View from the Dome – Feb. 22, 2019
By Copper Dome Strategies, LLC

Six weeks have been completed and 12 weeks remain in the first year of the two-year legislative session. The House Ways and Means Committee passed its version of the state budget on Thursday. The debate over comprehensive education reform continued in both bodies this week.

BUDGET

The full House Ways and Means Committee passed its version of the FY 2019-20 state budget. Committee Chairman Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) told the committee the priority is education and workforce development. He stated that House leadership had been working in partnership with the governor’s office on the spending priorities. In addition to increased revenue for K-12, the proposed budget adds $44 million to fund public higher education institutions and included a proviso requiring colleges to certify to the Commission on Higher Education they have not raised tuition in order to receive the funding. The plan, supported by Gov. Henry McMaster, is an attempt to control tuition increases. South Carolina’s student loan debt has quadrupled since 2008, a faster increase than any other state in the nation, according to a recent report.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • 4% teacher pay increase
  • 2% state employee pay increase
  • $40 million for new voting machines
  • $11.2 million for judicial salary increases

For technical colleges:

  • $6 million base recurring funding
  • $51 million Lottery Tuition Assistance
  • $17 million SC Workforce Industry Needs Scholarships (SC WINS)
  • $11 million Workforce Scholarships and Grants
  • $9.2 million ReadySC
  • $12.5 million high demand job skills training equipment
  • $4.1 million technology funding

The budget will now be printed and placed on House members’ desks for one week, as required. 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 the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Insurance.

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.

TAX

Committee Chairman Tommy Pope (R-York) began Thursday’s meeting of the South Carolina Tax Policy Review Committee by telling members his goal is find consensus to send a “working template” to the House Ways and Means Tax Subcommittee for continued debate.  The plan is to adopt an income tax proposal first, followed by a sales tax proposal.

After considerable discussion, the committee agreed to ask staff to prepare a draft bill reducing the state income tax to 4.5% and simplify the criteria to align with the federal tax code. The committee hopes to adopt that plan at its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Also planned for that Thursday meeting, the committee will begin to craft a plan to reform the state’s sales tax. After that meeting, the committee will meet one final time, if necessary, before allowing the Ways and Means Tax Subcommittee to continue the work, including public testimony from interested parties.

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 current tax code and submitting suggestions for reform to the Speaker.

The SC House Tax Policy Review Committee’s meeting agenda and video archives dating to August 2016 can be found here.

EDUCATION REFORM

The House Education and Public Works K-12 Subcommittee held its fifth 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 committee met again Thursday morning and adopted a strike and insert amendment addressing many of the concerns heard during public testimony. That included deleting language relating to teacher pay grades and removing a section allowing high-performing schools to hire non-certified teachers. The amendment also adds a “teacher bill of rights” to go along with the “student bill of rights” in the bill. That amendment now becomes the bill and the subcommittee voted to send the bill to the full House Education Committee for debate. 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 began by adopting an amendment addressing concerns over the ethics section of the bill. The amendment adopts a new model code of ethics for school boards and model training and ethics requirements. The amendment further adds charter schools and charter school boards. The subcommittee then heard testimony from representatives of the South Carolina Education Association, the Palmetto State Teachers Association, the South Carolina Association of School Administrators and the South Carolina School Boards Association. Each group opposed the Zero to Twenty Committee and the “student bill of rights” currently in the bill. After discussion, the subcommittee agreed to draft an amendment for the next meeting eliminating those sections from the bill.

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 have scheduled a meeting on March 18 in Gaffney and another one on March 21 in Georgetown. 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. Gov. McMaster strongly supports the legislation. A summary of the companion bills can be found here.

HEALTHCARE

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee gave favorable approval to S.132 (Sens. 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. Although the bill will now be on the Senate calendar, Sens. Davis and Hutto have agreed to place their names on the bill preventing further debate until the Board of Medical Examiners addresses issues of concern.

HIGHER EDUCATION

By a vote of 17-4, the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday approved S.298 (Sheheen, Peeler and others) known as the “Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2019.” The bill is an attempt to reign in rising tuition costs while increasing funding for the state’s 33 public colleges and universities. Sen. 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 Sen. 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. While there is still work to be done on the bill, the committee decided to place the bill on the Senate calendar. The bill is sure to receive considerable debate and amendments when the full Senate addresses the bill.

The House Education and Public Works Higher Education Subcommittee favorably approved H.3936 (Reps. Davis and Daning) relating to the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship. The bill would allow the scholarship to be extended to students attending a technical college or other two-year institution and may continue to use the scholarship to attend an eligible four-year institution. The bill now goes to the full House Education Committee.

JUDICIAL/LEGAL

S.386 (Malloy, Climer, Goldfinch, Talley, Sabb and Harpootlian) dealing with revisions to the SC Tort Claims Act was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and sent to the full Senate. The bill includes the provisions of S.7 related to caps (below) and 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. You can read more here. This bill, as well as S.7, are being held on the Senate calendar by Sen. Wes Climer and Sen. Shane Massey. By placing their names on the bill, that puts the members on notice that they have concerns about the bills and in effect keeps them from being debated further.

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 million and for an occurrence from $600,000 to $2 million. 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.3998 (Reps. Bannister, Bernstein, Crawford, Pendarvis, and others) Enacts the “Workforce and Senior Affordable Housing Act” allowing for a state low-income tax credit for those receiving federal credit. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

H.4003 (Reps. Huggins and Wooten) Enacts the “Military Priority Registration Act” for priority course enrollment in public higher education institutions. Referred to Committee on Education and Public Works.

H.4004 (Reps. Clary, G. M. Smith and Lucas) Enacts the “Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST) Act” for certain persons to execute for life-sustaining care. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

H.4022 (Rep. Mace) Enacts the “Workforce Education Act” and provides for a five-year pilot program created by the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

H.4031 (Reps. King, McDaniel and Henegan) Constitutional amendment requiring judges to be popularly elected. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

SENATE

S.529 (Sens. Young, Setzler and Massey) Revises the list of persons who may make health care decisions for a patient who is unable to consent. Referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

S.530 (Sen. Leatherman) Amends the Consolidated Procurement Code. Referred to the Committee on Finance.

UP NEXT

Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty will deliver his annual State of the Judiciary Address to a Joint Session of the General Assembly on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at noon.