The last day of the session ended last Thursday at 5:00PM. We will have to return for 1 or 2 days in May, if the budget conference committee has a report and in June to take up any vetoes and conference reports.
Still No Final Solution to Nuke Debacle
The major disappointment is the Senate’s failure to act on several critical bills the House passed earlier this year addressing the V.C. Summer $9 billion nuclear fiasco. Last week the Senate rejected the House’s plan to forbid SCE&G from charging customers an 18% nuclear surcharge to cover the costs of the failed V.C. nuclear project. House members believe it is wrong to make customers foot the bill for a project that was never completed. We passed legislation to completely eliminate the surcharge. The Senate believes ratepayers should still be on the hook for a 5% monthly surcharge. The reactors were abandoned last July after SCE&G and co-owner Santee Cooper poured $9 billion into their construction, and SCE&G continues to collect $37 million a month from ratepayers in related fees. Fortunately, those bills will be revisited when the legislature reconvenes May 23-24 or in June.
Potential Nuke Progress
The Senate voted unanimously on the final day of session to repeal the Base Load Review Act, a 2007 law that allowed utilities to charge ratepayers for projects that were not complete. The Senate also voted 43-0 to give the state Office of Regulatory Staff subpoena powers and to create a consumer advocate. The measures, which have already cleared the House, are now one step closer to becoming the first legislation to be made law in response to the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle. A conference committee is working to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bills.
Major Unfinished Business
In our upcoming legislative session in a couple of weeks, we will finalize the state budget that goes into effect July 1st. A conference committee is hammering out differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget. Key issue in the budget negotiations are teacher raises, school safety, prison security and correctional officer raises, the state pension system, assistance to our agriculture industry and tax relief. Another major item to be settled is conforming the state tax code to the new Trump tax reform. Without conforming the two, South Carolinians will be paying more in state income taxes. The House has passed legislation to reinstate the personal exemption. That bill is pending in the Senate.
Legislation That DIED
- The House passed legislation on April 5th that increased penalties for individuals who commit, plan or assist an act of terror. The Senate decided not to allow a vote on this legislation.
- Despite employers voicing the need to find workers with computer science and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, the Senate refused to pass a bill proposed by House Speaker Jay Lucas to form a curriculum for this in our public schools. It is most unfortunate the Senate failed to help our students learn the skills for the jobs of the future.
- Another disappointment was the Senate’s failure to pass the House bill that would make dismemberment abortions illegal in the Palmetto State. Pro-abortion Democrats led a filibuster in the Senate that doomed this reform.
Distracted Driving Continues Unchecked in SC
Sadly, the DUI-E (Driving Under the Influence of Electronic Devices) legislation died before receiving a vote from the full House. By comparison, Georgia moved swiftly this year by passing and signing into law a nearly identical bill that takes effect July 1. Georgia is the 16th state to enact the hands-free cell phone legislation for drivers. SC could still be the 17th if we quickly move forward next year. We will refile the bill and push it hard. For the sake of public safety, I hope we don’t delay because eventually we will enact this legislation. The only question – will we be the 17th or 47th state to pass this legislation like so many other common sense bills. All drivers know how dangerous our roads have become because of distracted driving – a recent poll shows 65% of South Carolinians support the hands-free bill, only 12% oppose it.
Success – A Fix for Education Leadership
It took 27 years of legislative effort, but at long last South Carolinians will get the opportunity to vote on major reform in education. In November, voters will decide on a Constitutional referendum that would make the SC superintendent of education a gubernatorial appointment, rather than an elected position. Republicans have long sought this change to bring more accountability to the state’s education efforts. The legislation passed the Senate in the final minutes of the session as the clocked ticked toward the 5:00 pm Sine Die deadline. (Read more)
Major Legislative Achievements
While the V.C. Summer nuclear fiasco dominated the 2018 legislative agenda and tended to suck the air out of the General Assembly, there were successes. Here’s a topline list for the two year session:
- Government Reorganization – Finalized legislation that puts the governor and lieutenant governor running on the same ticket starting this year.
- Government Transparency – In the first half of this legislative session, Gov. Henry McMaster ushered in what he called, “a big step forward” in government transparency with the signing of a bill that closed loopholes in SC’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) insuring more government transparency.
- Retirement System Reform – In the first year of the session, the legislature hammered out a bill that took a major step forward in bringing solvency to the public employee retirement system. The pension legislation calls for public employees to pay a bit more – and state agencies a lot more – to shore up the struggling retirement system. Regrettably, the promise to transition to a “defined contributions” plan, like a 401(k) didn’t materialize this year.
- Protecting Children – Created the Children’s Advocacy Department, an umbrella agency designed to act as a watchdog over all child services offered by state government.
- Combating Opioid Addiction – A new law authorizes pharmacists to dispense opioid antidotes to certain community organizations while another requires opioid addiction education in high school.
- Expanding Health Care – Medical professionals are lauding a bill that frees advanced practice registered nurses by giving them more geographic freedom from an overseeing physician. This reduces barriers for nurse practitioners to practice and strengthens SC’s health care workforce.
- Dyslexia Screening – Mandatory dyslexia screening for all kindergarten and first graders to provide early detection of this medical issue that can bring academic difficulties.
- School for Those with Special Needs – Codification of the Exceptional Needs SC program which gives tuition breaks to parents and caregivers who have enrolled a student at a private school to meet the student’s special needs education.
- REAL I.D. Act Passes – A law won approval to bring South Carolina into compliance with federal REAL I.D. requirements. It’s not mandatory; citizens may opt out of REAL I.D.
- Good Neighbor Policy – The so-called ‘chicken bill’ became law allowing neighboring residents to contest a chicken farm being erected.
- Prohibiting Endless Delays – There is a history of endless lawsuits intended to menace SC manufacturers. Legislation was passed requiring judges to offer a ruling on a challenged project in less than 90 days and another new law that says existing manufacturers cannot be sued by new neighbors for being a nuisance.
- Liquor Fix – Following a SC Supreme Court ruling nullifying a law limiting the number of liquor stores, the General Assembly passed a revised law keeping the number of stores per liquor license to three in the state.
- Litter Enforcement – SC’s litter enforcement is lousy (just look alongside our roads and highways.) The legislature passed a bill this year restructuring fines to fit the crime. Experts believe this will encourage enforcement of littler laws as it has done in other states.
- Moped Safety Act – After years of legislative efforts, loopholes were closed in various laws to subject moped operators to the same violations, including DUI, as other motorists.
- Work Zone Safety Act – Prompted by the senseless hit & run deaths of two SCDOT workers, a law was proposed to strengthen penalties for those who endanger the lives of highway workers. The bill won swift approval from the House and Senate. Gov. McMaster signed it into law with SCDOT workers standing with him.
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 email@example.com. 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.