Weekly Legislative Update: Apr 30 – May 2, 2019

 

What they did:

Despite next week being the last week of the legislative session, lawmakers did not send the budget to conference committee. Next week, the House will get one more chance to amend the budget and add provisos, and the Senate will get an up-or-down vote on the most recent House budget. If the Senate does not concur with the House version (which it never does), the conference committee will be appointed. At this point, it does not appear that the budget will be sent to the Governor’s desk before the end of session.

The House this week voted to pass the data warehouse bill 92-8. This bill did not make the crossover deadline (the date by which bills from the House must cross over to the Senate and vice versa in order to be considered in the opposite chamber this year), which means that even if there was time left in the session, the Senate could not take up the bill without a two-thirds vote. The Senate could take up and pass the bill next year, however. The bill was slightly amended to combine two separate workforce development committees, but the amendment did not change the language creating the data warehouse system and oversight committee. Read our analysis here.

Meanwhile, the Senate finally passed legislation to solicit binding offers for the sale or management of Santee Cooper. As the House version (which would have placed the joint legislative committee in charge of the sale process) passed the crossover deadline, the Senate passed that bill after adopting a strike-and-replace amendment. The Senate’s language would place the Department of Administration in charge of the procurement process. The Department would solicit and evaluate offers to purchase and offers to manage the state-owned utility, and Santee Cooper would also present its own bid for reform should the legislature opt not to sell. The Department would present the General Assembly with a recommended purchase offer, a recommended management proposal, and the recommendation for Santee Cooper’s proposal, and the General Assembly would proceed from there.

This process is not designed for maximum transparency and accountability to the taxpayers, who own Santee Cooper. Before any bidding process begins, a complete audit should be conducted and the information and official findings should be fully disclosed to the taxpayers. While the final decision to sell rightfully belongs to the General Assembly, the solicitation and negotiation process should be handled by the Santee Cooper advisory board comprised of five statewide elected officials (including the Governor), which is entirely and directly accountable to the people of South Carolina. Lawmakers’ role should be limited to an up-or-down vote on a final bid submitted by the advisory board. Read more here.

The Senate also passed H.3541, a bill amending sheriff qualifications – after inserting language from an unrelated bill stripping some of the Governor’s interim appointment power. Lawmakers frequently attempt to pass bills in this way during the closing days of the legislation, despite the constitutional requirement that bills deal with only one subject.

Finally, the Senate adopted a resolution commissioning a portrait of sitting Senator John Matthews to hang in the Senate chamber.

 

What they said:

During a Senate Judiciary screening of the Governor’s nominee for Santee Cooper Board chairman, Sen. Mike Fanning said:

“Three monopolies run South Carolina, and have run it for years, and I don’t want career utility executives from the three monopolies – of which, two of them we’ve been dealing with issues – running Santee Cooper.”

While South Carolina’s energy system is indeed a regulated monopoly with protected service territories for power providers, the real question is why Senators were discussing a utility board member candidate in the first place.

Every aspect of the utility regulatory system – from captive customers to regulatory oversight to actual state ownership of one of the utilities – is under the control of lawmakers. As the V.C. Summer disaster demonstrated, not only has the energy monopoly in the state proven an utter failure, but the power monopoly in the Statehouse is entirely to blame for the catastrophic cost.

The only way to protect ratepayers from poor utility decisions and high energy costs is to allow them to choose their power company, and to get politicians out of the utility business.

 

What they filed:

This week, lawmakers filed a massive sales tax overhaul bill (H.4532), a bill requiring a new certificate and stiff fees for food processing/packaging operations (S.806), and a bill requiring teenagers (ages 15-17) to complete four hours of litter cleanup before they are eligible to upgrade their beginner’s permits to a conditional or special restricted driver’s license (H.4505).

H.4531 would make Public Service Commissioners elected by the public – a sure way to make the energy regulatory body more political than ever. S.798 would reduce the size of the University of South Carolina board of directors from 20 to 11, including one director from each congressional district, one at-large director, and three ex officio members (Governor or designee, Superintendent of Education, and the president of the USofC alumni association).To view the full list of new bills, click here.

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