The budget continued to be the focus of debate this year as we faced continued revenue shortfalls due to the recession. The Republican controlled House managed to pass a budget this year that contained no tax increases. Though every effort was made to minimize the impact to the various state agencies and educational institutions, we understood that government needed to follow the lead of individuals and businesses that have been forced to cut spending. Raising taxes during a recession only weakens our chances for a quick economic recovery.
You will find listed below the major bills that will become law. It must be noted that there are two bills listed below that I did not vote for – the cigarette tax and the surface water bill.
After listening to the debate on the cigarette tax, I concluded that the tax represents all that is wrong in Columbia. Instead of proactively pursuing a plan to solve our budget problems, Republicans reacted out of fear that they would actually have to live up to their campaign promises of reducing the size of government. The majority would rather fund state health services with a consumption tax than come up with solutions to reduce the need for those services.
The surface water bill was presented as legislation that had grandfathered existing permit holders such as the Greenville Water System. Upon closer examination, this was not the case and I attempted to amend the bill in my Agriculture Committee and on the House floor to correct the problem. The amendment was defeated which will result in Greenville Water System having less access to water coming from Lake Keowee.
The following are bills that were passed into law:
H. 3442 – Department of Workforce/Employment Security Commission
This legislation creates the Department of Workforce as a cabinet level agency to perform workforce development functions and replace the Employment Security Commission in the administration of unemployment compensation. The Legislation provides that an insured worker is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits if he has been discharged from work for gross misconduct. Gross misconduct includes such activities as: assault or battery on a fellow employee or customer; abuse of a patient or child under professional care; willful or reckless damage to employer property in excess of fifty dollars; theft of items valued in excess of fifty dollars; failure to comply with applicable state or federal drug and alcohol testing and use regulations; consumption of alcohol or drunkenness on the job in violation of a written workplace policy; insubordination; and willful neglect of duty.
S. 391 – Employment Security Commission Reform
The legislation provides solvency targets for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund used to provide unemployment compensation benefits and establishes new requirements for the contributions that the state’s employers make to the fund.
H. 3066 – Campaign Disclosure
This legislation provides that electronic filing of campaign disclosure and reports provisions are applicable to all persons subject to the state’s Ethics and lobbying laws, including candidates for local government offices, lobbyists, and lobbyist principals.
H. 4352 – Microenterprises Study Committee
This legislation establishes a microenterprises study committee to review and make recommendations concerning the need to foster the development of microenterprises and micro-businesses, which are sole proprietorships, partnerships, or corporations that have fewer than five employees and generally lack access to conventional loans, equity, or other banking services.
H. 4478 – Economic Development Competitiveness Act
The legislation implements numerous private sector recommendations for fostering an economic development climate in the state. The legislation provides that a corporation establishing a national corporate headquarters in this State or expanding or adding to an existing national corporate headquarters, which adds at least fifty new full‑time jobs performing corporate headquarters related functions and services is exempt from paying state corporate income taxes for a period of ten years. The legislation also revises provisions for fee in lieu of property taxes agreements. The legislation allows a small business that has at least five employees at the time a revitalization agreement is initiated to be eligible for a job development credit upon the creation of at least one full‑time job within five years. The legislation expands incentives for life sciences facilities so that they also apply to renewable energy manufacturing facilities involved in the production of solar energy technology, wind turbines, or advanced lithium and ion, or other batteries for alternative energy motor vehicles. The legislation enacts the ‘South Carolina Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program’ to provide tax incentives to companies in the solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy industries that are expanding or locating in South Carolina. The South Carolina State Ports Authority board is authorized to award annually up to one million dollars of the eight million dollars of job tax credits to a new warehouse or distribution facility which commits to expending at least forty million dollars at a single site and creating one hundred new full‑time jobs.
H. 4299 – Help School Districts Handle Budget Reductions
This joint resolution authorizes certain teacher contract and salary provisions effective for the upcoming school year. The legislation provides that the boards of trustees of the several school districts shall decide and provide the required written notification to the teachers in their employ concerning their employment for the 2010‑2011 school year by May 15, 2010. Any teacher who is reemployed by this written notification shall notify the board of trustees in writing of his acceptance of the contract for the 2010‑2011 school year no later than ten days following receipt of written notification. Failure on the part of the teacher to notify the board of acceptance within the specified time limit shall be conclusive evidence of the teacher’s rejection of the contract. The legislation also provides that school districts may uniformly negotiate salaries below the school district salary schedule for the 2010‑2011 school year for retired teachers who are not participants in the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive Program.
