2018 Legislative Update #1
Dear Friends and Neighbors, On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, the House of Representatives gathered in Columbia to commence its 2nd regular session of the 122nd South Carolina General Assembly. The first day back, we addressed the Governor's vetoes and were able to override his veto of funding for leasing and purchasing new school buses. We also this month focused our attention on legislation dealing with the SCANA and Santee Cooper VC Summer nuclear fiasco. We made some progress in this area and will continue to make thoughtful and deliberative decisions to protect the interests of the ratepayers while balancing the importance of maintaining SCANA's (or its successor) ability to remain in the Midlands. For these bills and others, please review the updates below. Every month, I will continue to keep you apprised of the bills that have passed in the House and other important happenings. As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts and concerns on these issues. Thank you for electing me to serve you and our community at the State House. Best,
Legislative Updates: Week of January 9, 2017 The House of Representatives took up the Governor’s vetoes on H.3720, the General Appropriation Bill for the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 STATE GOVERNMENT BUDGET. In addressing vetoes, legislators had to contend with a revenue shortfall that has left the state with approximately $34 million less in non-recurring spending than the estimates from the Board of Economic Advisers that were used in approving the budget. The House voted to sustain some of the Governor’s vetoes, including $4.9 million in nonrecurring revenue allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services to support various medical contracts. The House voted to override vetoes on other items, including Education Lottery Funds devoted to leasing and purchasing new school buses in the amount of $17.5 million from the Lottery Expenditure Account and $3 million in unclaimed prize money along with whatever balance may remain in the unclaimed prize fund. Vetoes that the House voted to override have been sent to the Senate for consideration. The House approved S.456, addressing SOUTH CAROLINA TECHNICAL COLLEGE MOTORCYCLE SAFETY COURSES, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation provides that a person who holds a motorcycle beginner’s permit who has failed the motorcycle driver’s license test three or more times must successfully complete a South Carolina Technical College motorcycle safety course, or its equivalent, in lieu of passing the motorcycle driver’s license test, in order to obtain a motorcycle license. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4036, a bill AUTHORIZING THE STATE INSPECTOR GENERAL TO CONDUCT FINANCIAL AUDITS OF LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS at the request of state or local public officials who have complaints of possible school district financial mismanagement. The legislation expands the State IG’s authority to perform government audits by providing that the State Inspector General, for good cause shown upon request of any state or local public official or entity, may conduct financial and forensic audits of school districts. Audits must be completed and copies furnished to the relevant parties at the conclusion of the fiscal year following when the request was made, unless the State Inspector General explains in writing to the requesting parties compelling reasons why the audit cannot be completed during this time frame. Week of January 16, 2018 The House of Representatives postponed most of this week’s legislative work due to the inclement weather experienced in portions of the state. Week of January 23, 2018 The Senate took up the Governor’s vetoes on H.3720, the General Appropriation Bill for the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 STATE GOVERNMENT BUDGET, that the House of Representatives previously voted to override. In addressing vetoes, legislators had to contend with a revenue shortfall that has left the state with approximately $34 million less in non-recurring spending than the estimates from the Board of Economic Advisers that were used in approving the budget. The Senate voted to sustain some of the Governor’s vetoes and voted to override vetoes on other items, including Education Lottery Funds devoted to leasing and purchasing new school buses in the amounts of $17.5 million from the Lottery Expenditure Account and $3 million in unclaimed prize money along with whatever balance may remain in the unclaimed prize fund. The overriding of a budget veto by both the House and Senate allows for the funds to be appropriated. The House of Representatives took up two of the bills that draw upon the work of the special House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee which was appointed by the Speaker of the House following the announcement from Santee Cooper and SCANA’s South Carolina Electric and Gas that construction on the V.C. Summer nuclear reactors in Fairfield County was being abandoned after billions of dollars in fees had been collected from South Carolina’s ratepayers under the Baseload Review Act to support the failed nuclear power project. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4379, a bill creating a UTILITIES CONSUMER ADVOCATE within the Attorney General’s Office to safeguard the interests of consumers in dealings with public utilities that offer such essential services as electrical power, gas pipelines for heating and cooking needs, water, sewerage, and telecommunications. The new Utilities Consumer Advocate must be an attorney qualified to practice in all the state’s courts who is to be appointed by the Attorney General to serve at the pleasure of the A.G. The legislation includes provisions to prevent conflicts interests, including prohibitions on gifts and campaign contributions from public utilities. The Utilities Consumer Advocate is charged with representing the public utility interests of consumers which includes providing legal representation of the consumer interests before state and federal regulatory agencies. Along with the Public Service Commission’s Office of Regulatory Staff, the consumer advocate is charged with monitoring existing regulations, rate structures, and policies of those agencies of special interest to utility consumers and report to the public through the news media proposed changes under consideration and the effect of those changes on the lives of the citizens of the state. The consumer advocate is authorized to initiate, continue, or intervene in legal proceedings on behalf of the public at large. The consumer advocate must make an annual report to the General Assembly on the year’s activities on behalf of the interests of utility consumers. The legislation includes provisions to afford the consumer advocate access to records of the Office of Regulatory Staff and other state agencies. The Public Service Commission’s Office of Regulatory Staff is directed to make use of its subpoena powers at the consumer advocate’s request. A misdemeanor criminal penalty is established for failure to provide information requested. The financial integrity of public utilities is eliminated as a concern for the Office of Regulatory Staff. