The straight Conformity of bill H. 5162, introduced by House Ways and Means Chair Brian White, has begun its path through debate in House committees. However, all House business was on hold this past week as members were on Easter furlough.
In a dramatic week of revelations in the VC Summer controversy, Gov. Henry McMaster called state-owned utility Santee Cooper “a rogue agency” and released emails showing that Santee Cooper lobbyists had been actively working to stop the sale of the utility to a private entity after McMaster instructed them not to do so. Senate Majority leader Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) released a report commissioned by the Senate that showed SCE&G could cut at least 13% from ratepayers bills without forcing the company into bankruptcy
View from the Dome
By Copper Dome Strategies
ISSUE: March 30, 2018
While members of the House of Representatives enjoyed a week off for their Easter furlough, members of the Senate put in a full week adopting a state budget in Finance Committee and spending time on the floor debating legislation. The Senate will take next week off while the House will be busy on the floor working to give bills final reading before the crossover deadline of April 10.
On Thursday, the Animal Welfare Select Subcommittee of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee debated S. 1137 (Senator Talley). The bill seeks to protect legitimately trained service animals by establishing misdemeanor penalties for intentional misrepresentation of a service animal. The committee agreed not to move the bill forward for now in order to address concerns with definitions in the proposed language.
The Senate Finance Committee completed their work in committee this week on the FY 2018-19 General Appropriations Act H. 4950 (Ways and Means Committee) and the Capital Reserve Fund H. 4951 (Ways and Means Committee). The House of Representatives passed their version of the budget the week before last after 2 days of debate. Committee members noted their version focused most of the new recurring revenue on educational needs. They included funding to give teachers statewide a 1% pay increase and increased the starting salary of teachers by $2000 to $32,000 annually. They did not include funding for other state employee pay raises. They also added $20 million to the state’s 33 public colleges and universities base budgets and noted they expected the colleges to use those funds to keep tuition rate increases on in-state students at a minimum. Their budget, like the House version, also includes $59 million to fund the increases in the employee health plan. The committee budget also includes:
For the technical colleges:
$4.6 million in recurring base funding
Increase Lottery Tuition Assistance to $51 million
$9.85 million for one-time equipment needs
$9.4 million ReadySC
$26 million for DHHS for Medicaid Maintenance of Effort
$11 million for opioid prevention and treatment
$4 million increased funding for the Rural Health Initiative
$1 million in recurring funding added to the Telehealth program
The full Senate is expected to begin debate on the floor when they return from their furlough on April 9.
Finance Committee information can be found here.
The governor’s Executive Budget can be found here.
Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.
Legislative rules require that in order for bills to be considered by the opposite chamber this session, all bills must receive third and final reading by Tuesday, April 10. Bills that do not meet this deadline can still be debated but must reach a higher threshold for debate by receiving a two/thirds vote of the body. House members will be busy next week working to clear their calendar of as many bills as possible prior to April 10 in order to be considered by the Senate this session. While many in the Senate wanted to forego their Easter furlough week to do the same, the body instead voted to take the furlough week. However, the Senate did vote to come into session on Monday, April 9 to move as many bills as possible over to the House prior to their debate on the state budget. As this is the second year of a two-year legislative term, any bills that do not become law this year will have to be reintroduced and the process starts all over again next year.
On Tuesday, Governor Henry McMaster released emails he had requested from state-owned utility Santee Cooper showing that Santee Cooper lobbyists had been actively working to stop the sale of the utility to a private entity after McMaster instructed them not to do so. Calling it “a rogue agency”, McMaster once again urged the legislature to begin the process to sell the utility, and to set up a formal process to evaluate offers for the sale of Santee Cooper. He first proposed selling Santee Cooper last summer after the failure of the V.C. Summer nuclear project, leaving the utility billions of dollars in debt. McMaster also said that the legislature needs to approve his choice of former South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon as the new chairman.
Also on Tuesday, Senate Majority leader Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) released a report commissioned by the Senate that showed SCE&G could cut at least 13 percent from ratepayers bills without forcing the company into bankruptcy and even more could be cut if the utility reduces it payouts to shareholders. SCE&G is continuing to charge customers $37 million a month for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.
With that backdrop, the Senate Wednesday night approved an amendment to Joint Resolution S. 954 (Senators Leatherman, Setzler) which prohibits the Public Service Commission (PSC) from making a decision on any SCANA-Dominion Energy merger until December. Earlier this month, the House unanimously voted to amend the bill so that it also decreases SCE&G power bills temporarily by about eighteen percent, the amount SCE&G is currently charging its customers for the failed VC Summer nuclear project. After over four hours of debate, the Senate adopted an amendment, offered by Senator Massey that would roll back the nuclear surcharge from eighteen percent to five percent immediately. Massey argued he wanted to completely eliminate the surcharge but wanted to make sure any decrease could withstand a court challenge. Prior to the debate, Dominion Energy released a statement saying that if the Senate acted, they might withdraw their merger proposal. The Joint Resolution remains on the Senate calendar as additional amendments remain to be debated. Governor Henry McMaster joined the House in calling for an immediate end to the surcharge payments and has threatened to veto the proposal if it does not fully eliminate the surcharge.
Fallout from the decision to cease all construction on two new nuclear reactors being built at the VC Summer Nuclear Generating Station in Jenkinsville by SCANA and state-owned utility Santee Cooper remain one of the most costly, complex and politically explosive issues to hit our state in decades.
By a vote of 41-0, the Senate this week approved S. 1101 (Senators Young, Hutto and Massey) that would extend the sunset provision to November 30, 2020 on exemptions for private, for-profit pipeline companies. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
The House of Representatives did not meet this week in observance of their annual Easter week furlough. They will return to Columbia on Tuesday, April 3. The Senate will furlough next week.
On Thursday, the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee gave favorable approval to S. 212 (Sens. Davis, Hutto, Campbell and other) known as the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act”. The bill would allow seriously ill patients to have access to a regulated medical marijuana system, as they do in 29 other states and the District of Columbia. The subcommittee had previously adopted a strike and insert amendment that made a number of changes, including a clear ban on smoking medical cannabis and more specific requirements for physicians, along with greater involvement of law enforcement in oversight of those licensed to conduct business in the program.
Under the amended bill, South Carolina would have one of the most carefully regulated programs in the country. By a 8-6 vote, the committee reported the bill out favorably as amended, to the full Senate. However, bill proponents and opponents understood the bill does not have a chance of passage this year and both sides will continue to work on the bill.
Also on Thursday, the Senate gave second reading approval to H. 3819 (Reps. Bedingfield, Fry, Henderson and others) which establishes requirements for prescribing opioid analgesics to minors. Also receiving second reading was H. 4116 (Reps. Ridgeway, Douglas, Spires, G. M. Smith, and others). The bill prohibits hospitals and insurance companies from enjoining physicians to secure a maintenance of certification. Both bills remain on the Senate calendar awaiting third and final reading.
INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST
There were no introductions of interest.
S. 1150 Senators Massey and Sheheen: Prohibits any state entity from employing or contracting with a lobbyist who is not a full-time employee of the state. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
The Senate will be on Easter furlough. The House of Representatives will be in floor debate all week.