Best and Worst of the 2011 Session Prefiled Bills

Authors: Geoff Pallay and Simon Wong

With a new session comes more opportunities for the General Assembly to pass legislation impacting the lives of South Carolinians. As the stimulus money comes off the books this year, the legislative session is expected to focus on how to fill the gap. As can be expected, there are a variety of good and bad bills that attempt to fix that problem.

Best Prefiled Bills

S 206: This bill, which is similar to last year’s S 1229, would create the Economic Incentive Transparency Act. In short, this legislation would require greater scrutiny on economic incentives handed out by legislators in Columbia. Current law allows the public little opportunity to weigh-in on handouts given to companies by the state government. While the best idea would be to limit a state-driven economy entirely, the next-best thing is to at least mandate greater transparency before tax dollars are used to pick winners and losers in the market. As the Policy Council has reported, transparency will lead to a more responsible government – and protect taxpayers’ valuable investments.

S 173: Earlier this year, the Policy Council detailed several reasons for why the session should be shortened – including the fact that the Palmetto State has the longest session in the Southeast. Last session, Senator Mike Rose introduced S 1003 – which was referred to the Judiciary Committee – that would have changed South Carolina’s format to a biennial session. In this year’s session, the legislature will have another chance to be more responsible with taxpayer dollars and run a more efficient and productive state government. If passed, this joint resolution would create an amendment that requires a majority of popular vote. A second joint resolution dealing with shortening sessions was also introduced – S 154. As reported by The Nerve, Senator Phillip Shoopman’s resolution would require session to end by March 31 each year. See also S 196

S 134: The Policy Council has extolled the merits of reforming the legislature, which in South Carolina has more control than most legislative branches, evidenced by the fact that they appoint more than half as many executive branch positions as the governor. This bill, among other things, would transfer certain functions away from entities like the Budget and Control Board to a newly created Department of Administration that reports to the governor. See also S 129, S 130, S 132, S 147, S 261

S 185: With few exceptions, such as Wyoming, Maine and Georgia, health insurers cannot sell insurance plans across state lines. This bill would authorize the Department of Insurance to allow out-of-state insurers to sell plans within South Carolina. These plans would be exempt from South Carolina mandates, but the plans would have to follow mandates from the states where they originated. Mandates generally add to the cost of health care to the consumer. If a health care plan is good enough for residents of Florida, Delaware, Arizona, or any other state, then it should be good enough for a South Carolina citizen.

S 10: This bill would create a commission that aims to streamline government. This is the same measure – S 897 – that passed the Senate last year but died once the House inserted amendments that had previously failed the Senate. While a commission to streamline government is a good start, a better move would be to couple it with an effective spending cap.

H 3058: Businesses are required to pay for and acquire a business license in the majority of municipalities in South Carolina. South Carolina law stipulates that this license must be based on the gross revenue of the business. As the Policy Council has written, this is destructive to businesses and the economy. This bill would change the manner in which business licenses are levied, shifting the fee schedule to be based on the size of the business – while also allowing for more flexibility at the local level. But an even better idea is completely eliminating business license taxes and thereby reducing burdens on businesses and entrepreneurialism.

S 14: This bill would require any fee or fine increase (except higher-ed tuition and intergovernmental transfers) to be introduced in its own, entirely separate piece of legislation. The Policy Council has recommended a moratorium on all fine and fee increase as one of the five reforms to bring more clarity to the state’s budget. Currently, legislators can slip these tax hikes into the appropriations bill. In an additional effort to curb hidden tax increases, the bill further prevents agencies from passing fee increases via administrative action. See also S 205, H 3051

S 286: As the Policy Council has reported, South Carolina has one of the more antiquated roll call voting rules in the country. Just a few years ago, only 5 percent of votes were recorded. While this figure has been improving, legislators would better serve citizens with a comprehensive measure that mandated roll call voting on bills and resolutions that have the force of law and on each section of the appropriations bill. This bill would do that. Facilitating the ease with which voters can determine how their legislators voted creates a more accountable government and also more prudent state budgeting. See also S 7, S 198, H 3004

S 5: This would establish the Healthcare Freedom Act, which provides that South Carolinians have the right to refuse to purchase health care insurance. The Policy Council has written extensively on this issue and testified on the impact the federal health care law will have on South Carolina. See also S 244, H 3011

S 311: In previous years, the Comptroller General’s Office has pushed for more check records and expenditures to be listed online. Many municipalities and school districts have moved in this direction, but there is still a long way to go. The more transparency in public spending, the easier it is for voters to hold their officials accountable. This bill would require the Department of Education to post information on its website pertaining to spending, awards, description of pending awards, and would require new educational materials and products to be posted for review 180 days before their use instructionally.

S 230: Late last year, The Nerve detailed how legislators receive high per diem reimbursements – enough to earn an average of $32,000 per year, far above the publicized figure of $10,400. This bill would reign in the abuse of per diem, by requiring that food and lodging reimbursements be provided only for actual expenses – rather than a flat per-day figure.

H 3067: If passed, this bill would require all state agencies and local government entities to maintain a searchable transaction register on the Internet, available for taxpayers to view and download. In other words, citizens could track government spending, every month, right down to the transaction amount, the name of the payee and the purpose of the expenditure. In addition, the bill requires each local government entity to post the number of full-time employees and employees’ making over $50,000 annual compensation.

