View from the Dome – March 1, 2019
By Copper Dome Strategies, LLC

The debate over comprehensive education reform continued in both bodies. The Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court addressed a Joint Session of the General Assembly for the annual State of the Judiciary Address.

TAX

The SC House Tax Policy Review Committee met again on Thursday. Committee Chairman Tommy Pope (R-York) has told the committee his goal is find consensus among the members to send a “working template” to the House Ways and Means Tax Subcommittee for continued debate.

The subcommittee wrestled with the complexity of coming up with a starting point on an income tax bill and a sales tax bill. Instead of forcing the issue this week, Chairman Pope will take time to come up with options for the committee to consider at their next meeting, which is likely to be after the budget debate on the floor and thus might be at least three weeks away.

At least one member of the committee commented that the property tax issue created by Act 388, which exempts homeowner-occupied properties from taxes that would go toward school operating expenses, was the elephant in the room and needs to part of the solution.

In addition, the committee recognized that there is ongoing work reviewing how education is funded and that outcome will be important to their deliberations as well.

Committee information and video archives can be found here. This 14-member ad hoc committee was created in 2016 by Speaker of the House Jay Lucas and is responsible for reviewing South Carolina’s tax code and submitting suggestions for reform to the Speaker.

BUDGET

The full House Ways and Means Committee passed their version of the FY 2019-20 state budget last week. Pursuant to the House rules, the budget will be printed and placed on House members’ desks for one week. Full House debate on the budget will begin the week of March 11.

Senate Finance budget subcommittees continued meetings this week to hear state agency budget requests. Agencies presenting their requests this week included Santee Cooper, the Department of Education, the Department of Natural Resources and the Commission on Higher Education.

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 $479 million in one-time revenue. Budget spreadsheets from each subcommittee can be found here.

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

The full House Education and Public Works Committee adopted H.3759 (Lucas, Allison, Felder, Pope, Simrill, Rutherford and others) known as “The South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act” by a vote of 15-1. The bill seeks to tackle the fundamental changes needed to modernize our education system with a primary focus on students and teachers. The committee worked through amendments offered by members and adopted several, including an amendment offered by the House Speaker clarifying language in the bill. The committee also adopted an amendment clarifying Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information from school districts to provide additional transparency. The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives where debate is expected next week. You can view a video of the meeting here.

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 heard testimony from representatives of the Palmetto State Teachers Association and the League of Women’s Voters. The subcommittee discussed an amendment, to be voted on at the next meeting that would eliminate the Zero to Twenty Committee and the “Student Bill of Rights” currently in the bill and proposed changes to the Read to Succeed Program. 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. They will meet next Monday in McCormick and have scheduled a meeting on March 18 in Gaffney and another one on March 21 in Georgetown.

A summary of the companion bills can be found here.

ENERGY

The Public Service Authority Evaluation and Recommendation Committee, also known as the Santee Cooper Study Committee, met to discuss the recently released report on the bids submitted by parties interested in purchasing Santee Cooper or managing the publicly held utility. The committee, which has been meeting since last summer, had previously hired a private sector company, ICF, to study the possibility of selling the state-owned utility as a result of the fallout of their decision to cease construction on two nuclear reactors they had partnered with SCE&G to operate. According to the company, more than a dozen bidders offered proposals and three of the bids promised to eliminate all of Santee Cooper’s debt. The committee voted 5-4 to hire an outside consultant to meet with the bidders to drill down on the proposals and negotiate terms of a potential sale. Senate members of the committee worried the process was moving too fast and want more time to study the issue while House members, voting with the Governor, want the General Assembly to know precisely what a potential deal would like. If the special committee makes a decision to sell the utility, the General Assembly would have to approve it. To view the full report, go here.

Fallout from the decision to cease all construction on two new nuclear reactors being built at the V.C. 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.

APPOINTMENT

The Senate unanimously confirmed the appointment Mr. Richard K. (Rick) Toomey as Director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) on Tuesday. Toomey served as president and CEO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital from November 2007 to September 2016. He serves on the Beaufort Historical Foundation’s Finance Committee and is a past chair of both the North Carolina and South Carolina Hospital Association Boards. The DHEC director is selected by the board to serve a four-year term.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the governor’s appointment of Mr. Robert Wesley Hayes, Jr. as Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHE). Hayes served in the South Carolina Senate, representing District 15, from 1991 to 2016. During his tenure in the Senate, Hayes played a vital role in education policy as a member of the Senate Education and Finance Committees. After earning his Bachelor of Science Degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Hayes graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1983. Hayes, 65, is a resident of York County. The committee also approved the governor’s nomination of Mark Smith of Columbia to represent the state’s 23 private colleges as a non-voting member if he is confirmed by the Senate. Smith is the president of Columbia International University.

Both appointments now go to the full Senate.

