Weekly Legislative Update: February 25 – 27, 2020

Happenings SC State House
What they did:

This week House and Senate committees continued the process of reviewing proposals for state-owned utility Santee Cooper. All three proposals have serious problems, and none of them would eliminate Santee Cooper’s $7 billion in ratepayer-backed debt. The only way to arrive at a real solution for Santee Cooper is to start with a transparent process where decision makers can be held directly accountable. Read more here.

In addition, House and Senate lawmakers considered two bills calling for a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to propose constitutional amendments. The House Judiciary Committee advanced H.3125 out of subcommittee, and a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee heard testimony on S.125 before carrying it over to its next meeting. Regardless of the specifics of each proposal, a constitutional convention is a serious threat to our inalienable rights – as it would literally allow the rewriting of the constitution and Bill of Rights. In addition, many of the desired “reforms” – balanced budget amendment, term limits, etc. – are already enacted at the state level, but have not eliminated debt, excessive spending or government overreach. Finally, the state lawmakers who routinely violate our own laws and state constitution would be in charge of the process of picking the individuals who would rewrite the Constitution.

Meanwhile, a Senate subcommittee advanced S.389, which would close party primaries to participation from anyone but registered party members. This would essentially change the primaries from public functions to private functions, in which case taxpayers should not be forced to cover the costs of those particular elections. The subcommittee also passed S.1083, which would prohibit anyone who voted in the 2020 Democratic primary from voting in the Republican primary in 2024 – a proposal with serious constitutional concerns, as reportedly acknowledged by lawmakers before voting to advance the bill.

The full House amended and passed H.4431, which would amend and standardize the local business license tax law. Among other things, this bill would set standard renewal and expiration dates, would base tax on gross income from the previous year, and would allow the Municipal Association to set and revise a standardized business license class schedule.

The full Senate continued debate on the education omnibus bill, after voting to limit debate to 20 minutes per amendment, and prohibit the introduction of any new amendments not already filed. The Senate went on to adopt language requiring the Department of Education to develop a uniform criteria for school districts to use when evaluating district superintendents; creating a SC Reading Panel, tasked with assisting the Department of Education with reading instruction, and reviewing and commenting on the state, district and school reading plans; and creating a development office in the Governor’s School of Science and Mathematics. This bill approaches public education as a “workforce development system” in which schools are less about educating students, and more about supplying businesses with qualified workers.

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What they filed:

The new bills lawmakers filed this week included H.5288, another bill to close primaries. As noted previously, voters should not be forced to pay for elections in which they cannot participate, so if the political parties want to limit participation to their own members, they should also assume responsibility for 100% of the costs.

Another bill, S.1129, would institute several “reforms” of Santee Cooper, such as adding additional qualifications for board members and imposing board member term limits. These would not make the board any more accountable to the taxpayer-owners of Santee Cooper, however. The bill would also (among other things) require Santee Cooper to submit its integrated resource plan to the Public Service Commission (without requiring the latter to approve it) and to hold public hearings before changing rates, but would not change how rates could be set.

One particularly concerning bill, H.5308, would require call centers to notify the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) before relocating a call center or 30% of its operations to a foreign country, and would impose a fine for failure to notify of $10,000 for every day of the violation. The bill would also prevent state agencies from utilizing non-state-based call centers.

Finally, H.5307 would prevent teacher candidates from taking their teacher examination before they’ve completed their student teaching hours. This is a good example of the governmental micromanagement that permeates the educational system and which poses one of the primary barriers to educational reform.

To view the full list of this week’s newly filed bills, click here.

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