The 122nd General Assembly convened at noon this past Tuesday and will meet every Tuesday through Thursday until Sine Die adjournment, which is scheduled for May 11. On Wednesday, Governor Nikki Haley delivered her annual State of the Address. House Ways and Means budget subcommittees began hearing state agency budget requests.
Numerous budget subcommittees of the House Ways and Means Committee met this past week to begin hearing state agency budget requests for the next fiscal year. Legislators have warned state agencies that the new revenue has already been earmarked and receiving additional funding will be a challenge.
The Higher Education Subcommittee met for more than three hours on Tuesday to hear the budget request from the Commission on Higher Education (CHE). Their request includes $1.2 million for 16 new positions in the agency to comply with previous legislative mandates. The agency recently completed a compliance analysis after legislative complaints had been building for the past few years. The commission chairman and the agency's current interim director testified that without additional staff resources they would be unable to thoroughly vet capital projects they are mandated to approve, a source of previous complaints. The agency also requested $330,000 for information technology upgrades and $250,000 for legal services.
The Transportation and Regulatory Subcommittee heard testimony from the Workers' Compensation Commission on Thursday. While the agency is not requesting any new recurring funds in next year's request, it is seeking nearly $400,000 in one-time revenue to continue modernizing the IT legacy system. The agency has been working on a long-term strategy to upgrade a decades-old computer system and to implement new electronic services for users, such as E-file and E-pay. The ongoing plan is expected to be completed within the next two years.
Governor Nikki Haley released her Executive Budget this week outlining her recommendations to the General Assembly for the upcoming fiscal year. Her budget, once again, includes increased funding for K-12 and also includes $94 million to address shortfalls in the state pension system to prevent significant rate increases for state employees. Her recommendations can be found here.
Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.
On Thursday, Rep. Murrell Smith (R-Sumter), newly elected Chairman of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, announced that judicial candidates may begin seeking commitments from members of the General Assembly beginning at noon next Tuesday. A Joint Resolution has been filed to set the judicial elections for noon on February 1. A report of the candidates' qualifications can be found here.
STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS
On Wednesday, Governor Nikki Haley addressed a Joint Session of the General Assembly to deliver her annual State of the State address. Rather than the customary speech outlining her priorities for the upcoming legislative session, Haley took the opportunity to thank the citizens of South Carolina for the opportunity to serve as governor for the past six years. President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Governor Haley to become his Ambassador to the United Nations and her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday. In the Democratic response to Governor Haley's address, State Sen. Thomas McElveen (D-Sumter) criticized issues he believes the Governor failed to significantly address in her six years and bemoaned recent ethical issues of Republican legislators. The entire text of the Governor's speech may be found here.
STATE RETIREMENT SYSTEM
The Joint Pension Review Committee met this past Tuesday to discuss recommendations to the General Assembly on solutions to address a $20 billion deficit in the retirement investment funds for public employees in South Carolina. The state's pension system is underfunded because its assets have earned less than expected and from exorbitantly high fees charged to manage its investments. Officials with the SC Public Employee Benefit Authority, which runs the state's retirement system, had previously laid out several scenarios to help pay down the retirement system's unfunded obligations. The committee agreed Tuesday to cap the maximum employee contribution for the foreseeable future and preserve annual cost-of-living increase for retirees. Many have argued state employees are already paying more into the system than other states. The committee also agreed to reduce the assumed rate of return on the pension system's investments to 7 percent, down from 7.5 percent. Many, including Governor Nikki Haley and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, have long argued that finding a fix to the massive problem will not be easy on the state or the retirees depending on the plan. The committee also recommended removing Treasurer Loftis from the Retirement System Investment Commission. Loftis, a frequent critic of the system, bristled at the recommendation arguing he is the only statewide elected official on the commission and the only one accountable to the public. Any recommendations of the committee must be enacted into state law by the General Assembly. The committee will continue meeting in the coming weeks.
INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST
H. 3309 Reps. Stavrinakis, Clyburn and Cobb-Hunter: Establish a High Speed Rail System Commission. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means
H. 3311 Reps. White, G. R. Smith, Pitts, West, Cobb-Hunter, Clyburn and G. M. Smith: Develop and Implement a Career Pathways Initiative. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.
H. 3406 Rep. G. M. Smith: Maintenance tax imposed by worker's compensation commission on self-insurers. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.
H. 3427 Reps. Lucas, Loftis, Allison, Stringer, and others: Computer science education initiative act. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.
H. 3438 Rep. Henderson: Interchangeable biologic drug products. Referred to Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs
H. 3441 Rep. Gagnon: Relating to worker's compensation payments. Referred to Committee on Judiciary
H. 3450 Rep. Spires: Electrology practice act. Referred to Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs
H. 3465 Reps. Delleney, Felder, Martin, B. Newton, and others: Relating to child abuse and neglect. Referred to Committee on Judiciary
S. 216 Senator Kimpson: Relating to electric utilities and maintenance plans. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
S. 212 Senators Davis, Hutto, Campbell, Kimpson, Jackson and McLeod: Authorizes the medical use of cannabis. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.
S. 215 Senator Kimpson: Declares September 26, annually, Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.
S. 232 Senator Massey: Reckless vehicular homicide penalties. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
S. 234 Senator Massey: Data collected by emergency medical services are subject to subpoena. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.
S. 239 Senator Massey: Admissibility as evidence of negligence regarding safety belts. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
S. 242 Senator Grooms: Relating to birthing centers. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.
S. 243 Senator Rankin: Emergency refills of prescriptions. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs
S. 246 Senator Cromer: Right to compensation not affected by liability of third parties. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
S. 250 Senators Leatherman, Setzler and Alexander. Tax conformity.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK
The South Carolina Technical College System will present its budget request to the Ways and Means Higher Education and Technical Schools Budget Subcommittee next Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.