S. 1154 – Omnibus Crime Reduction Act
The stated purpose of this comprehensive legislation is to reduce recidivism, provide fair and effective sentencing options, employ evidence-based practices for smarter use of correctional funding, and improve public safety. Part I of the legislation makes numerous and various revisions to criminal offenses. Many of the changes add levels to the various degrees of an offense, increase maximum penalties, or allow discretion to judges with regards to probation and parole for offenses. Part II of the legislation focuses on evidence-based practices in order to use proven methods that can make smarter use of the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. Among numerous other things, the legislation provides incentives to persons under supervision to comply with conditions. Part III provides oversight revisions to fiscal impact statements and also a committee to continue oversight of the implementations of the Sentencing Reform Commission recommendations.
S. 452 – Surface Water Withdrawal Act
This bill makes comprehensive revisions regarding permitting to Surface Water Withdrawals and Reporting Act. The bill provides for new definitions; and provides that all surface water withdrawals, with certain exceptions, must be permitted. A permit may not be issued to a new applicant unless the Department of Health and Environmental Control determines that the applicant’s proposed use is reasonable to the regulations. An existing registered surface water withdrawer already reporting its withdrawals to the department as of January 1, 2011, may maintain its withdrawals at its highest reported level or at the design capacity of the intake structure which will be permanent as of January 2, 1011, and is deemed to be registered with the department. The legislation provides for exemptions for emergencies, farm pond, mining, evaporation, hydropower, wildlife management, and special purpose districts. Registration continues for agricultural operations. Permitting is required for existing users, new users, and inter-basin transfers. The term of permit for a new user is 20 to 40 years and the term of permit for existing users is 30 to 40 years. The bill outlines that public water systems’ term of permit is up to 50 years based on debt recovery. The bill addresses minimum flow based on mean annual daily flows. The bill provides for non-consumptive surface water withdrawal and its permitting. Among many other things, the bill provides for an application procedure for surface water withdrawers that own and operate a licensed impoundment or new surface water withdrawers that withdraw water from a licensed impoundment.
H. 3305 – Secret Ballot in Union Elections
This joint resolution proposes to amend the South Carolina Constitution to provide that the fundamental right of an individual to vote by secret ballot is guaranteed for a designation, a selection, or an authorization for employee representation by a labor organization. This proposed constitutional amendment will be submitted to the voters at the next general election.
H. 3509/S. 424 10th Amendment Bill and State’s Rights
The resolution provides that the General Assembly claims for the State of South Carolina sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government. The resolution provides that it is the policy of the state that: no law shall interfere with the right of a person to be treated by or receive services from a health care provider of that person’s choice; restrict a person’s freedom of choice of private health care systems or private health care plans of any type; interfere with a person’s or an entity’s right to pay directly for lawful medical services; and impose a tax, penalty, or fine, of any type, for choosing a health care provider, to obtain or decline health care coverage or for participation in any particular health care system or plan. The resolution claims freedom from all laws and mandates that violate the rights granted under the Second, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and serves as notice and demand to the federal government, as South Carolina’s agent, to cease and desist immediately all mandates that are beyond the scope of the federal government’s constitutionally delegated powers.
S. 191 – Warrantless Searches
In order to reduce recidivism rates and protect potential victims from criminal enterprises, the legislation authorizes law enforcement officers to conduct warrantless searches and seizures on those who are on probation or parole. The legislation provides that, before an individual may be placed on probation, supervised furlough, or parole, he must agree in writing to be subject to a search or seizure, without a search warrant, based on reasonable suspicions, of his person, any vehicle he owns or is driving, and any of his possessions by any probation agent employed by the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services or any other law enforcement officer. The legislation also includes provisions that make written agreement to such warrantless searches and seizures a condition for the release from custody of juveniles and youthful offenders. Officers are required to make reports of all warrantless searches or seizures to their law enforcement agencies that include the name, address, age, gender, and race or ethnicity of the person that is the subject of the search or seizure. Law enforcement agencies must submit the reported information at the end of each month to the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services for review of abuse.
H. 3584 – Cigarette Tax
The cigarette tax legislation increases the state’s current seven-cents-per-pack cigarette tax, devoting the majority of the revenue generated by the increase to a newly-created Medicaid Reserve Fund and authorizing funding for cancer research, smoking prevention and cessation, and state agricultural assistance. Effective July 1, 2010, the legislation imposes a tax totaling 57 cents per pack of cigarettes. The legislation provides for the distribution of the additional revenue generated by: crediting five million dollars annually to the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center to be used for tobacco‑related cancer research; devoting five million dollars annually to a newly-created trust fund that the Department of Health and Environmental Control is to use in administering a statewide smoking prevention and cessation program; and, depositing the remaining annual revenue in a newly-created South Carolina Medicaid Reserve Fund. The Medicaid Reserve Fund may only be used for the restoration and maintenance of effort of the Medicaid program as it is currently structured. The fund must not be used to expand any component of the existing Medicaid program.
In addition, the following pieces of reform legislation passed the House but died in the Senate:
Charter School Reform
Establishing a Dept. of Administration
Establishing a Sunset Commission
Joint Election of Governor and Lt. Governor
Point of Sale Reform
Higher Education Efficiency Act
Spending Accountability Act