We have had another fast action week at your South Carolina Statehouse. Topping the list of issues: protecting ratepayers in the nuclear financial meltdown, efforts to curb distracted driving and a new approach to the horrible litter problem.
Huge Step Forward for Nuke Relief
In a nearly unanimous vote the S.C. House passed a bill repealing the Base Load Review Act and ending payments by SCE&G customers in paying for the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project. The Ratepayer Protection Bill (H.4375) drops the 18% nuclear surcharge on SCE&G customers’ bills to 0% while giving direction to the Public Service Commission to keep rates as low as possible while the SCANA merger is evaluated. It also repeals the Base Load Review Act and guarantees that no future projects can recover costs under the law abused by SCE&G.
Provisions Included in the Ratepayer Protection Bill:
- Repeals the Base Load Review Act
- Defines the terms “prudent” and “imprudent”
- Removes the nuclear premium and drops the rate from over 18% to 0%
- Authorizes the PSC to set an interim rate
- Suspends automatic stay
House Speaker Jay Lucas said, “Since last August, the House has worked diligently to develop a responsible plan forward that protects ratepayers and prevents them from paying for a failed nuclear project. Our members followed through with our commitment to halt SCE&G from recouping more of its customers’ hard-earned dollars for the failed VC Summer nuclear project. Setting the nuclear premium rate to zero percent provides South Carolina ratepayers with immediate relief while private sector business negotiations continue before the Public Service Commission. As this innovative approach works its way through the legislative process, I am hopeful the Senate will act quickly in an effort to protect ratepayers from corporate greed.”
A Joint House Subcommittee began taking testimony on the DUI-E legislation I co-sponsored. No one spoke against the bill. Legislators heard from several people who lost love ones due to distracted drivers using their phone to text or talk. Their tragic stories could just as easily be the stories of each of our families; in a moment of distraction behind the wheel a life can be snuffed out.
AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright testified that the stricter rules are needed to address an “epidemic” that takes thousands of American lives each year. “It’s become more of a traffic safety issue than drunk driving,” Wright said. “To change behavior, you have to create stiffer penalties for drivers. We’ve seen this historically with seat belt legislation and drunk driving.”
Under the proposed legislation (H.4480) driving under the influence of an electronic device, or DUI-E, would be punishable by a $100 fine on first offense. Additional tickets would cost $300 plus 2 points on a driver’s license, bringing potentially higher insurance costs too.
The House panel took no vote. Time ran out with many more people wanting to testify. Another hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday. The hearing received extensive news coverage. Here’s a sampling:
Reducing Litter by Reducing Fines
I receive lots of complaints about litter in Spartanburg County. Justifiably so; litter is an unsightly problem that mars the beauty of the Palmetto State and it is getting worse. The House this week passed legislation that seems counter intuitive – increase enforcement of SC’s littering laws by reducing the fine against it. The legislation came from law enforcement because they believe the state’s current fine structure is so high that some officers are hesitant to enforce it. The bill (H.4458), which passed 98-14, creates a fee structure that is based on the amount of litter involved. For instance, tossed litter under 15 pounds could lead to a $25-100 fine. Litter up to 500 pounds could lead to $200-$500 fines or up to 30 days in jail. The sentence would increase after a second violation. More than 500 pounds of litter could spark a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail. The bill also lets judges sentence violators to community service – picking up litter. The measure was sent to the Senate.
Legislative News Briefs
Nuisance Suits: The Senate voted approval of legislation that shields industries from facing nuisance lawsuits in SC due to smell or noise from their operation. H.3653 would protect an industrial facility that is in compliance with its state permits from being sued by neighboring landowners who moved to their property after the industrial site was built.
Death Penalty Bills Advance: Two bills designed to address carrying out the death penalty in South Carolina are headed to the full Senate. One allows electrocution as a form of execution. The other is a shield law that protects the identities of drug companies who provide drugs for lethal injection. A number of states across the country have implemented shield-type laws. I have sponsored companion bills in the House, however no hearing has yet to have been held.
Deadly Cell Phones: Because the federal government has yet to permit the jamming of cell phone signals inside prisons, smuggled cell phone can be used by inmates to continue their criminal activities from their jail cells, or worse, target retribution on prison guards and their families. A bill (S.804) advanced in the Senate that makes providing cell phones to inmates a felony. It would also increase the penalties for inmates who possess a cell phone or those who provide them inside correctional facilities.
Abortion Bill Delayed: A Senate panel voted to delay a bill that could possibly ban all abortions in SC. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-4 to postpone action on legislation known as the “Personhood Bill” (S.217). The legislation would define life as beginning at fertilization and give legal status to that life the same as any other SC citizen. Committee members expressed concerned the proposal would ban all abortions – including those where the mother’s life is considered at-risk.
Right-to-Carry Delayed: The Senate Judiciary Committee ran out of time in their meeting this week to fully consider a bill that would enact constitutional carry. S.449 would allow law-abiding adults to legally carry a firearm without first needing to obtain a Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP).
Thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. Your feedback and assistance is critical in ensuring your voice is heard in our state government. If you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, or if you need assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at 864-529-2860 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, you can go to www.schouse.gov, click on my name and see how I have voted on each and every issue before the house. You can also see any bills that I have sponsored or co-sponsored.