IN THIS EDITION: The Senate continued floor debate on the education reform bill. The House of Representatives spent most of its time in subcommittee meetings.
The House Ways and Means budget subcommittees continued meetings this week to hear state agency budget requests, and the Senate Finance Subcommittees have begun hearing requests as well.
The Judicial Department appeared before House Ways and Means Constitutional Subcommittee on Wednesday. Chief Justice Donald Beatty told the subcommittee his request includes $3.7 million in recurring funds to fund all statutorily mandated court positions such as direct court support staff and Court Reporters. Beatty is also seeking $10 million in one-time funds to continue modernization of the Case Management System.
This week’s Ways and Means subcommittee meetings also included the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the Department on Aging, and the Department of Administration, which is seeking $8.1 million for the migration of the South Carolina Enterprise Information System to SAP.
The full House Ways and Means Committee is expected to debate the budget beginning Feb. 17 with full House floor debate beginning the week of March 9.
The Joint Other Funds Oversight Committee met and authorized the Department of Education to spend $7.8 million from South Carolina’s portion of the Volkswagen legal settlement (cheating diesel emissions tests) for the purchase of new propane-powered school buses. There will be 78 new buses awarded to four school districts statewide, for a total of 217 propane-powered school buses across the state.
With the state’s economy seeing record-level unemployment combined with rising wages and new residents, economists tasked with setting the revenue estimate for the FY 20-21 state budget have added $815 million to the $9 billion state general fund. Additionally, they are projecting a budget surplus of over $1 billion.
The governor’s executive budget can be found here.
Individual state agency budget requests can be found here.
For the third week, the Senate continued floor debate on S.419 (Sens. Hembree, Malloy, Turner, Setzler, Sheheen and Alexander) known as “The South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act.” The bill, which has more than 100 amendments waiting to be debated, remains in masthead status on the Senate calendar, and debate is expected to continue again next week. Both Gov. Henry McMaster and legislative leadership had said the 2019 legislative session would produce long-overdue reforms in K-12 education. The House passed its version of education reform H.3759 (Reps. Lucas, Allison, Felder, Pope, Simrill, Rutherford and others) last March. However, after hearing complaints from teachers and others about the legislation, the Senate did not pass its version last year and spent the summer and fall hearing from stakeholders and revising their bill.
The House Education and Public Works K-12 Subcommittee approved H.4753 (Reps. Lucas, Allison, Chellis, Taylor and others) that enacts the “Teacher Bill of Rights.” This legislation was included in the House’s comprehensive education reform bill passed last March but was deleted by the Senate during subcommittee debate late last year, and an amendment to put it back in the Senate bill failed again this week. The bill now goes to the full House Education Committee for consideration. One group advocating on behalf of teachers came to the State House this week to tell lawmakers if their demands for education reform, some of which are included in the bill of rights, are not met by March 17, another rally or potential teacher walkout might occur.
The Constitutional Law Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee favorably approved H.4974 (Reps. Lucas, Simrill, Rutherford, Pope, McCoy, G. M. Smith and Bannister) relating to judges. The bill as introduced would increase the number of at-large Circuit Court judges from 16 to 17 and increase the number of at-large Family Court judges from eight to 10. The subcommittee added an amendment to the bill that would instead add two resident family court seats in Orangeburg and York Counties and two resident circuit court seats in Horry and Beaufort Counties. The bill now goes to the full House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
The subcommittee also debated H.3758 (Reps. Hiott, Allison, Anderson, Atkinson, Bales and others) relating to the Contributions among Tortfeasors Act. This is the bill that seeks to address the inequitable outcome of the South Carolina Supreme Court’s majority decisions in two well-known cases. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a defendant in a civil injury damages case involving the actions of multiple parties cannot have another more responsible party or parties (but a non-defendant) joined to the case or added to a verdict form and apportioned fault by the judge or jury. The bill seeks to update the statute to correct this unfairness by changing apportionment of fault in the statute to “all parties and nonparties.” The bill was introduced on Jan. 24 of last year and was finally the subject of a House Judiciary subcommittee meeting this week. The Coalition for Lawsuit Reform –specifically retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Costa Pleicones, who authored the dissenting opinion in the Smith v. Tiffany case – testified to the merits of the bill. The opposition testimony from the SC Association for Justice had just begun when the subcommittee had to adjourn for the day. They will be first up when the subcommittee reschedules a hearing.
A Senate Judiciary Subcommittee debated S.1002 (Senators Rankin, Malloy, Young and others) which was introduced on Jan. 14, 2020. The bill would change the conduct of Voir Dire in the Court of Common Pleas from being conducted by the judge to being conducted by the attorneys. While there is a 30-minute limit for each party, upon motion by either party the trial judge can extend the time. The SC Association for Justice testified on the merits of the bill and noted they had been working on this bill for a couple of years. The subcommittee had several questions about how this would work and ran out of time and adjourned the meeting. Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Tom Young announced that they would try to schedule another hearing on the bill either next week or the week after.
The House Labor, Commerce and Industry Public Utilities Subcommittee favorably approved, as amended, H.4940 (Reps. Sandifer and Forrester), a Joint Resolution establishing the Electricity Market Reform Measures Study Committee. The bill now goes to the full committee for consideration.
The Senate Judiciary Committee gave favorable approval to S.290 (Senators Talley, Climer, Turner, Campbell, and others) relating to drive-through, curb service or delivery of alcoholic beverages. The bill was amended in subcommittee to require the retailer to provide training and receive electronic verification of the purchasers proof of age. The committee also approved S.1007 (Senators Talley and Campbell) relating to removing restrictions on retailers selling alcohol in passenger terminal facilities. Both bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate Transportation Committee debated S.723 (Senators Young, Davis, Sabb and Rankin) the “South Carolina Hands Free Act.” The bill prohibits driving while holding an electronic device in your hand and creates penalties for doing so. After considerable debate, the bill was referred back to subcommittee over concerns from criminal defense attorneys. The same fate occurred with the House version of this legislation last year, thereby possibly ending any chance of passage for the legislation this year.
The Senate Family & Veterans’ Services Committee favorably approved S.865 (Senators Jackson, Hutto and Shealy) that reauthorizes the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children through Dec. 31, 2030. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST
H.5068 (Reps. Elliott, Burns, Haddon, B. Cox, Bannister, Willis and Stringer). Exempts from state sales tax items for improving school safety sold to school districts and institutions of higher learning. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.
H.5027 (Reps. Morgan, Hill, Magnuson, Haddon and others). Prohibits members of the General Assembly from offering pledges to vote for a candidate for judicial office. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.
H.5037 (Reps. Gilliard, Jefferson, R. Williams and Pendarvis). Enacts the “Metal Detectors in Public Schools Act of 2020.” Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.
H.5056 (Rep. R. Williams). Requires all K-12 schools to be closed on Veterans Day. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.
S.1052 (Senator Davis). Provides that a county may adopt alternate dates for the application of penalties on delinquent taxes. Referred to the Committee on Finance.
S.1066 (Senators McLeod and Fanning). Requiring wireless telecommunications carriers to comply with requests from local law enforcement in emergency situations. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
S.1067 (Senator Malloy). Removes the mandatory retirement age for all judges. Referred to the Committee on Finance.
The General Assembly will meet in Joint Session at noon Wednesday to hold judicial elections and elect members to several college boards.