View from the Dome

February 10, 2017

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Numerous subcommittee and committee meetings took place in both the Senate and House of Representatives this week. On Wednesday, the Senate held a ceremony to unveil a portrait of Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, which will hang in the Senate chamber.

ANIMAL WELFARE

This week, a House Agriculture subcommittee considered three bills relating to animal welfare. H. 3009 (Rep. Johnson) would establish standards for commercial dog breeders. After testimony that further work on the bill was necessary, they adjourned debate on the bill. H. 3069 (Rep. Sottile) would create a regulatory format for kennel operators and owners under the regulation of the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation. After testimony about the negative impact on kennels and the need for further study, the subcommittee adjourned debate on the bill. H. 3619 (Rep. Atwater) prohibits the tattooing and piercing of companion animals except for medical benefit, and then only by a licensed veterinarian or someone under the supervision of a veterinarian. This bill was reported out of the subcommittee favorably and will go before the full House Agriculture Committee next week for their consideration.

S. 6 (Senator Bryant) received third reading by the Senate this week and was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. The bill would increase the fines for injuring or killing a police dog or horse as well as require full restitution.

BUDGET

The budget subcommittees of the House Ways and Means Committee are wrapping up their work and preparing for the bill debate in full committee. That debate is expected to begin on February 21. Legislators have warned state agencies that the new revenue has already been earmarked and receiving additional funding will be a challenge.

Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.

CHILD CARE

On Wednesday, the House Education and Public Works Committee gave favorable approval to H. 3591 (Reps. Govan, J. E. Smith, Allison, Erickson, G. R. Smith and Felder) relating to benchmarks and objectives required as part of the First Steps to School Readiness comprehensive long-range initiative. The bill would also make the Office of First Steps to School Readiness permanent. The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

GENERAL BUSINESS

The House of Representatives Labor, Commerce and Industry Executive subcommittee on Wednesday approved H.3650, which enacts the South Carolina Business License Tax Standardization Act. Yesterday, the bill was adopted by the full House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. The bill, which has been a priority in the business community for a number of years, would dramatically change the process of business licensing by providing greater ease of use, fairness and accessibility. The bill allows the Secretary of State to contract with a third party vendor to allow for online filing and creates an oversight board. It also establishes a detailed appeals process for business license fees, clearly defines adjusted gross income and provides for certain exemptions. Funds collected by the Secretary of State would be distributed back to the local governments, who would continue to set the rate for the business licenses. The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

S. 279 (Senator Alexander), the Appraisal Management Company Regulation Act, was unanimously reported out of the full Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

HEALTHCARE

On Wednesday, the Health and Environmental Affairs subcommittee of the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee gave favorable approval to H.3438 (Henderson, G.M. Smith, Sandifer and Hiott) dealing with interchangeable biological products. The bill updates the Pharmacy Practice Act and requires pharmacists to notify the prescriber in the event of an interchangeable biological product substitution. The bill now goes to the full committee for consideration.

HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE

On Tuesday, a subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee passed H. 3516 (Reps. Simrill, Lucas, White, G. M. Smith, Pope and others) the highway infrastructure funding proposal. On Thursday, the bill was adopted by the full House Ways and Means Committee. The plan would raise the gas tax by 10 cents, to 26 cents per gallon, over the next five years. It would also increase the sales tax cap on vehicles from $300 to $500 annually, impose a fee on hybrid and electric vehicles, and create a "road user fee" for out-of-state truckers based on the miles they drive. The bill also reforms the governance of the SCDOT Commission. The House of Representatives passed a similar plan in 2015, but the Senate never acted on the proposal. The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

HIGHER EDUCATION

On Wednesday, the Higher Education subcommittee of the Senate Education Committee favorably approved S. 262 (Senator Setzler). The bill would require the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) to establish guidelines concerning procedures for the adoption of all public institutions of higher education textbooks. It also requires each public institution to develop their own guidelines for adoption of textbooks, as well as provide information on best practices and establish procedures to assess the success of the established practices. The bill also defines an allowable time period for the replacement of most textbooks. The bill now goes to the full Senate Education Committee.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved H. 3035 (Daning) relating to in-state tuition rates for veterans by a vote of 109-4. The bill allows military personnel who have been honorably discharged to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities by removing the non-resident 12-month waiting period to receive in-state tuition. The bill received routine third reading on Thursday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

JUDICIAL

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out favorably S. 118 (Senators Campsen and Malloy), known as the magistrates civil jurisdiction bill. The bill would increase the jurisdiction from $7,500 to $10,000. There was discussion about the need to increase magistrate qualifications and allow for discovery, if desired by the General Assembly, to increase the amount beyond $10,000.

STATE RETIREMENT SYSTEM

The Joint Pension Review Committee met on Wednesday and unanimously adopted a number of recommendations to the General Assembly on solutions to address a $20 billion plus deficit in the retirement investment funds for public employees in South Carolina. The recommendations include raising the employee contribution rate from 8.66 percent and capping at 9 percent. The state's employer contribution rate would go from the current 11.56 percent to 13.56, effective July 1. It would slowly increase annually until it reaches 18.56 percent by 2023. The recommendations also include shortening the debt's financing from a 30-year schedule to 20 years and reducing the expected rate of return for the fund's performance.

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, have previously laid out several scenarios to help pay down the retirement system's unfunded obligations. Many, including former 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. The recommendations will now be introduced in the House and Senate as separate bills. Information on the committee can be found here.

INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST

HOUSE

H. 3668Rep. McCoy: Provisions for the cost of animals taken into custody. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H. 3684 Reps. G. R. Smith, Loftis, Hamilton, Elliott, Burns and Bedingfield: Relating to tax filings and liens accessible over the internet. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

H. 3703Reps. Elliott, Bennett, Forrest, B. Newton, and others: Deletes the Department of Transportation Commission. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.

H. 3726 Reps. Herbkersman, Cobb-Hunter, Anthony, Whitmire, Stringer, Bradley, Lucas and White: South Carolina Retirement System reform. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

SENATE

S. 384 Senators Sheheen, Sabb, Reese, Allen, McElveen, Jackson and others: Senate Democratic Caucus highway infrastructure plan. Referred to the Committee on Finance.

S. 385 Senator Corbin: Prohibits retired judges from engaging in continued judicial service. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S. 386 Senator Corbin: Constitutional amendment to provide all judges shall be appointed by the governor. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S. 387 Senator Corbin: Relating to the judicial merit selection commission. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S. 358 Senator Kimpson: Income tax credit equal to twenty percent of the federal earned income tax credit. Referred to the Committee on Finance.

S. 366 Senator Cromer: Relating to mortgage lending definitions. Referred to the Committee on Banking and Insurance.

S. 370 Senators Talley, Rice and Timmons: Constitutional amendment to provide all judges shall be appointed by the governor. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S. 378 Medical Affairs Committee: Joint Resolution disapproving regulations of the Board of Pharmacy relating to compounding. Read the first time and ordered placed on the Calendar without reference.

S. 394 Senators Sheheen, Jackson, Nicholson, Scott, Bennett and Gambrell: South Carolina Retirement System reform. Referred to the Committee on Finance.

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