Weekly Legislative Update: May 14 – May 16, 2019

Happenings SC State House
What they did:

The legislative session ended last week with several bills in conference committees (three lawmakers from each chamber assigned to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill in question). Next Monday, the General Assembly will reconvene for a special session to vote on (among other things) the compromises developed by these committees.

However, conference committee meetings were only held for three bills this week: the state budget, the Panthers incentives bill, and the resolution to solicit bids to purchase Santee Cooper.

The House and Senate spending priorities in the budget are very similar, but several of the provisos in each version differ. The House version contains several separate bills inserted as provisos (including language soliciting bids to purchase Santee Cooper and a new program to fund rural broadband infrastructure), and the Senate version (among other things) contains two provisos that would impose a toll on I-95 and require DOT to design a plan for I-95 maintenance and expansion. (It should be noted that another bill would allow permanent tolls to be imposed all over the state to fund highway expansion.)

Without obtaining “free conference powers” (basically a blank check from the legislature) conference committees cannot craft new language by combining elements, and the conference committee has been going through the sections where House and Senate language differ and adopting one version or the other.

The Panthers bill conference committee adopted most of the Senate’s amendments to the bill, including weak transparency measures and language increasing the jobs tax credit from $8,000 to $25,000 per job for lowest-income counties, and from $4,000 to $20,250 per job for the second-to-lowest income counties. Read a full analysis of the bill here.

The Santee Cooper conference committee met, but were unable to come to any conclusions, so they adjourned until Monday. The House and Senate versions of this bill are the same in many of its key points – the Department of Administration would solicit bids for the sale of the utility, bids for the management of the utility, and Santee Cooper’s proposed reforms should lawmakers opt to keep the utility. The Department would then select a bid from each category to present to the General Assembly. One key difference between the House and Senate versions is that the House version would explore the sale of all of Santee Cooper’s assets (including undeveloped properties, recreational facilities, etc.), while the Senate version would only consider selling the electric utility portion of Santee Cooper.

Neither version would require a process designed for maximum transparency and accountability to the taxpayers, who own Santee Cooper. Read more here.

The General Assembly will reconvene Monday and conference committees will continue to work next week.


What they said:

During the Panthers incentive bill conference committee meeting, Rep. Todd Rutherford said:

“Transparency [as created by the Tea Party] is not always what’s best for the state of South Carolina.”

The most significant grassroots win for public transparency was the roll-call voting law passed in 2011, after SCPC revealed that lawmakers voted anonymously 75 percent of the time. This law has prevented lawmakers from hiding their votes on controversial legislation, and enabled the people of South Carolina to better hold their representatives accountable.

However, lawmakers have tried to chip away at that law in the past, and just last week – on the Panthers incentive bill – the Senate skipped one of the legally required roll-call votes. Concentration of power combined with a lack of transparency will inevitably breed corruption, and South Carolina state government needs more transparency, not less.

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