Weekly Legislative Update. January 15 -17, 2019.

This week lawmakers filed an additional 84 bills, a number of which would increase the regulatory burden on citizens and businesses. H.3629 would outlaw the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, while S.379 would carve out a regulatory exemption for electric car manufacturers. Under current law, car manufacturers cannot currently sell directly to the public, but this bill would add an exception for companies that only build all-electric vehicles.

Two bills (S.372 and H.3615) would regulate how much employers can pay their workers. The bill is targeted toward eliminating wage inequality, but this is not something that can be guaranteed through regulation and the attempt would greatly increase the regulatory burden on business owners. H.3621would increase regulations on athletic trainers and impose penalties for violation. One bill, however, would significantly relax regulations on farmers growing industrial hemp.

Several bills that would amend current medical laws were also filed. Companion bills S.366 and H.3660would legalize the production and sale of medical cannabis, while H.3598 would require all health insurance to provide coverage for early cardiovascular disease detection screenings. It should be noted that requirements like this – many of which are imposed on the state level – are one reason healthcare costs are so high. Finally, S.367 would allow all hospital employees to opt out of the state retirement system – an approach which simultaneously increases consumer choice and could lessen the burden on the insolvent pension system.

Lawmakers also filed several significant energy-related bills. H.3642 would rename the Public Utilities Review Committee which controls and oversees the state’s energy regulators, but would not reform it in any way. This bill is similar to one of last year’s energy “solutions” proposed by House lawmakers. H.3641 would increase the powers of both Public Service Commissioners and the lawmakers overseeing the energy system – the complete opposite of the needed reforms. By contrast, H.3659would introduce an element of competition and consumer choice into the energy system – particularly as regards to clean energy. Finally, H.3568 would order the Public Service Commission to force Dominion to issue to customers the $1,000 rebate check that was a part of the initial merger agreement. As the merger was approved under a different set of terms (that did not include the rebate check), this bill represents an arbitrary taking from a private company and essentially would amount to government-sanctioned theft.

Bills to watch:

S.217 would allow the revenue from local hospitality and accommodations taxes to be used by local governments in the repair and mitigation of flood or tidal damage. The funds could also be used for “site preparation” including demolition, construction, control and repair of flood and drainage in tourism-related areas.

The only strict regulation on the use of the tax revenue is that it cannot be used to settle lawsuits from the harmful impacts of flooding.

This bill has serious private property implications. “Control” of flooding and drainage on tourism-related areas is very broad terminology and would, if this bill passed, allow this tax revenue to fund the taking of private property through eminent domain for flood mitigation projects.

This bill passed the Senate Finance Committee this week and will go to the Senate floor next week.

S.309 is another bill that passed out of committee this week and will be on next week’s floor calendar. This bill would essentially double the budget of the SC Research Authority, a state-owned venture capital firm by doubling the cap on available tax credits for the “Industry Partnership Trust Fund”. The cap would increase to $12 million (from $6 million), but decrease the individual tax credit from $2 million to $250,000. It would also prevent SCRA board members from receiving this credit, a conflict of interest that is currently legal.

Current law awards the tax credit on a first-come, first-served basis, but this bill also requires those individuals to “make a commitment satisfactory to the SCRA.” This vague language appears to allow the SCRA board broad discretion in who receives the tax credits.

The state should not have a tax funded venture capital firm at all, especially one as unaccountable and nontransparent as the SCRA, so doubling its budget through tax credits is a very concerning idea.

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