There was a lot of activity in both the House and Senate this week, discussing everything from infrastructure funding to the use of medical cannabis. The House of Representatives spent considerable time in floor debate in an effort to clear their calendar for next week's state budget debate.
On Thursday, a House Ways and Means subcommittee approved S.250, the annual Internal Revenue Code tax conformity legislation. The bill now goes to the full Ways and Means Committee.
On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved Governor Henry McMaster's nomination of Mr. W. Hartley Powell as the director of the Department of Revenue. The appointment will now go before the full Senate.
The Senate Finance subcommittees continued hearing state agency budget requests this week. The House of Representatives will begin debate on the FY 2017-18 General Appropriations Act (H. 3720) and the Capital Reserve Fund (H. 3721) next week.
Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.
On Tuesday, the Health and Environmental Affairs subcommittee of the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee took testimony on three bills. H.3064 (Rep. Rutherford) was approved as amended. The bill would allow a physician to write a three-year prescription for oral contraceptives for a patient and permits that prescription to be filled by a pharmacist. H.3809 (Reps. Finlay, Bernstein and others) was approved, and would require individual and group health coverage reimbursement for a twelve-month refill of contraceptive drugs. H.3487 (Reps. Ridgeway, Govan and others) was approved, which would allow a parent or legal guardian of a minor patient to request or revoke a Do Not Resuscitate order for said child's emergency services. These three bills will now go before the full House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee.
H.3132 (Rep. G. M. Smith), which relates to licensing requirements for hospice programs, was also on the agenda, but the committee ran out of time and therefore did not take action on the bill. The subcommittee will hear this bill at their next meeting, which is likely to be the week of March 21.
Also on Tuesday, a subcommitte of the Senate Medical 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 Senate Medical Affairs Committee.
On Wednesday, the Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee took nearly five hours of testimony on S.212 (Davis, Hutto, Campbell and others), known as the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. The bill would authorize the use and distribution of medical cannabis for individuals with certain medical conditions. The committee did not take any action on the bill.
On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Capital Needs and Bonding subcommittee met to discuss a proposed bond bill. The state has not approved a borrowing plan for its colleges and state agencies since 2001. Governors Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley had both previously threatened a veto of a bond bill. House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White said that with such great needs, coupled with low interest rates, he suggested the committee propose a modest bond bill of $400 - $425 million. Previous bond bills in the past have been significantly higher, but White would like to get back to passage of a bond bill every two or three years. He suggested that only maintenance, renovations and equipment be included this year with capital building needs to be included in a bond bill in future years. S.C. colleges and universities have asked lawmakers for a total of $1.1 billion, which will require the House Ways and Means Committee to dramatically reduce the list of requests. The technical college system has requested $194 million for maintenance needs of the state's 16 technical colleges and $70 million for one-time equipment needs. In addition to higher education needs, the Department of Education requested $95 million for new school buses, law enforcement entities requested $150 million and the Judicial Department requested $20 million for the court case management system. The full House Ways and Means Committee will now consider the proposal.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved H. 3793 by a vote of 97-9. The bill authorizes certain doctoral degrees at three additional colleges - Francis Marion University, The College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina University. No state money may be appropriated for the operation of the degree programs. The bill received routine third reading on Thursday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Special Transportation subcommittee adopted amendments to H. 3516 (Sen. Davis), the highway infrastructure funding proposal, by a vote of 8-1. The Senate plan would increase the amount of revenue generated from $600 million as passed by the House of Representatives to $800 million. The amended plan:
raises the gas tax by 12 cents, to 26 cents per gallon, over the next six years; increases the sales tax cap on vehicles from $300 to $700 annually; increases the motor vehicle registration fee from $20 to $40; creates a biennial fee of $60 for hybrid vehicles and $120 for electric vehicles; creates a $250 one-time vehicle registration fee for people moving into SC (active duty military are exempt); and creates a "road user fee" for out-of-state truckers based on the miles they drive.
