Weekly Legislative Update – March 3 – 5, 2020

Happenings SC State House

This was the last legislative week before the House considers the $30 million Ways and Means budget. The budget debate will begin next week on Monday instead of Tuesday.

This week the House Judiciary Committee advanced H.3125, which calls for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. This proposal would completely shut the public out of the delegate selection process and center control at every stage in the hands of lawmakers in general and legislative leaders in particular. 

A constitutional convention has never happened before, and there are no rules governing one. This means that anything could happen and the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights could end up on the chopping block. Read our analysis here. 

Also this week, House and Senate committees voted to reject NextEra’s bid to purchase state-owned utility Santee Cooper, Dominion’s bid to manage the utility, and Santee Cooper’s own reform proposal. However, the House committee also voted to authorize a process to continue negotiations with NextEra (through a joint legislative committee staffed with a third-party expert), as well as to pursue enacting Santee Cooper reforms. 

Specifically, this bill – H.5335 – would authorize the sale of Santee Cooper OR the third-party management of Santee Cooper. It would also create a joint committee of three lawmakers from each house to negotiate the terms of a sale and the terms of a management proposal. The committee would recommend one proposal, which would come before both houses for a straight up-or-down vote. If passed by the General Assembly, the proposal would then go to the Governor to be signed or vetoed. 

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that the only way to sell Santee Cooper in a beneficial way is to put the Santee Cooper Advisory Board (comprised of the governor and four other constitutional officers) in charge of the entire sale process – from the due diligence audit which should precede any action, to soliciting bids and negotiating with bidders, to finalizing the terms which should go to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote. Lawmakers’ initial approach was a closed-door process led by unaccountable bureaucrats and third-party consultants – which naturally resulted in three unacceptable proposals. This alternate approach would put lawmakers directly in charge, when their role should be limited to an up-or-down vote at the end of the process. Read more about the right way to sell Santee Cooper here.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee also advanced legislation authorizing execution by electric chair, if lethal injection drugs are not available. This bill will now go to the House floor.

Meanwhile, the House passed a number of bills, including H.4776,  which in its original form would have required Public Service Commission (PSC) members to wait for three years instead of one year after leaving the commission before working for a utility. The committee, however, substituted watered-down language that would allow commissioners to work for utilities after a year had elapsed from the time they left the PSC, as long as they did not actually represent the utilities before the PSC. The House also sent H.4835 – a bill prohibiting slower drivers from remaining in the left lane – back to committee, essentially killing the bill.

The full Senate finally passed the education omnibus bill. Before giving the bill second reading, lawmakers deleted an earlier amendment giving school districts flexibility in setting their start dates, and inserted language from a separate bill creating a new scholarship for students majoring in a critical workforce area as defined by the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education and ratified by the SC Coordinating Council for Workforce Development. 

Most significantly, the Senate adopted an amendment abolishing the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) and creating a joint legislative committee to recommend which EOC powers should go to the Department of Education, and which should go to the State Board of Education. The EOC is one of the two legislatively dominated boards which dictate state education policy.

While the Senate has extensively amended the education omnibus bill, the primary focus – education as a workforce development system rather than a system designed to educate and prepare children to dream of and aim for their own goals – has not changed.

What they filed:

This week, lawmakers filed H.5337, which would allow political candidates to use campaign funds to pay for childcare expenses that are the direct result of campaign activity. “Childcare expenses” could include daycare, food and beverages, transportation to childcare providers, afterschool programs, and preschool, as well as a nurse or home care provider for disabled children. This would be a concerning policy, since campaign funds should strictly be limited to covering actual campaign expenses, not the cost of living during a campaign.

Another bill, S.1139, aims to regulate the use of drones, including prohibiting the operation of a drone while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, along with using one to endanger a person or their property. 

S.1137 would essentially integrate midwives and birthing centers into the hospital system. Specifically, it would require the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to enact regulations covering escalation of care from a birthing center or a home birth to a hospital, etc. 

Finally, H.5339 would require DHEC to regulate maximum contaminant levels for toxic chemicals and carcinogens in public water systems.

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

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