View from the Dome – Feb. 15, 2019
By Copper Dome Strategies, LLC

The debate over comprehensive education reform continued in both bodies this week. South Carolina gets a new State Adjutant General and our state’s coffers will not be as full as a result of a very tardy billion dollar lottery winner.

APPOINTMENTS

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Adjutant General Major General Roy Van McCarty. A 1982 graduate of The Citadel, Maj. Gen. McCarty’s military career spans more than 36 years. In his current capacity, he oversees the administrative activities and daily operations of the South Carolina Military Department, which encompasses the South Carolina Army and Air National Guard, the Emergency Management Division, the State Guard and the Youth ChalleNGe Academy. He will become the first Adjutant General appointed by a governor since the constitutional amendment giving him that authority was approved by South Carolina voters in 2014. To read more about his appointment go here.

A change of command ceremony to recognize the outgoing Adjutant General, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., will take place at the McEntire Joint National Guard Base Eastover tomorrow at 1:00 pm.

BOARD OF ECONOMIC ADVISORS

The state Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) met yesterday afternoon. The BEA is statutorily charged with providing the General Assembly with the official revenue estimate for lawmakers to draft the annual state budget. They are required by law to provide an updated estimate by February15th of each year. While there is slightly weakened growth over the past few months resulting in lower than anticipated revenues, they did not change the overall revenue estimate. However, because South Carolina’s $1.5 billion dollar lottery winner has not yet come forward to accept the prize, they voted to reduce the state estimate by $61 million, the amount of income tax the winner was expected to contribute to state coffers. Should the winner come forward before the winning ticket expires in April, they will revisit the official estimate at that time.

BUDGET

Senate budget subcommittees continued meetings this week to hear state agency budget requests. On the House side, the Ways and Means Proviso Subcommittee met and adopted all but a few of the proposed provisos. Provisos are clauses in the state budget that direct the expenditure of funds and hold the force of law for one year. The full Ways and Means Committee will begin debate on the budget next week. The state’s General Fund revenue will include over $1 billion in new revenue from two years of a budget surplus. Budget writers will have an additional $498 million in new recurring revenue and $488 million in one-time revenue.

House Ways and Means Committee Budget Provisos can be found here.

The governor’s Executive Budget can be found here.

Individual state agency budget requests can be found here

EDUCATION REFORM

On Tuesday, the House Education and Public Works K-12 Subcommittee held its third meeting on H. 3759 (Lucas, Allison, Felder, Pope, Simrill, Rutherford and others) known as “The South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act.” The bill seeks to tackle the fundamental changes needed to modernize our education system with a primary focus on students and teachers. The late afternoon meeting was scheduled to allow testimony from teachers and others who might not be able to attend regular daytime meetings of the committee. Several hundred teachers showed up for the meeting which lasted for more than five hours. Many of the speakers expressed disappointment for not being included in the drafting of the bill. You can view a video of the meeting here.

The next day, a Senate Education Subcommittee met on the companion bill, S. 419, which was introduced by Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree (R-Horry). The subcommittee limited their meeting to addressing the section of the bill that deals with ethics. After hearing concerns from the SC School Boards Association that the proposed language was more restrictive than for other elected officials, an amendment was proposed that would eliminate much of the new ethics requirements for school board members. That amendment was not adopted as members wanted an opportunity to review it so it will be discussed at the next meeting. The subcommittee plans to hold four meetings across the state to seek input from interested parties and would like to move the bill to the full Senate Education Committee by the end of March. Chairman Hembree told those with concerns about the bill that it is a work in progress and encouraged interested parties to remain patient as the bill will undergo considerable changes during the legislative process. Governor McMaster strongly supports the legislation. A summary of the companion bills can be found here.

HEALTHCARE

On Wednesday, a Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee once again continued hearing testimony on  S. 132 (Senator Davis, Nicholson, Hutto, M.B. Matthews, Kimpson and Alexander) that enacts the “PA Act of 2019” relating to physicians assistants. The bill intends to increase access to care, particularly in rural areas, without putting the public at risk as it relates to competency of care with physician assistants by expanding their duties. The bill requires a written or electronic agreement developed by a PA and a physician or medical staff who agrees to work with and support the PA. The scope of practice establishes the medical aspects of care to be provided by the PA, including the prescribing of medications, and must contain mechanisms that allow the physician to ensure that quality of care and patient safety is maintained in accordance with state and federal laws, as well as all applicable rules and regulations of the Board of Medical Examiners. The subcommittee did not take action on the bill and asked all interested stakeholders, including the Board of Medical Examiners, to meet to work through their differences on the bill.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Senate Education Committee met on Wednesday and heard a presentation from Mr. Mike Lefever, Interim President and Executive Director of the Commission on Higher Education (CHE). Lefever updated the committee on recent changes at the CHE and noted six of the twelve members of the commission are new within the past six months and three seats remain vacant. He told the committee that he and new commission chairman, former state Senator Wes Hayes, want to work more closely with the colleges and the General Assembly in a more cooperative way moving forward. After explaining many of the issues of concern in workforce development and college affordability, the committee held a spirited debate about the future of higher education, funding issues and spending issues with the colleges.

