Weekly Legislative Update: Jan 14 – Jan 16, 2020

Happenings SC State House

January 14 – 16, 2020

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What they did:

The 2020 legislative session started this week, and since it is the second year in the two-year session, lawmakers were able to begin debating bills on the floor almost immediately. 

On Wednesday, the Senate placed S.419 (the Senate education omnibus bill) on special order, giving it priority debate status. They adopted the committee amendment, which Senators worked on throughout the summer. The House passed its version of this bill last session. Despite their differences, both bills approach public education as a “workforce development system” in which schools are less about educating students, and more about supplying businesses with qualified workers. Debate and amendments on the Senate bill will resume next week.

Both the House and the Senate filed companion resolutions this week extending the filing and screening period for Public Service Commission (PSC) candidates. Despite already finding six candidates to be “qualified,” the Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC) did not actually nominate any of them to the four open seats. Under the joint resolutions, the PURC would accept new applications throughout the month of February, but candidates who withdrew/were not found qualified would not be able to reapply. The House resolution, H.4827, was passed out of committee this week, but the Senate version, S.996, bypassed committee entirely and was fast-tracked through the full Senate – which skipped the mandatory second reading roll call vote in the process.

The General Assembly also fast-tracked two local education bills. The Senate passed S.975, which would consolidate two Clarendon County school districts. This bill was filed on Tuesday, bypassed committee, and received second and third readings on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Meanwhile, the House recalled H.3244 from committee and placed it directly on the floor calendar. This bill imposes several additional requirements on the process of closing rural schools in Charleston county – including a requirement to forward a report on the closing’s impact to the Charleston County legislative delegation.

Another significant bill is H.4819, which would allow the Union County Transportation Committee (CTC) members to be paid out of local gas-tax revenues for attending their meetings. After a failed attempt to bypass the committee process entirely, this bill passed committee on Thursday – although since it is considered a “local” bill, the “committee” in this case was the Union County Delegation (which appoints the CTC). This bill is now on the House calendar. Two similar bills in the Senate successfully bypassed committee and are awaiting a vote in the full Senate. 

Finally, the Judicial Merit Selection Commission published the first draft of their judicial screenings and nominations report this week, covering judicial candidates to the Supreme Court, Circuit Court, Court of Appeals, Family Court, and Administrative Law Court. To read the draft report, click here. Lawmakers will elect judges to these courts on February 5th.

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What they said:

During his opening remarks in the Senate’s first session of the year, Senate President Harvey Peeler remarked, speaking of earmark transparency,

“[T]his year, I think sunshine will shine on the budget, and hopefully by the time the budget hits the governor’s desk, it will have a suntan.”

If lawmakers were truly interested in a transparent budget, what would that look like? For starters, it would extend far beyond exposing secret spending for lawmakers’ pet projects – a mere symptom of the larger problem. The fact is that the entire budget is written in an illegal process designed to shut out taxpayers and concentrate key spending decisions in the hands of legislative leaders. 

State law requires the appropriations committees in both chambers to hold joint, open hearings on the governor’s budget. As long as they disregard this law and instead draft the budget themselves in a plethora of unrecorded, unstreamed, simultaneous subcommittee meetings, no minor tweaks to their earmark funding process will make the budget truly transparent.

What they filed:

This week, lawmakers filed 204 bills, 125 of which were honorary/congratulatory/sympathetic resolutions. The recipients of these bills included high school marching bands, cheer teams, cross country teams, retiring/former politicians, and the Prime Minister of Japan. 

More concerningly, H.4833 would grant private petroleum pipeline companies the powers to seize private property through eminent domain – an alarming violation of private property rights. 

Two bills would pay certain local transportation officials (appointed by lawmakers) out of their counties’ local share of gas-tax revenue. S.994 would pay each member of the Lee County CTC $100 for each meeting attended, for up to fifteen meetings. S.988 would increase the per diem currently paid to Kershaw County CTC members from gas-tax funds from $75 per meeting to $90 per meeting, and would pay the CTC chairman $175 per meeting. Read more here

S.995 would make it illegal to sell flavored e-liquid or vapor products, while S.992 would make it a crime to fly a drone over someone’s farm without their consent. Both bills come with possible jail time, with the former threatening up to one year and the latter thirty days for a first offense. 

Finally, S.1016 would prohibit more than three unrelated adults from living in the same home – a move especially punitive for low-income residents who split housing costs with multiple roommates.

To view the list of the most recently filed bills, click here.

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