Weekly Legislative Update: Jan 28 – Jan 30, 2020

Happenings SC State House
What they did:

This week, the Senate passed S.996 (legislation to extend the Public Service Commission candidate filing and screening period) after tweaking the diversity language inserted by the House last week. The bill will now go back to the House for yet another vote, despite the fact that according to the new proposed schedule, the advertisement period was supposed to have started no later than last Sunday. The dates have not been updated by either chamber, so if the bill is adopted next week as it currently stands, the advertisement period for the open seats will be cut short by over a week. This is an interesting development, considering that the official explanation for the filing period extension is the goal of nominating as many qualified candidates as the law allows.  

(For context, the Public Utilities Review Committee already found six candidates to be “qualified,” but did not actually nominate any of them to the four open seats. Under S.996, 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 Senate continued debate on the education omnibus bill (S.419). Both this bill and the House version (which passed last session) approach 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 giving additional LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarship stipend to education majors. Lawmakers also adopted language setting forth high standards regarding the treatment of teachers in the workplace (similar to the “teacher bill of rights” legislation passed by the House this week), and an amendment for student data protection.

Meanwhile, the conference committee process for S.455 has now begun. This bill was sent to conference last year, but since the House had not appointed its conferees by the time session ended, the bill stalled. Originally, this legislation would have loosened occupational licensing regulations for military individuals and their spouses. Last year, however, the Senate inserted language from another bill (S.342) requiring alcohol servers to be licensed. This is a commonly used tactic to slip bills through the legislative process, when they have failed to pass on their own merits – and it should be noted that it violates the constitutional prohibition on multi-subject bills.

However, the separate alcohol server licensing bill (S.342) was sent back to committee from two weeks ago, essentially killing the bill. In resurrecting S.455 and assigning House conferees, lawmakers succeeded in keeping the alcohol server licensing scheme alive, despite its failure as a standalone bill. When the six legislative conferees agree on a final version of the S.455, the bill will come back to both chambers for an up-or-down vote.

The House also passed H.4760, which eliminates several tests and strikes a requirement that students pass a high school history course in order to graduate, and H.5034, which completely reconstitutes the Charleston County School District into nine single-member election districts, starting with the 2020 general election. 

Finally, H.4209 passed the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs committee. This bill 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:

While debating a rules change that would impose greater transparency on budget spending for pet projects, Sen. Marlon Kimpson remarked,

“I am in favor of transparency, but the projects I fight for are not necessarily (from) politically powerful groups, and I may get tied up in a political debate that quite frankly may not be necessary and beneficial to my district.”

The problem with this statement is that it overlooks the fact that funds in the budget are not local funds but state funds generated by all taxpayers. Every single spending decision contained in the state budget concerns every taxpayer, and while thorough debate may not particularly benefit local interests that stand to gain by a particular earmark, it is always in the best interest of taxpayers. 

What they filed:

Lawmakers filed a number of alarming bills this week – most notably, H.4991, a statewide “red flag” law which would allow the government to seize the guns of individuals who have not committed a crime, if they are suspected to be a danger to themselves or others. In determining whether or not grounds for suspicion exist, the courts can consider “the reckless use, display, or brandishing of a firearm by the person” – terms which are not defined – and “abuse of alcohol by the person.”

This week, lawmakers filed two bills addressing the judicial system. H.5027 would stop the practice of legislative pledges to vote for judicial candidates, and would prohibit lawmakers from pressuring judicial candidates to drop out ahead of the election – a common practice and one that often shields lawmakers from having to cast on-the-record votes between candidates. 

In contrast, S.1067 would repeal the mandatory retirement age of 72 for judges and magistrates. This would allow judges to draw both salary and pension benefits for an unlimited amount of time. It should be noted that one of the driving forces behind the current pension deficit was the “TERI” program, which allowed public employees to draw both retirement benefits and a state salary.

H.5081 and H.5082 are a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation respectively that would increase the required contribution to the General Reserve Fund from 5% to 7%, and increase the required contribution to the Capital Reserve Fund from 2% to 3%. S.1055 would send all the property tax revenue (as well as revenue from other related taxes and fees) from airline companies to the State Aviation Fund instead of being split between that fund and the General Fund.

H.5029 is an oddly specific bill, requiring “a nonprofit corporation located in this State” which grosses over $1 billion in revenue and reduces staff by over 100 employees in the same year to report to the House and Senate appropriations committees and the local county council(s) on:

  • All the economic incentives they are eligible to receive according to state law
  • The monetary value of these benefits
  • Why the benefits are necessary, and
  • Why they needed to downsize.

H.5070 would prohibit health plans from excluding applicants due to preexisting conditions, while H.5059 would requiring schools to provide children with at least 90 minutes of physical activity (not to be confused with physical education requirements) per week, integrated into the daily classroom routine, and to report the results to the General Assembly    
H.5032 would place parameters on the Department of Transportation’s issuance of emergency contracts. Under this bill, emergency contracts could only be awarded after the governor declares an emergency (as opposed to the DOT secretary), and only for a 90-day window after the emergency is declared. Finally, H.5026 is a resolution to name the I-85/I-385 interchange in Greenville County after former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Barack Obama. 

Lawmakers filed a number of alarming bills this week – most notably, H.4991, a statewide “red flag” law which would allow the government to seize the guns of individuals who have not committed a crime, if they are suspected to be a danger to themselves or others. In determining whether or not grounds for suspicion exist, the courts can consider “the reckless use, display, or brandishing of a firearm by the person” – terms which are not defined – and “abuse of alcohol by the person.”

S.1039, another anti-Second Amendment bill, would impose a permanent loss of gun rights for low-level crimes (crimes that carry a penalty of one year or more).

Another troubling bill is H.5016, which would allow local school board members to participate in the state health plan and the state pension plan. Both of these benefit plans are major budget expenses paid for by taxpayers, and the pension plan is dramatically underfunded and insolvent, with the deficit estimated as high as $81.9 billion.

Companion bills H.4996 and S.1029 would allow the South Carolina Research Authority (a state-created venture capital firm with a history of questionable practices and nontransparency) to invest in the obligations of a private organization as long as they have an investment grade rating from two credit rating services. These bills would also extend how long companies can remain in SCRA-operated “innovation centers,” and would add two seats to the SCRA executive committee (to be elected by the rest of the executive committee).

H.4998 would combine the Education Oversight Committee and the Commission on Higher Education into a new board – a legislatively controlled SC Commission for Comprehensive Education, charged with coordinating and implementing a “P-20 education system” (preschool to age 20). The goal is to create an “educational system that supports economic and job development” – in other words, to harness the education system to train workers to meet the goals of the state’s central planners, and the bill requires all actions taken under it to “complement our state’s job creation and economic development efforts.”

Moreover, the uniting of preschool, K-12 education and higher education would facilitate and could lead to massive data collection that tracks children from preschool to the workforce and possibly beyond (the goal of repeated legislative attempts to create a workforce and education data warehouse). In fact, one of the benchmarks of success listed in this bill is the “allowing [of] longitudinal data analyses of finances, programs and students.” (emphasis added)

Finally, yet another resolution to name an intersection after an elected official was introduced – H.5009, which would name the I-85/I-385 intersection in Greenville after President Donald Trump.

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

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