Another long, but very important eblast, from last week in the House. Included is an in-depth description of the road funding and domestic violence bills. This may contain more information than you want to read; if so, give me a call and we can discuss the content and what to expect going forward.
The House Judiciary Committee gave initial subcommittee approval to legislation that reforms the process used to select our state’s judges. Currently, judicial candidates are screened through a panel that is limited to selecting 3 individuals for any given judicial election. The bill I sponsored and had more than 90 co-sponsors, would remove the cap and allow anyone who is deemed qualified to run for the bench. By doing so, we open up the process and allow everyone to participate, not just a select few. The bill could hit the House floor as early as next week.
The House, by a vote of 87-20, passed a road funding bill. I voted in favor of several amendments that would have provided greater income tax relief, but those amendments were unsuccessful. The bottom line is that we must provide more funding to fix our ailing roads and bridges, and for that reason I supported H.3579 to provide that revenue. In addition to generating more revenue through the gasoline tax, the bill implements reform and accountability measures, including allowing the Governor to have more control over SCDOT. Moreover, the Legislative Audit Council will undertake an audit of SCDOT, which will begin this month. In addition, the newly-created Legislative Oversight Committee will have the tools to ensure that SCDOT is appropriately managing the funds allocated to it.
This was a very difficult vote for many of us, myself included. I appreciate the input I have received from constituents and stakeholders on all sides of the issue. I realize I will not please everyone with my vote, but we cannot let our infrastructure needs languish any longer.
Below are some statistics about our road system that illustrate the need for solutions:
- South Carolina has the 4th largest state-maintained highway system in the country.
- By comparison, SC is ranked 40th in size by square miles and 24th in population size.
- Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia all have larger highway systems. But each state is larger in size, and their populations are roughly double that of SC.
- The SC State Highway System covers more than 41,000 center line miles (CLM) of roadway, over 90,000 lane miles.
- Note: Center line miles (CLM) denote length, but this does not account for the width. Lane miles refers to the total length (CLM) multiplied by the number of lanes for each road.
- The national average for state-maintained highway systems is 16,000 center line miles.
- 62% of the highway system in SC managed is by the state versus a national average 22%.
- Of the 41,000+ CLM miles of state maintained highways, over 18,000 are functionally classified as “Local Routes,” many of which are interspersed throughout urban areas and neighborhoods, yet fall under the responsibility of the state rather than the local governments.
- 29% of SC’s traffic is riding on “good” pavement.
- The longer the pavement goes untreated, the higher the costs.
- Pavement preservation is an estimated $11,500/mile, rehabilitation $160k/mile, replacement $250k/mile (estimates are for Primary Routes, Local Routes are lower – less restrictive standards).
- $1 Million can preserve 87 lane miles, rehabilitate 6 lane miles, OR reconstruct 4 lane miles.
Interstates and the Primary System:
- The Interstate system and Primary system, which includes all U.S. and S.C. routes, carry a combined 75% of the average daily traffic in the state.
- 851 CLM and 3,796 lane miles of Interstate in SC.
- Interstate system is over 50 years old.
- Nearly 29% of all roadway travel in SC occurs on the Interstates.
- 61% of the Interstates are considered to be in “good” condition.
- Key component to Freight Network – heavy truck volumes.
- 13% of interstates are high usage, carrying over 70,000 vehicles a day.
- Primary system consists of 9,472 CLM and 23,896 lane miles.
- 47% of all travel in SC occurs on the primary system.
- Only 16% of the Primary system is considered to be in “good” condition.
- 65% of the bridges in SC are considered to be in satisfactory condition.
- 8,419 throughout the state.
- 1,610 are Substandard (19%).
- 839 are “Structurally Deficient” (10%)—with looming safety concerns.
- 771 are “Functionally Obsolete” (9%)&mdash not up to current standards, but no immediate safety issues.
- 398 are load restricted (5%), and 12 are closed.
- “Increased funding since 2007 dedicated to bridges has reduced the number of structurally deficient and load restricted bridges, but the SCDOT built a significant number of precast concrete bridges on timber pile foundations over the years. As a result, additional restrictions and closers will likely be required.”
The Secondary System:
- Only 1/3 of the Secondary system is eligible for Federal Aid—10,271 CLM and 21,108 lane miles.
