After voting last year to shorten the legislative session, both the House and Senate are feeling the pressure and spending considerable time in floor debate as the session begins to draw to a close. However, a Joint Resolution to allow them to continue past the mandatory May 11 Sine Die deadline will now be required, since a budget has not yet been sent to the governor. Budget negotiations have taken a back seat to finding a compromise plan on highway infrastructure funding.
On Wednesday, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee approved the governor's nomination for Brian Lamkin of Blythewood to be the next South Carolina Inspector General. Lamkin has spent the past four years as an investigator in the Office of Inspector General. If confirmed by the full Senate, he would succeed Patrick Maley, who left the office in February. The Office of Inspector General investigates allegations of fraud, waste, abuse and other wrongdoing in state government.
The state's top legislative priority, passage of the annual General Appropriations Act, has taken a back seat for now as legislative leaders work to reach a compromise on the other top legislative priority, highway infrastructure funding. Neither chamber has named budget conferees for the FY 2017-18 state budget (H. 3720) and the Capital Reserve Fund (H. 3721). It is expected that once a deal has been reached on the highway infrastructure funding plan, budget conferees will then get to work. It is unclear at this point whether all of this can happen before the mandatory adjournment of May 11. The legislature does have the ability to continue working beyond May 11 if both bodies agree to a resolution specifying what they are allowed to work on beyond the Sine Die deadline. The Senate passed such a resolution S. 692 (Senator Leatherman) earlier this week. The House has yet to act on the resolution.
Both versions of the state budget can be found here.
Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.
The Senate gave second reading approval on Thursday to H. 3817 (Reps. Bedingfield, Fry, Henderson, Huggins, and others) by a vote of 41-0. The bill allows pharmacies and other entities to register as a collector to receive controlled substances as part of substance take-back events and mail-back programs. The bill remains on the Senate calendar awaiting third and final reading.
The Senate gave second reading approval on Thursday to H.3220 (Rep. Allison) by a vote of 41-0. The bill reestablishes the SC Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council, and provides for its membership, duties and functions. The council, disbanded in 2012 due to budget restraints, will advise the Department of Education and the Department Commerce on career pathways and workforce development. The bill remains on the Senate calendar awaiting third and final reading. The House yesterday approved S. 411 (Senator Sheheen) by a vote of 77-0. The bill increases the total number of commission members for the Central Carolina Technical College Commission. The bill remains on the House calendar awaiting third and final reading.
H. 3722 (Ways and Means Committee), the bond bill for higher education maintenance and renovations, remains on the House contested calendar. The contested calendar is where bills that will require considerable debate are placed. Governor Henry McMaster recently announced he would veto any increase to the gas tax and urged lawmakers to instead take the proposed bond bill for higher education maintenance and renovations, and use that money instead for highway infrastructure. His announcement considerably softened support for the bond bill among some House members. The $498 million plan is aimed exclusively at providing funding for maintenance and renovation projects. Approximately half of the plan funds higher education institutions with $87 million set aside for technical colleges. The state has not approved a borrowing plan for its colleges and state agencies since 2001. Governors Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley both previously threatened to veto a bond bill. House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White said that with such great needs, coupled with low interest rates, he felt the bond bill was long overdue. White also said he would like to get back to passing a bond bill every two or three years. S.C. colleges and universities asked lawmakers for a total of $1.1 billion, including $194 million for maintenance needs of the state's 16 technical colleges. With just three legislative days remaining, it is uncertain if the House will debate the proposal this year.
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With the passage of H. 3516 by both bodies, a Conference Committee began meeting this week to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the highway infrastructure funding bill. Senate conferees are Senators Paul Campbell, Vincent Sheheen and Ross Turner. House conferees are Representatives Gary Simrill, Brian White and Todd Rutherford. While the House plan raises the state's gas tax by ten cents per gallon over five years, the Senate plan raises it twelve cents per gallon over six years, generating $800 million annually for highway repairs. The Senate plan includes indexing the tax to inflation once the tax is fully implemented. The Senate added numerous tax credits and rebates, including increasing tuition tax credits and reducing the manufacturer's depreciation tax rate, to gain support of many members who insisted they would not support a tax increase without some tax relief. Both plans include some version of reform for the current SCDOT commission. Conferees are working towards a compromise plan that would garner enough votes in both bodies to override a gubernatorial veto. That margin is critical as Governor Henry McMaster has pledged to veto any increase in the gas tax, opting instead to borrow up to a billion dollars for road repairs. Yesterday, the conferees adopted the sections of the bill that both bodies had in their plan. That included:
- A new $60 fee every two years for hybrid vehicles;
- A new $120 fee every two years for electric vehicles; and
- An added $16 fee every two years to register a vehicle.
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 Conference Committee was scheduled to meet again at 10:00 a.m. this morning.
JUDICIAL / LEGAL
The Senate on Tuesday approved H.3441, which authorizes electronic payment of workers' compensation claims, by a vote of 36-0. The bill received third and final reading on Wednesday and is now enrolled for ratification. The Senate also approved H.3879, relating to the allowed maximum amount of covered burial expenses in workers' compensation cases. The bill was amended to raise the maximum amount from $10,000 to $12,000. The House concurred in the Senate amendment on Thursday, and the bill is now enrolled for ratification.
The Workers' Compensation Commission regulations, which update and clarify the current regulation (Document Number 4735), are moving closer to becoming effective. Minor changes were made to the regulations, which required them to be withdrawn and resubmitted by the Worker's Compensation Commission. Due to the delay caused by the withdrawal and resubmission, for the regulations to become effective this year, a Joint Resolution must be adopted by May 11. The House and Senate have introduced Joint Resolutions to approve the regulation, and now one of those must pass (Joint Resolution H. 4131 and S. 681).
This past Tuesday, Bruce M. Bryant won the Republican Primary for House District 48 in York County to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Representative Ralph Norman, who left to run for the Fifth Congressional District seat. Bryant, 65, is the former York County sheriff. Democrat Bebs Barron Chorak will now face Bryant in the June 20 General Election.
Two Democrats are headed to a run-off election to fill the House District 70 seat vacated by the death of Representative Joe Neal. Wendy Brawley of Hopkins will face Heath Hill of Eastover in the May 16 run-off election. The winner will face off against Republican Bill Strickland of Sumter in the June 20 general election. Neal had been in the House since 1992 representing District 70, which covers Lower Richland and the western part of Sumter County.
INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST
H. 4280 Reps. Erickson and others: Resolution congratulating the Technical College of the Lowcountry Veterans Resource Center on its second anniversary. Introduced and adopted.
S. 678 Senator Fanning: Requires student government presidents of higher education institutions to serve as ex-officio trustees (excludes technical colleges). Referred to the Committee on Education.
S. 679 Senator Talley: Relating to licensing fees and regulations imposed on businesses. Referred to the Committee on Finance.
S. 681 Judiciary Committee: Joint Resolution approving regulations of the Workers' Compensation Commission. Read the first time and ordered placed on the Calendar without reference.
S. 692 Senator Leatherman: Sine Die resolution to allow the General Assembly to return after May 11 for specified unfinished business. The Concurrent Resolution was adopted, ordered sent to the House.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK
The legislature will adjourn Sine Die at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday concluding the first year of the 122nd General Assembly.