This week was the final week of the legislative session. However, a Joint Resolution to allow the General Assembly to continue past the mandatory May 11 Sine Die deadline was adopted since the state budget has not yet been finalized. Budget negotiations had taken a back seat to finding a compromise plan on highway infrastructure funding. That plan was adopted this week. The budget Conference Committee began meeting this week and will continue meeting next week with a goal of adopting a compromise budget plan by next Friday. The General Assembly will likely return to Columbia on two more occasions, to adopt the budget Conference Report and again at a later date, if necessary, to deal with gubernatorial vetoes on the budget. As this was the first year of the two year legislative session, all bills not becoming law will retain their place on the calendar or in committee.
On Wednesday, the Senate 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. He succeeds 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 FY 2017-18 state budget H. 3720 and the Capital Reserve Fund H. 3721 had taken a back seat as legislative leaders worked to reach a compromise on the other top legislative priority, highway infrastructure funding which was finally enacted this week. Budget Conference Committee members got together twice this week but agreed they would not be able to finish their work before the mandatory adjournment. However, a Joint Resolution S. 692 (Senator Leatherman) was adopted that will allow the General Assembly to work beyond the mandatory deadline. The budget Conference Committee is scheduled to meet again next week with the hope of finishing the budget and adopting a Conference Report by week's end. Senate conferees are Senators Hugh Leatherman, Nikki Setzler and Sean Bennett. House conferees are Representatives Brian White, Mike Pitts and Leon Stavrinakis. Both bodies will then return to Columbia on May 23 to adopt the Conference Report and then again at a later date to deal with gubernatorial vetoes if necessary.
Both versions of the state budget can be found here.
Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.
As is always the case at the end of a session, bills moving through the process often become vehicles to pass other bills that have had little or no movement. S. 179 (Senators Hutto and Hembree), a bill that provides limited immunity from prosecution for certain drug and alcohol offenses by a person who seeks medical assistance for another person who is experiencing a drug or alcohol related overdose, became one of those vehicles this week. The bill was amended this week to include H. 3819 (Reps. Bedingfield, Fry, Henderson, and others) which establishes requirements for physicians related to prescribing opioid analgesics to minors including new informed consent procedures but with some limited exceptions for emergency situations and chronic disease management.
The following bills have been ratified and sent to the governor for his consideration:
H. 3817 (Reps. Bedingfield, Fry, Henderson, Huggins, and others) 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.
H. 3864 (Reps. Bernstein, Collins and Erickson) revises the age, weight and position of a child who must be secured by a child passenger restraint system.
H. 3824 (Reps. Henderson, Bedingfield, Fry and others) which requires health care practitioners to review a patient's controlled substance prescription history before prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance and establishes a penalty for failure to do so.
H.3132(Rep. G. M. Smith), relating to licensing requirements for hospice providers.
H. 3722 (Ways and Means Committee), the bond bill for higher education maintenance and renovations, did not pass but will remain on the House contested calendar until next year. House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White told the body on Wednesday that with such great needs, coupled with low interest rates, he felt the bond bill was long overdue. However, Governor Henry McMaster recently urged lawmakers to use the bond bill for highway infrastructure rather than higher education maintenance and renovations. 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. Chairman White hopes to use the off-session to strengthen support for the plan and gain the support of the governor and pass the bill early in the 2018 session.
Click here to view the full list of projects.
The following bills were ratified this week and sent to the governor for his consideration:
H.3220 (Allison and others) 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.
S. 480 (Senators Hutto and M. B. Matthews) abolishes the Denmark Technical College Area Commission upon the signature of the governor and makes the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education the governing body for DTC. The bill was amended to reinstate a new Commission on November 1, 2018. The bill also requires the State Board to commission a study of the most effective and efficient delivery of technical college opportunities in Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties and report its findings and recommendations not later than February 1, 2018. Enrollment at the two-year college has dropped from 1,800 to 600 students and the college will reach a deficit of nearly $2 million by the end of the fiscal year.
S. 411 (Senator Sheheen) increases the total number of commission members for the Central Carolina Technical College Commission and requires that three members must be from Kershaw County.