- The Non-Federal Aid (NFA) Eligible portion covers 20,821 CLM and 41,758 lane miles.
- 30% of the NFA system is in urban areas, comprising over 12,000 individual road segments.
- Only 7% of travel occurs on the NFA Secondary System.
- Most of the identified “Local Routes” fall within the NFA Secondary System.
The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3579, the “SOUTH CAROLINA INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCE REFORM AND TAX RELIEF ACT” comprehensive legislation that includes restructuring initiatives, along with funding mechanisms coupled with tax relief, as means of ensuring that the state can construct and maintain the system of roads needed for public safety and economic development. The legislation includes recommendations of the House Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation Infrastructure and Management.
- Department of Transportation Restructuring
The legislation includes a restructuring of the Commission overseeing the South Carolina Department of Transportation that retains the commission’s geographical representation, but provides that the General Assembly would no longer elect commissioners and that all commissioners would, instead, be appointed by the Governor. Commissioners are to serve at the pleasure of the Governor and their terms of service are limited to a maximum of twelve years. Under restructuring, the commissioners assume the responsibility of appointing the Secretary of Transportation.
- Transportation Infrastructure Bank Restructuring
The Board of Directors that oversees the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank is expanded from seven members to thirteen members so that it is composed of the seven members of the DOT Commission that the Governor appoints to represent a transportation district, three appointees of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and three appointees of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. At least one of the non-legislator appointments made by the leaders of the House and the Senate must represent counties designated as distressed or least developed. The Governor designates the Board’s Chairman. Directors’ terms of service are limited to a maximum of twelve years. The legislation establishes as a statutory requirement the Infrastructure Bank’s policy of following the SC Department of Transportation’s project priority criteria. The minimum project amount set in Transportation Infrastructure Bank requirements is lowered from $100 million to $25 million. This threshold is lowered to allow more areas to take advantage of the bank’s bonding capabilities for financing their transportation projects.
- Optional Local Road Assumption Program
The legislation includes a voluntary program for counties to assume control over some of the roughly eighteen thousand miles of smaller, less-traveled, often fragmented stretches of roadways so that this portion of the state’s infrastructure, which accounts for only 7% of the traffic volume, could come under local control and leave the major arterial roadways, handling 93% of the traffic volume, in the state system. Counties that choose to participate in the program would assume control of roads identified by the Department of Transportation under a three-year phase-in schedule and would receive increases in their “C” Fund gas tax revenue apportionment to maintain the roads acquired. A participating county would receive $1 million in the first year of the program and, once the three-year phase-in is complete, their share of “C” Fund revenue would ultimately be increased from the current 2.66 cents for each gallon of gasoline to 6 cents per gallon. Roads acquired would not be subject to the same standards that apply to roads in the state system. Counties are released from the requirement to spend at least 25% of their “C” Fund allocation on state-owned roads and counties are afforded greater flexibility in how they may spend their “C” Fund revenue that allows funds to be used for labor, mowing, ditching, and other costs associated with the general maintenance of roads. The legislation provides for $25 million from the State Highway Fund to be distributed equally among the counties each year and requires each county to spend its annual distribution, representing approximately $540,000, solely on state-owned roads.
- Funding for Roads
The legislation allows for an additional $427 million being devoted to roads each year.
The manner in which the state raises revenue from the sale of motor fuels is revised so that it includes not only a user fee that is tied to volume, but also incorporates a new excise tax component that is tied to value and is adjusted with changes in price. The legislation lowers the current motor fuel user fee from 16.75 cents to 10.75 cents per gallon and effectively eliminates the current sales tax exemption on fuel by establishing a new excise tax on motor fuels that is equal to the state’s 6% sales tax rate and applied at the wholesale level. Limitations are imposed on excise tax increases to avoid volatility during dramatic fluctuations in wholesale fuel prices such as when natural disasters disrupt supply. A maximum of 26.75 cents per gallon is established for the combined motor fuel user fee and excise tax. The average annual impact of these revisions for each private passenger vehicle is estimated to be $50. The excise tax revenue is devoted to the State Highway Fund.