H 3175: This bill would prohibit any state agency from using public funds for lobbying. The bill is merely 26 words long but would go a long way toward improving the accountability of government officials to taxpayers – rather than special interests. The Policy Council has reported previously on the use of tax dollars to hire lobbyists, who then ask for more tax dollars. Even better, the bill’s language should include all governmental entities including counties, municipalities, school districts, etc.

Worst Prefiled Bills

S 211: This bill would create the I-95 Corridor Act. Last year, this legislation was passed in the Senate but did not survive in the House. The bill would authorize the Corridor Authority to conduct “economic development” and “educational improvement activities” to counties contagious and within 30 miles of I-95. This legislation provides little transparency and is just another excuse for government officials to hand-pick winners and losers in the community. It would likely squander more taxpayer funds under the misguided premise of “creating jobs.” Last year, The Nerve reported that the S.C. Research Authority was a key player in this legislation.

S 49: The Policy Council has written about how ineffective film incentives are at creating jobs. In fact, they typically do the exact opposite – for each tax dollar given in rebates, government loses $0.81. This bill would, among other things, increase the film rebate from 15 to 20 percent for an individual and 15 to 30 percent for a motion picture production company. Creating new film incentives has become an annual ritual for legislators, as the industry attempts to protect its investments by lobbying for more handouts from taxpayers.

S 105: South Carolina is in a budget crisis, much like every state in the nation. So it would seem the time has come for prioritization in government. Yet this bill would create an “Agritourism-Oriented Signage Program.” Essentially, the state would pay money to build signs for sites that are agritourism-related. It’s as if the current budget of more than $15 million in combined marketing and promotion services and the Market Bulletin, which makes up almost the entire Department of Agriculture’s FY10-2011 budget, is still not enough. As Palmettovore has shown, putting advertisement in the hands of the government only leads to a waste of taxpayer dollars.

S 190: This bill would extend the current tax credit for ethanol and biofuel facilities until the year 2020. Even Al Gore, one of the original proponents of ethanol tax credits, has admitted that it is a flawed model. The credits do not lower energy costs and make corn prices.

H 3093: Last year, H 4624 would have created the South Carolina Board of Music Therapy to regulate the practice of music therapy and create new fees. This bill attempts to do the same. As indicated in Unleashing Capitalism, government licensing has become a tool used by lobbyists to keep out other competitors. Let the market decide which therapists are worth using.

H 3136: This bill would provide for fines and criminal penalties for releasing 20 or more helium-filled balloons over the course of an hour. A better alternative would be to rely on tort law to address any abuses caused by balloon wielding vandals.

H 3030: This bill would require two years of swimming instruction for students to graduate from high school, if there is a public swimming pool within 10 miles of the school. What’s next, requiring students to run a mile in 6 minutes in order to graduate?

S 32: The Policy Council typically favors tax cuts. But this bill creates a targeted tax credit of 20 percent for renewable energy expenditures. With this type of legislation, state government is attempting to steer the market in one direction by subsidizing select activities. The market should dictate whether alternative energy is successful – through the preferences of millions of consumers making decisions every day, rather than the whims of a few powerful legislators in Columbia.

H 3059: This bill would extend the expiration date for tax credits on plug-in hybrid vehicles. As with the renewable energy credit above, a market shift should be based on consumer demand – not legislative wishes. Subsidizing consumer purchases of hybrid vehicles gives those businesses an unfair advantage in the market.

H 3218: Another in the long line of alternative energy special treatment, this bill would exempt solar panels used for the generation of electricity from sales tax. Sales tax exemptions only complicate the tax code and raise compliance costs while distorting the market. Last year, a similar bill (H 4657), was partially vetoed by the governor. A better idea would be to lower the overall sales tax for everyone.

S 225: This bill would ban texting while driving. While it is generally imprudent to text while driving, enforcement of a law against this raises important constitutional questions. Lawmakers failed to pass a similar law last year. In fact, recent findings presented at the September 2010 Governors Highway Safety Association meeting suggest texting bans might actually increase traffic accidents. One reason cited – people still text regardless of such laws, but the bans cause them to attempt to hide their cell phone, resulting in further distractions. A better solution is to use tort law to address situations in which an accident occurs, perhaps giving plaintiffs the option to subpoena text messages at or near the time of the accident. See also H 3115, H 3160

H 3045: Another attempt at a fee increase for South Carolinians. This bill would increase the commercial saltwater fishing license for nonresidents from $300 to $350. Both the recreational freshwater and saltwater annual fishing licenses for nonresidents are increased from $35 to $45. The legislation also raises short-term recreational fishing license fees on nonresidents of South Carolina – from $11 to $15 for a week-long freshwater license and from $11 to $15 for a two-week long saltwater license. H 3048 would similarly raise hunting license fees.

S 86 and S 87: These two bills represent more government regulations that create unnecessary burdens on businesses. S 86 mandates that the use of hair extensions in hair braiding must be supervised by a licensed cosmetologist. Meanwhile, S 87 would require barbers to earn at least 4 credits of continuing education. These bills are assuming consumers are ill-equipped to make smart decisions and require government to dictate this for them. Perhaps legislators know which hairstyles are better for consumers? Additionally, the legislation would provide a form of protection for existing businesses, creating barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs that ultimately raise prices and decrease the varieties of vendors. See also H 3102

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