Significant Legislation Passed by Voice Vote in 2009
In spite of a change in rules in January 2009 requiring recorded votes on contested pieces of legislation, the S.C. General Assembly did not record votes on most of the legislation passed during the 2009 session. In fact, 3 out of 4 bills did not receive a recorded vote, leaving taxpayers in the dark over whether their representatives voted for or against specific bills. Some of the most important measures that did not receive a recorded vote are as follows. Note, in particular, the use of voice votes on many measures that have a fiscal impact.
No Recorded Vote in Either the House or the Senate
S 700: USC Innovista Construction
This joint resolution authorizes the University of South Carolina to build a new business school facility in the Innovista district. Current buildings at Innovista are only partially full, and the facility includes no private business tenants, despite tens of millions of taxpayer dollars invested in the project. Construction will be funded via bond revenue — thanks to the passage of separate legislation (H 3664) lifting certain restrictions on higher-ed revenue bond financing.
H 3482: Targeted Property Tax Exemption
This legislation exempts air carriers operating a hub terminal facility in South Carolina from paying the property tax on personal property, including aircraft. The measure applies to property tax years after 2006. This bill passed the House and Senate on a voice vote, but the Senate did take a roll call vote to concur with the amended House version.
S 390: Mental Health Parity Coverage Mandate
In response to federal legislation requiring mental health parity for large employer group plans, this law requires insurance plans that offer mental health or substance abuse benefits to provide those benefits at levels equivalent to medical and surgical benefits. The law caps increased costs arising from such coverage at 2 percent the first year and 1 percent thereafter. That being said, this legislation unintentionally provides an incentive for group health plans to drop mental health coverage altogether.
S 166: Billboard Removal and Fee Increase
This joint resolution authorizes the Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop an outdoor advertising control pilot project aimed at eliminating what the Federal Highway Administration describes as nonconforming billboards. The resolution permits the DOT to charge application, annual, or other reasonable fees necessary to defray the administrative costs of implementing the program.
S 630: Motor Vehicle Manufacturer/Franchise Regulations
This legislation regulates dealings between motor vehicle manufacturers and their dealers. The bill seems to have been passed in response to the recent announcement that several GM and Chrysler dealerships are being closed in South Carolina. Among other things, the law makes it illegal to require a franchise to change location without demonstrating the change is reasonable; the bill also makes it illegal to force dealers to refrain from selling other makes or lines of motor vehicles and sets terms for compensation upon termination of a franchise. This law did not receive a recorded vote in either the House or the Senate; however, Senator Glen McConnell (R-Charleston) asked to be recorded as voting against the measure.
H 3550: Building Code Restrictions
This legislation requires all new buildings and additions to adhere to the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the most recent version of which includes several expensive energy-saving requirements — for example, that 50 percent of all permanent light fixtures be high-efficacy lamps. The change was apparently prompted by a new federal mandate (§ 410) passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
H 3664: Higher-ed Bonds
This legislation repeals limitations on the ability of higher educational institutions to issue certain types of revenue bonds. The law also allows universities to use revenue bonds to fund any type of academic facility, subject to approval by the General Assembly. In short, this law facilitates the financing of the new USC business school at the Innovista Campus.
H 3022: Uniform Expungement of Criminal Records
This law provides for the expungement of criminal records under certain conditions and requires that a $250 application fee be charged to defray costs of the process.
H 3615: Increased Fines for Funeral Contract Fraud
Among other things, this legislation increases the criminal fine for violations related to preneed funeral contracts from an original baseline of $500-$1,000 to $1,000-$5,000.
S 155: Military Parent Equal Protection
This legislation pertains to child custodial and visitation rights and provides various protections for parents absent owing to military service.
S 278: Tax Penalty Waiver
This joint resolution permits counties to waive or reduce tax penalties related to the payment of real property taxes for tax years 2008 and 2009 if full payment is made by April 15 of the applicable tax year.
S 364: Volunteer Firefighter Funding
This law creates the Volunteer Strategic Assistance and Fire Equipment Program to provide grants to volunteer and combination-volunteer fire departments, with 2 percent of total funding going to the S.C. State Firefighters’ Association. Funding for the program is contingent upon separate approval by the General Assembly.
