The Way Too Early Best and Worst of 2010: A Look at What’s Ahead in the House
Christmas comes early every year in the Statehouse, as legislators who just can’t wait until January start prefiling bills. Like most of the ideas in the General Assembly, there are a whole lot more bad than good. But it’s interesting to look at what bills were prefiled as the 2010 House session begins today.
Best Prefiled House Bills
H 4181 – This joint resolution would enable the state to legally challenge any future federal proposals to prohibit the provision of health care services on the private marketplace. About a dozen other states are considering similar bills. Arizona has already passed such a measure, but it is subject to a voter referendum. See also H 4240.
H 4232 – The S.C. Taxpayer Protection Act would cap General Fund spending at a formula tied to inflation, plus population. Given that such spending only accounts for 1/3 of the state budget, Other Funds spending should be capped as well, with excess revenue from taxes and fees being returned to taxpayers. This bill would also institute zero-based budgeting.
H 4247 – As the Policy Council has reported, weighted student funding would revolutionize public education in South Carolina. This bill would allocate education dollars according to specific student needs, thus resulting in a fairer and more streamlined mechanism of funding schools.
H 4197 – This bill abolishes the Education Oversight Commission, a bureaucracy of questionable merit. It also requires the reporting of graduation rates by race and ethnicity so that the state can get a handle on the achievement gap in South Carolina.
H 4271 – This bill forbids all state and local officials (as well as their families and businesses) from having any contracts with the jurisdiction they serve. The bill also requires legislators to submit economic interest statements that include all sources of earned income.
H 4176 – This bill places a moratorium on non-essential state travel. This is a good idea. But one has to wonder why non-essential state travel is happening in the first place.
H 4204 – Current state law limits the ability of wineries to produce and sell their product. This bill permits in-state wineries to use raw materials not exclusively grown in South Carolina and also to sell the final product out of state.
Worst Prefiled House Bills
H 4287 – South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws are already relatively ineffective at providing the public with information. H 4287 would hinder transparency even more by granting authority to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to withhold any information pertaining to homeland security – a worrisomely broad definition. The law would also mandate hefty penalties for anyone in violation – including fines and jail time.
H 4178 – Even while the legislature’s own tax commission is looking at overhauling the tax code, legislators are proposing more sales tax exemptions. This one would exempt certain types of farm equipment and equipment related to “animal husbandry.”
H 4170 – This bill proposes accelerating the modest property tax relief anticipated by a Myrtle Beach tourism sales tax increase (S 483) passed in 2009. Currently, the property tax rollbacks from the initial bill begin in year three – but this bill would let the rollbacks begin in year two. H 4170 is on this list because it doesn’t repeal the sales tax increase entirely, or at least increase the percentage (currently just 20 percent of estimated total tax revenue) going to property tax relief.
H 4229 – Following Myrtle Beach’s lead, this bill allows certain municipalities to impose an additional 1 percent local tourism tax (imposed in addition to the existing sales tax). There are specific conditions built in – the county must have accommodations’ tax revenue of at least $5 million and a per capita income of $40,000. Hilton Head taxpayers, get out your checkbooks – yours is the only municipality that qualifies.
H 4200 – The so-called extraordinary retail provision is back, this time making it easier for stores to claim the exemption and taking away the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism’s (PRT) discretion to determine if the stores qualify. The original legislation was aimed at getting big box outdoor retailers like Cabela’s to locate in South Carolina by giving them tax breaks no small businesses would qualify for. PRT put the brakes on approving the first attempt by an unnamed company to secure this tax break, after an attorney general opinion said the special breaks were likely unconstitutional. Now the legislature wants to make an end-run around PRT – and apparently the attorney general.
H 4210 – Currently, the governor appoints the director of the Department of Insurance. This bill would change that position to an elected post – and also eliminate the “field qualifications” requirement for the position. In a state desperately in need of positive restructuring, this bill is a step in the wrong direction.
H 4241 – This bill is another attempt (see H 3628) at creating a renewable energy portfolio standard that would raise energy prices for consumers and subsidize inefficient energy boondoggles like hydrogen fueling stations.
H 4279 – House members are elected every two years – a check on their power that helps keep legislators accountable to the public. But this bill would change the length of a House member’s term from two years to four.
H 4189 – This bill provides for a penalty for “texting while driving” but also makes it unlawful to read “any printed material” while driving. Talk about government overreaching. A related bill, H 4190, would ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving.
H 4173 – When county delegations say jump, state agencies are going to have to say “How high?” Rather than taking a statewide approach to repairing historic property, this bill requires state agencies present a plan for renovating historic structures within 90 days after being requested to do so by a county delegation.
Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation.
Copyright 2010. South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, 1323 Pendleton Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201.