Weekly Legislative Update. January 22 – 24, 2019

This week, one of the most noteworthy bills to be filed was H.3759, an 85-page bill overhauling the education system. This bill addresses education standards and required tests and contains a student “bill of rights”, to name just a few elements. Filed the same day without nearly as much fanfare, however, was H.3757 – a bill to facilitate and manage the data warehouse for workforce and education information – from preschool through college and into the workforce.

A similar version of this bill was inserted into last year’s budget as a proviso, and was ultimately vetoed by the governor. While the data warehouse itself was created by an earlier law, last year’s proviso and this year’s bill would provide details for how the data warehouse would be operated. Under the current proposed legislation, the data warehouse would be operated and overseen by two boards that citizens cannot hold accountable. The bill would specifically authorize the linking of workforce and education data with medical and health records currently housed in another data warehouse. The ultimate goal of all of this would be to support state-driven economic development and improve “the effectiveness of the state’s educational delivery system.” While the bill includes attempts to safeguard data security and privacy, the fact remains that this data warehouse itself is a systematic intrusion into personal privacy for the benefit of government planners.

Of the remaining 139 bills that were filed this week, many were honorary resolutions adopted immediately, and a number of others contained new regulations. For instance, H.3688 would require retailers to provide restroom facilities for customer use – an unnecessary government overreach, as the market is much more effective at signaling to retailers what their customers need. H.3716 would create a new “subsistence saltwater fishing license” with an accompanying fee, while H.3732 would require veterinarians to complete two hours of continuing education regarding controlled substance every year. Finally, S.394 would prohibit local governments from banning plastic bags, stating that any plastic bag ban must be enacted by the General Assembly.

Several significant bills amending energy law were also filed. H.3748 would revise and extend net metering programs (where customers are reimbursed by the utility for the excess power generated by home-based solar panels), while H.3751 would address state-owned utility Santee Cooper. This bill would replace the board, revise board member qualifications, and prohibit lawmakers (and their immediate family members) from serving on the Santee Cooper board during their tenure in office and for four years after. The bill would also require Santee Cooper to place its share of the Toshiba settlement funds into an interest-bearing account, along with all surplus monies, to be used to pay off debt and lower/stabilize electric rates. Finally, the bill would codify the committee created by budget proviso last year to explore the idea of selling Santee Cooper. Most of these changes would have no real affect on the root problems with the state-owned utility, with the exception of one provision allowing the governor to fire board members at will. This would introduce an element of structural accountability for the first time in years.

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