Weekly Legislative Update: February 4 – 7, 2020

Happenings SC State House
What they did:

This week at the State House, lawmakers elected 17 judges in uncontested legislative elections, as all contesting candidates had dropped out by the time the elections were held. All but one of these judges were elected by voice votes over audible-but-unrecognized objections, despite the state constitution’s requirement (Article 3, Section 20) that voice votes can only be used in elections by the Legislature if no one objects.

On Wednesday a Senate subcommittee met to consider the data warehouse bill (H.3757). The bill would centralize a wealth of data collected by state agencies for the purpose of tracking children from preschool to the workforce, the goal of which would be to help meet the needs of the state’s economy and to improve the workforce delivery system. The committee simply heard testimony from S.C. Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt, but did not vote on the bill this week.

The following bills all passed out of Senate committees and will be added to the Senate floor calendar next week: S.9, which mandates drivers in the left lane move over and allow passing when a vehicle is right behind them; S.883, which would allow the Richland-Lexington Airport Commission to apply to the federal government to set up foreign-trade zones (essentially free-trade zones where duty or excise taxes – and often state and local property taxes – do not apply); and S.870, which would prohibit any construction of off-shore drilling infrastructure.

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee met and heard testimony on two bills that would call for a constitutional convention to amend the U.S. Constitution, but no votes were taken. The subcommittee is planning to meet again on these bills next week. (Here is why a constitutional convention would be ineffective at solving the real problems facing our nation, and why the proposal is extremely dangerous.)

Finally, the two bills that would name a Greenville interchange after President Trump and President and Mrs. Obama failed in committee (click here for our overview of why road-naming legislation is poor public policy), and in an Agency Head Salary Commission meeting, the Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall received a 32% pay increase.

The Senate continued debating the education omnibus bill, which approaches public education as a “workforce development system” in which schools are less about educating students, and more about supplying businesses with qualified workers. This week several amendments were adopted, including one which would allow local school boards to set the school start date, and would add five days to the school year for teacher planning. 

The Senate also passed S.988, which would increase the pay Kershaw County transportation officials receive out of the gas-tax revenue for attending their meetings. This bill will now go to the House. The Senate also gave second reading to S.994, which would pay Lee County transportation officials meeting per diems out of gas-tax revenues. (Click here to read The Nerve’s report on these bills.)

Finally, both chambers adopted the final version of S.996, which extends the candidate filing and screening periods for the Public Service Commission, but without updating the expired dates. This means that over one-third of the original advertising period was cut – which is quite odd in light the fact that the official explanation for the filing period extension was to nominate as many qualified candidates as the law allows.   

The House also passed H.4209, which would create a “South Carolina Farm Aid Fund” to give grants to farmers who lost at least 40% of their crops due to catastrophic weather events. The fund would be administered by the Department of Agriculture with the help of a “Farm Aid Advisory Board.” 

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What they said:

Commenting to The Post and Courier on how lawmakers often “suggest” that judicial candidates withdraw if they don’t have enough votes to win lined up in advance, Rep. Todd Rutherford said,

“It’s just like a bill — if you’ve got one and nobody likes it, why do we have to waste our time voting on it?” 

The simple answer, of course, is that no election is set in stone until the votes are cast. The legislative custom of pressuring unfavored judicial candidates to drop out essentially creates a back-room election process that takes place off the record and out of the public eye. It also conveniently allows lawmakers who are also attorneys to avoid casting recorded votes for judges before whom they may later appear.

What they filed:

While a lot of bills filed by lawmakers contain bad public policy, many proposed bills address issues that simply shouldn’t be in state law to begin with. For instance, S.1089 would reduce the required age to drive “Super Karts” at amusement parks from 18 to 15, and S.1087 would require high school students’ eligibility for gender-based/limited teams to be determined based on biological gender, as proven by the original birth certificate at the time of birth.

More seriously, S.1083 states that if an individual casts a vote in a party primary, in future elections he/she may only vote in that party’s primary – at least through 2024. This bill, in other words, attempts to limit who people can vote for over the next four years. Even if South Carolina had closed primaries, there would be provisions for switching party registration between elections. This bill, however, would simply lock in party affiliation for four years and prohibit any voting outside of that affiliation during the primaries (this bill would not apply to the general elections) – a blatant infringement on voting rights. 

Another alarming bill, S.1088, would establish a private retirement plan – not for state employees, who already participate in the massively insolvent and underfunded state retirement plan – but for private employees and self-employed individuals. This plan would be run by the State Treasurer. Not only is it simply not the purview of government to help private individuals save for their retirement, but given the state’s poor management of the existing state pension plan for public employees, it would be a highly imprudent venture.

On a more positive note, H.5090 would prohibit lawmakers from electing their immediate family members to judicial office going forward, and would require a one-year cooling-off period after a lawmaker leaves office before his/her family members would be eligible to be a judge or magistrate – a much-needed reform.

Finally, a number of honorary resolutions were filed. It should be noted that as innocuous as these appear to be, they nevertheless have an impact somewhere – often simply currying favor with the honored parties. One interesting resolution filed and adopted in the House this week was H.5091, a resolution of condolences to the people of Oman on the death of their Sultan. 

According to the resolution, in 2017 a delegation from Oman traveled to Columbia for a conference entitled, “The Importance of Tourism and Ports in Economic Development: Best Practices in Oman and the USA”, and in 2018 Oman imported over $99.33 million worth of goods that were shipped out of the Port of Charleston.

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

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