The legislation increases from $300 to $500 the cap on the tax collected on sales of motor vehicles. Except for holding Education Improvement Act items harmless, the motor vehicle sales tax revenue is transferred to the State Highway Fund to be used exclusively for highway, road, and bridge maintenance, construction, and repair. This transfer is an estimated $170 million.
The legislation provides for an additional $50 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenue to be transferred each year to the Transportation Infrastructure Bank to be used in servicing bonds for bridge replacement, resurfacing and rehabilitation projects, and expansion and improvements to existing mainline interstates.
- Moratorium on New Road Construction
The legislation provides, with certain exemptions, for a moratorium on new road construction until July 1, 2020, to emphasize the repair and maintenance of existing roads.
- Income Tax Relief
The legislation provides income tax relief that is ultimately expected to provide the average taxpayer an annual savings of $48. The legislation phases in an income tax bracket adjustment over the course of two years so that each tax bracket will ultimately be adjusted upward by $280. When fully phased in, these individual income tax adjustments are estimated to reduce the state’s General Fund by $48.8 million.
Domestic Violence Reform
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3433, the DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REFORM ACT, comprehensive legislation that includes recommendations of an ad hoc committee appointed in the House to focus on the issue. I was privileged to serve on this very important ad hoc committee.
- Domestic Violence Penalties
The legislation revises criminal penalties for domestic violence so that they emphasize not only the number of previous incidents but also better address the severity of violence as well as take into account whether certain aggravating circumstances are involved. Under the revisions, enhanced criminal penalties apply if certain egregious elements are present in an incident, such as strangulation, abuse committed in the presence of children, abuse of pregnant women, and violence that is used to prevent someone from summoning emergency assistance or reporting a crime. Penalty enhancements are provided when someone violates an order of protection in the course of committing domestic violence.
The felonies of First Degree Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature are added to the list of crimes classified as serious offenses. Penalties are increased for Third Degree Domestic Violence so that this misdemeanor no longer falls within the jurisdiction of a magistrate and instead becomes a General Sessions Court matter.
For First Degree and Second Degree Domestic Violence and for Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature, the legislation establishes specific authority for a judge to provide, as a condition of bond, that an offender may not ship, transport, possess, or receive a firearm or ammunition while under bond.
The legislation establishes a protocol that allows those who are subject to firearms restrictions due to convictions for certain domestic violence offenses to have their gun rights restored following a ten-year period in the case of a First Degree Domestic Violence felony and following a period of up to three years for domestic violence misdemeanors. These restorations are not automatic; the offender has to make application to SLED for processing.
- Bond Reform
The legislation provides that when a person is charged with a domestic violence violation, the bond hearing may not proceed without the person’s criminal record and incident report or the presence of the arresting officer. These bond hearings must occur within twenty-four hours after the arrest.
The considerations used for determining bonds are revised to include whether someone poses a danger to an individual as well as to the community.
- Social Policy
The legislation establishes a new statewide multidisciplinary Domestic Violence Advisory Committee that is composed of representatives from such fields as key state government positions, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, coroners, victims’ advocates, and physicians. The committee is charged with decreasing the incidences of domestic violence in South Carolina by undertaking public education efforts, studying domestic violence in the state, assessing the effectiveness of state laws and programs to combat the problem, and advising on policy and practice changes, including the issuance of an annual report.
Oversight of batterer treatment programs is transferred away from the Department of Social Services and approval authority for domestic violence intervention programs is reassigned to the circuit solicitors.
The Department of Social Services, in consultation with the South Carolina Voucher Program, is charged with studying whether adequate childcare services are available to allow domestic violence survivors to attend court hearings.
The legislation makes minors who have witnessed domestic violence eligible to receive counseling services funded through awards from the state’s crime victim’s compensation fund.
The legislation authorizes circuit solicitors to facilitative the development of community domestic violence coordinating councils that bring together a diverse array of disciplines and backgrounds from the public and private sectors to spearhead local efforts for ensuring that domestic violence survivors and their families have access to needed resources, to promote interdisciplinary and interagency efforts to counter domestic violence, and to increase public awareness and understanding of domestic violence and its consequences.
The legislation requires the subject of domestic violence to be incorporated into the instruction that public school students receive in comprehensive health education in grades six through eight.