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4378, a bill that replaces the Public Utilities Review Committee with a new twelve-member UTILITY OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE composed of six legislators holding key leadership positions, two members of the general public appointed by legislative leaders, and four members of the general public appointed by the Governor. The legislation establishes qualifications and duties for committee members. The oversight committee is charged with screening Public Service Commission candidates and making nominations for the election of commissioners by the General Assembly, nominating a qualified candidate for the Governor to consider appointing as the Executive Director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, and reviewing candidates for appointment to the South Carolina Public Service Authority Board of Directors as submitted by the Governor to determine whether they meet the qualifications. The annual budget proposals of the Office of Regulatory Staff and the Public Service Commission must be reviewed and approved by the oversight committee and the salary of the Executive Director of the Office of Regulatory Staff is set by the oversight committee. The oversight committee is required to make annual performance reviews of the Public Service Commission, the individual commissioners, the commission’s Office of Regulatory Staff, and the ORS Executive Director. The oversight committee must develop and distribute to those appearing before the PSC an anonymous and confidential survey to evaluate the commissioners on such matters as their temperament, knowledge, and whether they appear to be influenced by political considerations or the parties who appear before them. The oversight committee is authorized to evaluate the actions of the Public Service Commission so that the members of the General Assembly may better judge whether these actions serve the best interests of the citizens of South Carolina, both individual and corporate. The oversight committee must conduct an annual review of the State Energy Office’s action plan. The oversight committee is authorized to conduct other studies and make other pertinent reports and recommendations to the General Assembly. The legislation includes provisions to prevent conflicts interests for those serving as committee members. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3920, a bill establishing REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO POST THE TOLL-FREE HOTLINE FOR REPORTING CHILD ABUSE, NEGLECT, AND EXPLOITATION to the Department of Social Services. The legislation provides that, beginning in the 2018 2019 School Year, each public school and charter school shall post at least five signs that provide the statewide toll free telephone number that may be used to report incidents of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation to the Department of Social Services along with related information about reporting allegations. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3699, legislation that authorizes the SHARING CHILDREN’S HEALTH INFORMATION WITH CAREGIVERS in abuse and neglect cases, placements, or adoptions. T Week of January 30, 2018 The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4375, legislation ELIMINATING ALL CHARGES ON THE ELECTRIC BILLS OF SCE&G CUSTOMERS THAT SUPPORT THE FAILED V.C. SUMMER NUCLEAR POWER PROJECT and REPEALING THE BASE LOAD REVIEW ACT GOING FORWARD. The bill orders new electricity rates for customers of SCANA Corporation’s South Carolina Electric and Gas that are reduced by eliminating all of the increases that have been imposed in recent years under the Base Load Review Act to finance the failed V.C. Summer nuclear power project in Fairfield County. These lower experimental rates would no longer include the increases, amounting to around 18% to 19.5%, that have been included on the power bills of SCE&G customers to fund construction of the nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville which have now been abandoned. The legislation repeals provisions of the Base Load Review Act prospectively so that utilities would no longer be able to make use of the provisions of this legislation to finance the construction of power generation projects with fees imposed on the electric bills of ratepayers. The repeal does not apply to pending legal matters. Existing disputes about the application of the Base Load Review Act will continue to be settled through administrative decisions of the Public Service Commission and judicial rulings from the courts. The legislation includes new definitions that provide detail on what constitutes imprudent actions of utilities under the Base Load Review Act. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4458, a bill REVISING PENALTIES FOR LITTERING in an effort to make them more effective. The legislation restructures penalties for violations so that their severity increases with the amount of litter waste involved. Under these graduated penalties, violations involving no more than fifteen pounds of litter are subject to comparatively lower fines and hours of community service. Fines and other penalties increase for violations involving the illegal dumping of more than fifteen pounds of litter, and become more severe for the illegal dumping of over five hundred pounds of waste. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4673, a bill that revises the REVOCATION OF CERTAIN BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS BY DIVORCE, ANNULMENT, OR AN ORDER TERMINATING MARITAL PROPERTY RIGHTS UNDER EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PLANS ADMINISTERED BY THE SOUTH CAROLINA PUBLIC EMPLOYEE BENEFIT AUTHORITY. Week of February 6, 2018 The House of Representatives concurred in Senate amendments to H.3653, a bill imposing LIMITATIONS ON NUISANCE SUITS RELATED TO MANUFACTURING AND INDUSTRIAL USES OF REAL PROPERTY, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. Addressing situations where urban growth has prompted residential development to expand into previously outlying areas where established industrial facilities have been operating, the legislation imposes limitations on nuisance suits that nearby residents can bring against pre-existing industrial, manufacturing, transportation, and warehousing facilities that are complying with environmental permits and are otherwise operating lawfully. Affording legal protections like those already provided for agricultural operations, the legislation proposes to codify the common law defense of ‘coming to the nuisance’ as a means of promoting economic development. The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3529, a bill establishing the GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S EXCLUSIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE REGULATION OF AUXILIARY CONTAINERS, such as plastic grocery bags, disposable cups, and takeout food boxes. This legislation provides that any regulation regarding the use, disposition, sale, or any imposition of any prohibition, restriction, fee imposition, or taxation of auxiliary containers must be done only by the General Assembly. This authority supersedes and preempts any local ordinance enacted by a political subdivision, but the legislation does not apply to auxiliary container regulations adopted before January 31, 2018, including regulations with a delayed implementation date or that are conditioned on future municipal action. A municipality located within a county that has adopted an ordinance before January 31, 2018, may pass the same or similar ordinance. The legislation does not impose limitations on county or municipal ordinances regulating solid waste disposal or recycling programs. The legislation does not apply to the use of auxiliary containers within the boundaries of a State park, on a property owned by a county or municipality, such as coastal tidelands and wetlands, or on a public beach, river, or other body of water maintained by a county or municipality.
If you would like any additional information on these bills, or any other legislation under consideration by the General Assembly, feel free to visit the website at http://www.scstatehouse.gov