H. 3639 (Taylor, Allison and Felder) relating to in-state tuition for military personnel and their dependents received 2nd reading in the House on Wednesday. The bill expands the categories of individuals covered by these provisions to conform with certain changes in federal law. The bill received third and final reading on Thursday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

On Thursday, the Senate Higher Education Opportunity Act Subcommittee gave favorable approval to S. 298 (Sheeheen Peeler and others). The bill, known as the “Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2019,” is an attempt to reign in rising tuition costs while increasing funding for the state’s 33 public colleges and universities. Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) noted the model of raising tuition and admitting more students is no longer viable and the state must provide a more stable and predictive funding model. Education Committee Chairman Senator Greg Hembree (R-Horry) noted the bill did not address the spending issues of the colleges and questioned why the bill did not include a funding cap, particularly if enrollment shrinks. The bill is sure to receive considerable debate, and amendments, at the full committee level.

JUDICIAL/LEGAL

On Wednesday, S. 386 (Malloy, Climer, Goldfinch, Talley, Sabb and Harpootlian) dealing with revisions to the SC Tort Claims Act was again debated in a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee. The bill includes the provisions of S. 7 related to caps (below) and also deals with related issues to the Tort Claims Act, such as bad faith claims, what is an occurrence, recovery of attorney’s fees, the State Catastrophic Fund and other items. More amendments were adopted and the bill was reported out of subcommittee by a 4-1 vote, read more here. The bill, as amended, will now go to the Full Senate Judiciary Committee for further discussion most likely next Tuesday. 

S. 7 (Malloy, Climer, Goldfinch, Talley and Harpootlian) dealing with the Tort Claims Act limits has been reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is being held on the Senate Calendar for further debate. This bill proposes to raise the caps on the recovery limits. It would raise the cap on a single person from $300,000 to $1,000,000 and for an occurrence from $600,000 to $2,000,000. As amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, it adds an annual increase or decrease based on the CPI. The amendment also changes the effective date to causes of action with a date of loss arising on or after July 1, 2020. There is ongoing research on what this will do to the rates charged by the Insurance Reserve Fund to governmental bodies.

INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST

HOUSE

H. 3936 (Reps. Davis and Daning) Allows eligibility of two year and technical college students for the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.

H. 3940 (Reps. Murphy, Sandifer, Yow, Bryant, Caskey and others) Relating to college tuition waivers for certain wartime veteran’s children. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

H. 3941 (Reps. King, McDaniel and Henegan) Constitutional amendment to provide that judges be popularly elected in a partisan election. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H. 3942 (Reps. King, McDaniel and Henegan) Constitutional amendment to provide that no one can be elected to the court of appeals without having first served as a judge of a court of record in this state. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H. 3943 (Reps. King, McDaniel and Henegan) Provides for the election of family court judges by popular vote in nonpartisan elections. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H. 3953 (Reps. King, McDaniel and Henegan) Requires the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to release a list of all qualified candidates to the General Assembly instead of three candidates. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H. 3972 (Reps. Elliott, G. R. Smith, Loftis, Burns and others) Enacts the “South Carolina Course Access Act” offered by certain education providers and approved by the Commission on Higher Education. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.

H. 3985 (Reps. Lucas, G. M. Smith and Stavrinakis) Relating to updates to the Internal Revenue Code (tax conformity). On motion of Rep. G. M. SMITH, with unanimous consent, the Bill was ordered placed on the calendar without reference.

H. 3986 (Rep. G. M. Smith) Changes the name of the “Able Savings Program” to the “South Carolina Stable Account Program” relating to income tax deductions. On motion of Rep. G. M. SMITH, with unanimous consent, the Bill was ordered placed on the calendar without reference.

SENATE

S. 509 (Senator Grooms) Relating to nonfranchise automobile dealer pre-licensing and regulation. Referred to the Committee on Transportation.

S. 521 (Senator Turner) Relating to filing claims of accidents in the workplace and employer payment for medical treatment. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S. 523 (Senators Massey, Bennett, Climer, Davis, and others) Enacts the “Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Account Act” for meeting certain education expenses. Referred to the Committee on Education.

COMING UP

The House Ways and Means Committee will begin debate on the state budget next week.