Weekly Legislative Update. February 12 – 14, 2019

Lawmakers filed 82 new pieces of legislation this week, 31 of which were honorary/sympathy resolutions. One of the most notable bills in the “time waster” category is S.500, which allows the Governor to appoint an “ambassador of jazz” for South Carolina, and posthumously names a deceased individual as the inaugural ambassador.

Of the remaining 50 bills, one of the most significant would abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture and place strict parameters on law enforcement’s seizure of property involved in criminal offenses. The widespread seizure of private property without due process is one key example of South Carolina’s weak property laws. This bill would attempt to address that problem.

Four bills filed this week would address the screening and election of judges. H.3941 is a constitutional amendment to allow judges to be elected by the general public instead of the legislature; H.3942 (another constitutional amendment) would require Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices to have previously served on a lower court; H.3943 would allow family court judges to be popularly elected; and H.3953 would require the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) to release the full list of qualified judicial candidates (rather than simply nominating up to three per office). All of these bills fall short of true judicial reform, which would consist of allowing the governor to appoint judges with a Senate confirmation, and the elimination of the JMSC.

Two bills address the governance of special purpose districts. S.504 is aimed specifically at one such district in Allendale (despite the Constitutional prohibition on special laws), terminating its current nine-member governing body and replacing it with a five-member commission. S.506 would allow legislative delegations to declare a state of emergency regarding city housing authorities, suspending the latter from office and triggering an investigation. This approach would give more power to county legislative delegations – which currently have far too much influence over local matters – and overlooks the fact that special purpose districts should be eliminated, not reformed.

A handful of bills address taxes and fees. H.3966 would direct more revenue from the property tax on airlines to the State Aviation Fund, and H.3982 would create a new fund to award grands to disabled entrepreneurs. S.497 would cap stormwater fees imposed by local governments, but S.525 would remove a law sunsetting the environmental impact fee.

Finally, a number of newly filed bills would enact new regulations. H.3945 and H.3952 would regulate the use of golf carts, H.3944 would revise existing laws regarding tenants and landlords, H.3965 would regulate prepaid entertainment contracts, and S.517 would define and prohibit the sale of “unsafe used tires.”

Bills to watch:

A bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee (S.259) aimed at addressing flood mitigation and control would actually pose a threat to South Carolinian’s property rights.

The bill would create the “South Carolina Resilience Revolving Fund” for the purpose of acquiring properties to turn into floodplains (an undefined term) or open spaces. The fund would provide grants and low interest loans to local governments, the state, and environmentalist constructs called land trusts. The fund would be administered by the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) flood mitigation office.

There are no protections against eminent domain in this bill, despite claims that home buyouts would be voluntary. Once the loan has been issued, the recipient entity could do whatever necessary to acquire the property – in fact, the bill declares the carrying out of its provisions “an essential public function”, which is explicit language supporting the use of eminent domain.

This bill was scheduled for a committee hearing this week, but ended up being postponed.

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