The subcommittee removed all language in the House-passed version dealing with restructuring of the SCDOT Commission, which may now generate additional opposition to the plan as numerous legislators have insisted on reform of the SCDOT Commission as a prerequisite to passage of the overall plan. The subcommittee also indexed the increase for inflation and capped it at the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Our state's 16 cent per gallon gas tax, the primary source of funding for infrastructure repairs and improvements, has not been increased since 1987 and has never been adjusted for inflation. Finding a long-term solution for our road needs has been a top priority of the general public, legislative leaders and many in the business community for several years. The House of Representatives passed a similar plan in 2015, but it was filibustered and the Senate never acted on the proposal. The plan now goes to the full Senate Finance Committee. Governor Henry McMaster this week dismissed the idea of raising South Carolina's gas tax.
STATE RETIREMENT SYSTEM
On Wednesday, the Senate used a procedural maneuver to place H. 3726 (Reps. Herbkersman, Cobb-Hunter, Anthony, Whitmire, Stringer and others), the pension review committee recommendations, directly on the Senate calendar bypassing the committee process. The Senate approved the bill on Thursday by a vote of 38-0 as amended and gave unanimous consent for third reading on next legislative day. The amendment would change the existing plan to a defined plan once the system obtains solvency. The bill will now go back to the House of Representatives as amended.
The bill, previously passed by the House of Representatives, was the result of a special joint committee that met throughout last summer and fall to address a $20 billion plus deficit in the retirement investment funds for South Carolina's public employees. The plan is designed to help pay down the retirement system's unfunded obligations, which occurred because its assets have earned less than expected and it is charged exorbitantly high fees for investment management. The legislation included:
raising the employee contribution rate from 8.66% to 9%; capping the employee contribution rate at 9%; raising the employer contribution rate from the current 11.56% to 13.56%, effective July 1, and increasing it annually until it reaches 18.56%; 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 House Ways and Means Committee added $150 million in next year's state budget to absorb half of the increases to public entities. Many have long argued that finding a fix to the massive problem will not be easy on the state, its political subdivisions or the retirees depending on the plan. The bill is on the Senate calendar.
On Thursday, the Legislative subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee adopted H. 3311 (Reps. White, G. R. Smith, Pitts, and others). The bill, aimed at providing a seamless transition from education to employment, provides for the development and implementation of the Pathways to First Careers program and Pathways to New Opportunities program. The State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education and the Department of Education will develop and implement the programs working in conjunction with the Department of Commerce and the Department of Employment and Workforce. The legislation makes provisions for a Workforce Scholarship and Grant Fund of up to $10,000 for qualifying individuals, establishes a tax credit for taxpayers who hire an apprentice, and provides a tax credit for taxpayers who contribute to the Workforce Scholarship and Grant Fund. The bill was amended by the subcommittee to put the Economic and Education Development Act under the Coordinating Council for Economic Development. The bill now goes to the full House Ways and Means Committee.
INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST
H. 3895 Rep. Herbkersman: Relating to the Department of Revenue and Fiscal Affairs. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.
H. 3926 Rep. Spires: Relating to compounding pharmacies. Referred to Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs.
H. 3929 Reps. Hiott, Pitts, Kirby, Toole, and others: Establishes specific requirements for the review and appeal of decisions by the Department of Health and Environmental Control regarding agricultural animal facilities. Referred to Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.
H. 3931 Rep. Herbkersman: Requires non-profit corporations that receive more than one hundred dollars in public funds to submit a quarterly expenditure report. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.
H. 3946 Reps. Erickson, Cobb-Hunter, King, and others: Relating to placing children in an adult jail and commitment of children to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.
S. 506 Senator Shealy: Relating to emergency prescription refills. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.
S. 516 Senators Gregory and Kimpson: Relating to courts and notification to law enforcement of orders of protection, creation of the Judicial Criminal Information Technology Committee, and criminal background checks relating to the transfer of a gun. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK
The House of Representatives will begin debate on the FY 2017-18 General Appropriations Act on Monday at 1:00 p.m.