After more than two years of debate, last Friday evening a Conference Committee agreed on a compromise report on H. 3516, the highway infrastructure funding bill. Senate conferees were Senators Paul Campbell, Vincent Sheheen and Ross Turner. House conferees were Representatives Gary Simrill, Brian White and Todd Rutherford. Senators came in for a rare Monday session and adopted the Conference Report by a vote of 32-12. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives adopted the report by a vote of 99-20. Governor Henry McMaster followed up on his promise and vetoed the bill Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, both bodies overrode the governor's veto and the plan is now law. The compromise plan includes:
- Effective July 1, 2017, the gas tax will be raised 2 cents per year for 6 years resulting in a 12 cent increase in the tax by year 6 to a rate of 28.75 cents per gallon;
- Increases the motor vehicle registration fee by $16 every other year;
- Increases the motor vehicle sales tax cap by $200 to $500;
- Enacts a $60 fee every other year on hybrid vehicles and a $120 fee every other year on electric vehicles;
- Enacts a $250 fee for registering a vehicle in South Carolina that is registered in another state;
- Creates a temporary state income tax credit/rebate for South Carolina residents for gas purchases or preventive maintenance equal to 100% of the amount paid in new gas taxes based on gallons of gas purchased in a tax year. The rebate will expire in year six.
- Increases tuition tax credits from $350 to $1,500 for two year institutions and $850 to $1500 for four year institutions. The $1500 cap is increased each year afterwards equal to a percentage increase in the Higher Education Price Index;
- Creates an earned income tax credit (EITC) starting in 2018 equal to 125% of the federal EITC;
- Creates a two wage earner tax credit; and
- Decreases the industrial property tax rate from 10.5% to 9.0% through a six year phase in of the reduction.
The bill also includes reform of the SCDOT Commission by allowing the governor to remove SCDOT commissioners and by adding an additional member appointed by the governor. Once fully implemented, the plan will raise an additional $630 million annually for the SCDOT and will include $186 million in tax relief. 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.
JUDICIAL / LEGAL
H.3441 (Gagnon) was signed into law by the governor on Tuesday. The bill authorizes electronic payment of workers' compensation claims.
The following bills were ratified this week and sent to the governor for his consideration: H.3879 (Davis, Yow and others) increases the allowed maximum amount of covered burial expenses in workers' compensation cases to $12,000.
H.3215 (E. Smith) which creates the offense of impersonating a lawyer.
The Workers' Compensation Commission regulations, which update and clarify the current regulation (Document Number 4735), will not be in effect until January 15, 2018. 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 and the lack of passage of a Joint Resolution to approve them this year the effective date is delayed until next year.
STATE RETIREMENT SYSTEM
The Joint Committee on Pension Systems Review met on Tuesday to begin what they described as Phase II of reform of the state retirement system. The committee was established last year and met throughout the summer and fall to address a $22 billion plus deficit in the retirement investment funds for South Carolina's public employees. H. 3726 was signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster last month which addressed funding for the system. This next phase is designed to study the future of the system. In signing the bill into law, McMaster noted it was "the first step of many which are needed" to secure the future fiscal health and sustainability of the pension systems. He said the new law did not address the single most important measure which would ensure the long term financial stability and viability of the State's retirement systems: a date certain transition from the State's defined benefit pension plans to a defined contribution retirement plan for new state employees. The committee agreed to hear from the Department of Revenue and other subject matter experts in future meetings.
On Thursday, Representative Harold Mitchell, Jr. submitted his resignation from the House of Representatives due to ongoing health issues. Mitchell has represented District 31 in Spartanburg County since 2006.
INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST
H. 4305 Rep. Elliott: Allows income tax credits for contributions for exceptional needs children. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.
H. 4308 Reps. Erickson, Bedingfield, Knight, and others: Establishes the "Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Account Act". Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.
H. 4322 Reps. Bradley and Allison: Authorizes partnerships to create Charter Schools in certain workplace circumstances. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.
S. 708 Senator Bennett: Allows county treasurers to waive late penalties on delinquent taxes for certain good causes. Referred to the Committee on Finance.
S. 711 Senator Massey: Allows scholarships to be used by out-of-state students if chosen major is not offered in S.C. Referred to the Committee on Education.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK
The Budget Conference Committee will continue its work on the state budget.