HEALTHCARE

The House gave final approval to H.3760 (Sandifer) a bill that would merge the Patients’ Compensation Fund with the South Carolina Medical Malpractice Joint Underwriting Association. The bill proposes to assess a fee on providers and comprehensive insurance companies to cover the shortfall. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

A Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee debated S.366 (Senators Davis, Hutto, McLeod and Kimpson) the “Compassionate Care Act” relating to medical marijuana. The subcommittee adopted a working draft of the bill and the subcommittee Chairman Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) assigned members of the subcommittee to begin researching various sections of the bill. The state’s top two law enforcement officials, Attorney General Alan Wilson and SLED Chief Mark Keels, are in opposition of the proposed legislation, along with the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. The South Carolina Medical Association also opposes sections of the bill that force physicians to be the access point for marijuana in South Carolina. They are calling for lowering marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug so that more comprehensive research can be conducted. This issue has been discussed in previous legislative sessions and will surely generate considerable debate again this year. Gov. Henry McMaster has indicated he will follow law enforcement’s lead on the bill, suggesting a veto should legislation reach his desk.

The SC Palliative Care and Quality of Life Study Committee held its initial meeting. The committee was created by a Joint Resolution and is tasked with advising the Department on Aging on matters related to the establishment, maintenance, operation and outcome evaluation of palliative care initiatives in our state. By Dec. 31, the committee shall submit a report to the Governor and General Assembly on its findings. The committee elected State Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) as its chair and former State Representative Mary Gail Douglas as co-chair. The committee agreed to meet on the last Thursday of each month and to create sub-groups on particular topics to study issues to bring to the full committee. The committee discussed the sub-groups potentially including hospice, in-facility care, in-home care and pediatrics. Their goal is to have a finalized draft report by Thanksgiving. The committee discussed some of their goals may include: clear definition of palliative care; advanced care planning; technology and better access to information; strengthen regulations to insure quality care; improve palliative care education; creation of a planning registry; increased use of Telehealth; payment reform; respite care. The committee is being staffed by the Department on Aging.

The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 28.

HIGHER EDUCATION

By a vote of 42-0, the Senate approved H.3639 (Taylor, Allison and Felder) relating to in-state tuition for military personnel and their dependents. The bill expands the categories of individuals covered by these provisions to conform with certain changes in federal law. The bill received third reading on Wednesday and now goes to the governor.

The Senate Education Subcommittee approved, as amended, H.3576 (White, Cobb-Hunter and Garvin) the SC Workforce Industry Needs Scholarship (SC WINS). The bill establishes the SC WINS scholarship for students who are attending a two-year public technical college, majoring in a critical workforce area program, as defined and recommended by the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education and ratified by the South Carolina Coordinating Council for Workforce Development and who are receiving a Lottery Tuition Assistance Program Scholarship (LTAP) for the current school year. During discussion, the critical areas included advanced manufacturing, healthcare, information technology and transportation logistics and distribution. The bill now goes to the full Senate Education Committee.

STATE OF THE JUDICIARY

Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty addressed a Joint Session of the General Assembly for the annual State of the Judiciary Address. Before beginning his remarks, Chief Justice Beatty provided legislators with a 2018 Annual Report publication with information about the South Carolina Judicial Branch. In his speech, Beatty told lawmakers that keeping diversity in the judicial system is critical to maintain the fairness and integrity of the courts. Beatty also mentioned three categories that desperately need to be funded: infrastructure; technology and talent. More information can be found here.

INTRODUCTIONS OF INTEREST

HOUSE

H.4070 (Reps. Johnson, Tallon and Hixon) Relating to the Commission on Indigent Defense and the Diversion Program. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H.4071 (Reps. Johnson, Tallon and Hixon) Relating to the Commission on Prosecution Coordination, blank court indictments and preservation of evidence. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H.4072 (Reps. Johnson, Tallon and Hixon) Relating to the Commission on Prosecution Coordination and fees for appointed counsel and public defenders. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H.4073 (Reps. Johnson, Tallon and Hixon) Relating to the Commission on Prosecution Coordination to promulgate regulations. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

H.4076 (Reps. Tallon, Hixon, Johnson and W. Newton) Relating to providing governing boards of public institutions of higher learning with documents outlining duties and powers. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.

H.4147 (Reps. Mace and Cobb-Hunter) Relating to certain diseases sustained by a firefighter are occupational diseases for the purpose of workers’ compensation. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

SENATE

S.556 (Senators Massey, Climer, Goldfinch, Turner and others) Enacts the “Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Account Act.” Referred to the Committee on Education.

S.560 (Senators McLeod, Fanning and M. B. Matthews) Constitutional amendment relating to the qualifications of justices and judges of the Supreme Court. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S.561 (Senators McLeod and Fanning) Requires the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to release the names of all qualified candidates to the General Assembly. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S.562 (Senators McLeod, Fanning and Shealy) Requires members of the General Assembly who are licensed attorneys to recuse themselves from voting in all judicial elections. Referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

S.563 (Senators Davis, Corbin, Reese, McElveen, Scott, and others) Removes the supervision requirements for advanced practice nurses under certain circumstances. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

UP NEXT

The Senate Education Committee will hold a Public Hearing on S.419 the “South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act” at 6 p.m. Monday at the McCormick Middle School Gym in McCormick.