No Recorded Vote in the Senate
S 673: S.C. Mortgage Lending Act
As required by Title V of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, this law requires that mortgage lenders be licensed by the state and registered as part of the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry. Licensing fees range from a filing fee of $1,000 for a mortgage lender to $50 for a loan originator. The legislation also regulates various practices related to the home lending market.
H 3919: Establish Housing Commission
This legislation establishes the S.C. Housing Commission to provide recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly on an annual basis to ensure and foster the availability of safe, sound, and affordable housing and workforce housing for every South Carolinian. The members of the commission are to be entirely selected by the legislature. The House only conducted a roll call vote on the amended Senate version of this legislation.
H 3452: Regulation of Micro-Distilleries
This law enacts additional regulations on the manufacture of alcoholic liquors, including micro-distilleries. In particular, the law increases biennial license fees for manufacturers from $1,000 to $50,000; and also introduces a new biennial license fee of $5,000 for micro-distilleries.
H 3148: Qualified School Construction Bonds
Owing to changes in federal law made as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, this legislation permits local school districts to issue a new type of bond designated as a Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB). The interest rate of the bond will be at or near zero, but the bond will provide its holder with a federal income tax credit. In other words, this legislation allocates federal dollars (approximately $131 million for South Carolina) for local school construction. For constitutional purposes (X, 15), however, the bond obligations will be treated as state general obligation debt. The House only recorded a vote on the amended, Senate version of this legislation.
H 3087: Sex Offender Restrictions
This measure prohibits local governments from passing any ordinance that expands or contracts the boundaries of an area where a convicted sex offender may reside.
H 3042: Mixed Martial Arts
This law makes the combative sport of mixed marital arts legal in South Carolina and regulates it accordingly.
H 3311: Responsible Father Registry
This law streamlines the adoption process by creating a responsible father registry through which unmarried biological fathers may file a paternity claim. Failure to register constitutes a waiver of the father’s right to notice of proceedings regarding the termination of parental rights.
S 453: Livestock and Poultry Regulations
This measure clarifies that local governments may not enact regulations pertaining to the care and handling of livestock and poultry. The law also stipulates that only property owners and residents within a two-mile radius of a permitted livestock or poultry facility, with the exception of a swine facility, may appeal a permit issued by the Department of Health and Environmental Control pertaining to the facility.
H 3794: Regulations Pertaining to Wildlife Management Areas
This law includes Heritage Trust areas as part of the lands under management by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The measure also greatly expands the department’s regulatory authority over activities (swimming, camping, hunting, etc.) that may occur within wildlife management areas and increases penalties for violating these regulations. The House only recorded a vote on this law once it had been amended and returned from the Senate.
H 3018: Property Tax Exemption
This measure provides a property tax exemption for a newly constructed detached single family home. The House only recorded a vote on the amended Senate version of this law.
H 3013: Increase Fine for Removal of Livestock Enclosure
This law increases the fine for removing or leaving open a livestock enclosure from $30 to $1,000 and increases potential jail time for such an offense to 30 days.
No Recorded Vote in the House
The House recorded votes (31%) twice as often as did the Senate (16%) during the 2009 session, with the result that the House was more likely to vote on significant pieces of legislation. Still, some of these recorded votes came only after a bill originally passed by the House on a voice vote came back from the Senate as amended. In fact, current House rules require a recorded vote on such bills. In addition to those mentioned above, other measures that only received a recorded vote after being sent back by the Senate include a measure (H 3299) on telecommunication rate increases, as well as a law (S 116) giving vendor preferences to contractors and products from South Carolina.
A notable exception to the House’s practice of holding recorded votes is a measure that increases saltwater fishing license fees:
H 3635: Fishing License Fee Increase
This legislation instituted an annual $10 fishing license fee for recreational saltwater angling, along with several other fees, including a $150-$300 fee to operate a saltwater public fishing pier or a saltwater charter fishing vessel. Defenders of the legislation claim the fee increase is necessary to avoid an even larger federal licensing fee.
Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation. Copyright 2008. South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, 1323 Pendleton Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201.