Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We wrapped up the Legislative session for the year and reconvened in sine die session for one last time to vote on a budget and bills in conference committee. While much remains unresolved, there were some noteworthy legislative accomplishments, and we were able to pass into law several key bills. Please see below for the summary highlights.
The House and Senate voted to override the Governor's veto on H.3516, the comprehensive Infrastructure Funding and Governance legislation (the "Roads' Bill"). The key points of this legislation are set forth below.
The Governor signed into law H.3864, Motor Vehicle Child Safety Seat Requirements, a bill that I am particularly proud of since I was the primary sponsor. This legislation updates age, weight, size and position requirements for lawfully securing infants and children in approved motor vehicle child safety seats.
Unfortunately, we did not reconvene to address any of the Governor's budget vetoes. The most troubling is his veto for funding of new SC school buses which would replace the aging, fire-prone ones.
Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about anything in this update.
Thank you for giving me the honor and privilege of serving you and our community at the State House.
2017 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
FUNDING FOR OUR ROADS
The House and the Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto on H.3516 comprehensive INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING AND GOVERNANCE legislation.
The legislation includes reform measures for the operation of the Department of Transportation and provides, along with $105 million in ongoing yearly tax relief, new, recurring revenue sources to allow an additional $625 million each year for addressing South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and supporting the infrastructure system needed for public safety, quality of life, and economic development.
The legislation provides for an increase in the state’s motor fuel user fee of 12 cents a gallon that is phased in gradually with an increase of 2 cents each year over the course of six years. The increase is expected to generate $69 million in the first year and ultimately allow for an additional $480 million each year for the state’s roads. Provisions are included for a DOT Rural Road Safety Program that allocates $50 million to high risk rural roads for transportation infrastructure assets such as pavements and bridges.
A non-refundable tax credit is provided for lower income workers. Phased in over the course of six years, the credit is expected to provide $43 million a year in tax relief when fully implemented. The refundable tuition tax credit is increased from 25% to 50%, capped at $1,500, for both four-year and two-year higher education institutions. The increase is ultimately expected to provide $7 million in tax relief each year.
This year’s budget includes $7.9 billion in state general funds with $355 million in recurring revenue newly available for appropriation and $189 million in nonrecurring revenue.
For K-12 public education, $60 million is used to increase the base student cost by $75 to arrive at an estimated $2,425 per pupil.
$55.8 million for capital improvements in Abbeville plaintiff school districts and districts with a poverty index of 80% or higher.
The budget legislation also allocates $12 million for a K-12 Technology Initiative. For the second year in a row, full funding is provided for the LIFE, HOPE, and Palmetto Fellows higher education scholarship programs.
The Office on Aging receives a $400,000 increase for Family Caregivers to be used to support caregivers of seniors so that they may remain in their homes instead of a more expensive alternative of institutional care.
The Local Government Fund is maintained at its $212 million level, with an additional $10 M in recurring funds to replace one-time, nonrecurring dollars appropriated for this purpose in the previous year.
The Department of Health and Human Services is afforded $13 million for Rural Health Initiative & Telemedicine with funds being used to address medically underserved communities in the rural areas of the state.
$68 million is allocated for Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts, $1.25 million for recovery efforts associated with the Pinnacle Mountain Fire, and $5 million is devoted to 2014 Winter Storm Reimbursement.
The House of Representatives and the Senate adopted the conference committee report on H.3726, the RETIREMENT SYSTEM FUNDING AND ADMINISTRATION ACT, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. This bill implements recommendations of the joint legislative committee formed to study the unfunded liability facing the state retirement systems and propose changes that could allow the state’s pensions to remain viable by continuing to deliver benefits to retirees without undermining the state’s finances. H.3726 decouples employer and employee contribution rates into pension systems by eliminating the required differential between the two rates which is currently set at 2.9% for the largest pension plan, the South Carolina Retirement System which serves most state government employees, teachers, various local government employees, and others, and 5% for the Police Officers Retirement System.
