419 – requires a study by the Department of Administration to be conducted before the General Assembly can sell Santee Cooper, and pledges that lawmakers will implement “meaningful economic incentive packages” for the areas and individuals adversely affected by the sale.

S.730 would create a study committee to examine the feasibility of connecting with the Charlotte light rail system and providing mass transit throughout the state, and H.4389 would allow counties to use targeted taxes, tolls, and bond revenue to fund mass transit services (public transportation by train, bus, etc.). It should be noted that the Carolina Panthers’ owner has discussed the extension of the Charlotte light rail system into Rock Hill with state officials.

S.731 would require licensed gun dealers to wait five days (instead of three) for the results of a background check before completing a sale. H.4416 would require political primary candidates to be “bona fide” members of the party and to have voted in three of the last four party primaries in order to run, and would allow the state party chairman to have final authority in resolving questions of a prospective candidate’s genuine membership. Finally, H.4383 would impose an additional fine if a driver is holding a cell phone during a traffic violation, the revenue of which would go to the Department of Public Safety to fund a distracted driving campaign.

To view the full list of new bills, click here.

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