PERMANENT REAUTHORIZATION OF FIRST STEPS
The House gave approval to H. 3591, a bill to permanently reauthorize the First Steps to School Readiness program. Under the legislation, First Steps to School Readiness is no longer subject to sunset provisions that require the program to be periodically reauthorized by the General Assembly in order to continue. First Steps to School Readiness is the state’s comprehensive early childhood education initiative. Since its inception in 1999, First Steps has helped young children prepare for school through programs that provide early intervention, strengthen families, improve children’s health, increase the quality of early care and help transition rising kindergarteners into school. Each South Carolina County is home to a First Steps Partnership responsible for meeting local needs and identifying collaborative opportunities to help young learners.
The Governor signed into law H.3358, legislation that provides a framework for issuing and renewing state driver’s licenses and identification cards to bring South Carolina into COMPLIANCE WITH THE FEDERAL REAL ID ACT of 2005. South Carolina’s compliance deadline of January 31, 2017, was extended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security upon the request of former Governor Haley until June 6, 2017, and the enactment of compliance legislation should allow the state to operate under extended regulatory relief through September 30, 2020, the final implementation date for the federal REAL ID Act. If no action were taken, South Carolina driver’s licenses and identification cards would soon no longer be accepted where federal law requires the use of REAL ID compliant credentials for establishing personal identity.
SOUTH CAROLINA PREGNANCY ACCOMMODATIONS ACT*
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3865. The legislation enhances state laws that combat pregnancy discrimination, promote public health, and ensure full and equal participation for women in the labor force by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including accommodations for lactation, that allow employees to remain on the job.
STOP THE SCHOOL HOUSE TO JAIL HOUSE PIPELINE
The House approved H.3055, a bill establishing a temporary legislative RESTORATIVE JUSTICE STUDY COMMITTEE to review state juvenile justice laws and make recommendations, including a proposed pilot program, to facilitate and encourage diversion of juveniles away from the juvenile justice system and towards restorative justice practices that emphasize repairing the harm caused to victims and the community by offenses, including victim initiated victim-offender conferences, family group conferences, circles, community conferences, and other similar victim-centered practices.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3809, bill facilitating ACCESS TO A YEAR’S SUPPLY OF CONTRACEPTIVE DRUGS, such as birth control pills, patches, and rings, that can be obtained all at one time rather than through periodic refills over the course of a year. The legislation establishes requirements that all individual or group health insurance policies providing coverage for contraceptive drugs must provide reimbursement for a twelve-month refill of contraceptive drugs obtained at one time by the insured, unless the insured requests a smaller supply or the prescribing provider instructs that the insured must receive a smaller supply. The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to require all Medicaid health plans to include this option of dispensing a twelve-month supply of contraceptive drugs.
INDUSTRIAL HEMP PROGRAM
The Governor signed into law H.3559, the SOUTH CAROLINA INDUSTRIAL HEMP PROGRAM. The legislation allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp by residents of the state for potential use in such varied products as cloth, construction materials, cordage, fiber, food, fuel, paint, paper, particleboard, and plastics. Under the program, the Department of Agriculture will allow up to twenty permits for the cultivation of up to twenty acres of land per permit in the first year, up to forty permits for the cultivation of up to forty acres in the second and third years, and afterwards the department, along with institutions of higher learning, will evaluate the program to determine the number of permits to be issued and the amount of acreage permitted.
CHILD SAFETY SEAT*
The Governor signed into law H.3864, MOTOR VEHICLE CHILD SAFETY SEAT REQUIREMENTS. The legislation updates age, weight, size and position requirements for lawfully securing infants and children in approved motor vehicle child safety seats. Child passenger safety seats restraint system requirements provide for a progression from rear-facing seats for infants, to forward-facing seats, to belt-positioning booster seats, and ultimately, when a child is at least eight years old or at least fifty-seven inches tall, to a properly fitting adult safety seat belt.
*denotes that I was primary sponsor of bill