Bills from last year still in play
By South Carolina Policy Council
The 2018 legislative session is just around the corner, and lawmakers from both the House and Senate have pre-filed a number of new bills for consideration when session begins on January 9. Before we publish our annual overview of newly filed legislation, we wanted to review some of the more important bills from the last session that could still pass into law.
This past year was the first half of a two-year session, which means anything that did not pass this year is still in play and could pass next year.
Below is a summary of some of the most significant bills from last year to watch when session reconvenes in January.
H.3722: Bond bill – Increases debt for agency projects
This bill would authorize $497 million of new debt for various state agency pet projects. Many of the agencies requesting bond funding did not see major increases in funding in this year’s proposed budget, and lawmakers repeatedly said during budget deliberations that there was little money to spend. The proposed bond funding would be used to pay for facility and equipment renovation and maintenance. Even aside from the fiscal concern of plunging the taxpayers deeper in debt in the absence of cash on hand, maintenance and repair should be funded through the yearly budget – not paid for by debt financing. House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White has stated his intent to propose similar bond bills every few years. The bill is currently awaiting debate on the House floor.
H.3343 – bonds for school district facilities
This legislation would authorize the issuance of up to $200 million of bonded indebtedness every year for school facilities. The facilities plans would be developed by the local districts and submitted to the Department of Education and the State Board of Education. The General Assembly would fund the bonds to pay for the projects either by joint resolution or budget proviso – a highly concerning provision, as passing massive debt increases through budget proviso is an end-run around proper process. Budget provisos exist merely to explain how the appropriated money must be spent, and most provisos are never debated. As a result, any proposal that would increase the debt should be openly debated and voted on separately.
The bill also mandates the creation of a grant fund for nonrecurring school facility maintenance expenses. The major challenges with public education aren’t a product of lack of funding, but rather the waste, bureaucracy, and lack of competition within the system. We certainly don’t need to go deeper in debt in order to boost school funding. This bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate Finance Committee.
H.4182 – Creates unaccountable bonding entities within public universities
H.4182 would allow college and university boards of trustees to create new government entities within their public universities. These mini-governments (called “enterprise divisions”) would have numerous broad powers with very little state oversight or accountability, including bond issuance, acquisition of property and capital project construction. Most of these powers are specifically exempted from state oversight – including the oversight of the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) – and are solely accountable to the boards of trustees. Worse, these broad powers of procurement include eminent domain. The enterprise divisions could use revenue from athletic programs as bonding streams, but only if the university’s athletic program generates at least $40 million per year – clearly benefiting South Carolina’s largest universities. Universities already have substantial bonding power, but are subject to the oversight of the state and the CHE. The creation of an enterprise division would allow a university to bond for capital projects completely independent of CHE oversight. Some universities may find that provision welcome in light of the CHE’s recent pushback to higher education spending and debt proposals, but it has alarming implications for the taxpayers who fund the public universities, and who would likely be forced to pick up the tab for a university that defaults on its debt. This bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee.
H.3146 and S.27 – Appointment of superintendent of education
South Carolina previously had one of the highest number of elected statewide officials in the nation. Over the past few years, citizens have voted for the governor to appoint the adjutant general and the lieutenant governor. However, there is still a number of constitutional officers (officials elected by the entire state) who should be appointed by the governor rather than elected, including the superintendent of education. Putting so many officers on statewide ballots has the effect of blurring accountability: How many voters are familiar with the duties of the secretary of state, or the adjutant general? (Imagine electing, say, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of Commerce separately from the President. That is essentially the reality on a smaller scale in South Carolina.)
There are two elements to making the superintendent: a gubernatorial appointment: a constitutional amendment removing the superintendent from the list of generally elected officers; and a bill enacting the necessary statutory changes. H.3146 (the constitutional amendment) and S.27 (the statutory changes) both passed their respective chambers and crossed over to the other, where debate will no doubt resume when session starts in January.
H.3179 – Roll call voting on grouped budget sections can be authorized by rules
This bill would allow House rules to remove the roll-call requirement for each section of the annual budget. Legislators would be able to vote for multiple sections at the same time, with the number of grouped sections determined by individual chamber rules. This bill would largely defeat the purpose of the roll-call voting requirement, which is to ensure citizens know how their legislators voted on any one particular measure. Conflict of interest problems would make it more difficult for legislators who have financial interest in one of the sections to abstain from voting on bundled sections of the budget (a doctor who sees Medicaid patients, for example, would have an interest in the Department of Health and Human Services budget). Even with roll call voting in place, there is very little discussion of what is actually in the budget. Lifting this requirement would not only lessen the discussion, but would allow lawmakers to hide their votes on the most important bill passed every year. A House rule change to allow remove the roll-call voting requirement on each section was also proposed and is still in committee, as is the bill.
S.386 – Eliminating the Judicial Merit Selection Commission
S.386 would have deleted language from the constitution that establishes a Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) to screen and nominate judicial candidates. Under current law, the Commission is entirely appointed by the legislature, which is a far cry from the independent judicial selection committee recommended by the American Bar Association. In any case, lawmakers shouldn’t simply pick the judges who interpret their laws, and the JMSC is a key component of the legislature’s hegemony over the judiciary. This bill would be a major step toward restoring the proper balance of power and judicial independence. It currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
S.255 – Electioneering/donor disclosure
This bill, sponsored by Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), would substantially encroach on South Carolinians’ right to criticize politicians. It would require groups engaging in “election communication” – broadly defined as communication that supports or opposes a candidate, ballot initiative, or influences an election – to disclose not only their top donors but also the donors’ mailing address, occupation, and employer. Groups that aren’t currently required to disclose their donors, moreover, would face tougher reporting requirements at the state level than full-on political action committees that are directly involved in elections. Unlike other recent attempts to regulate free speech, which would have applied only in the run-up to an election (30 days before a primary election, 60 days before a general), Sen. Leatherman’s bill would apply all year round. The bill did not even receive a committee hearing during the last session, but lawmakers may well attempt to pass it in the next.
H.3700 and H.3930 – Permitless open carry
H.3700 allows anyone over the age of 21 who is legally allowed to own a handgun in South Carolina to carry that handgun in public, openly or concealed, without the requirement of a concealed weapons permit (CWP). It would still allow businesses to restrict weapons on their premises if they have legally posted a sign stating the prohibition. It would continue to prohibit carrying a weapon into a residence or institutions such as schools, daycares, churches, courthouses, hospitals, etc. without the permission of the owner or governing authority. Finally, the bill would enact reciprocity for CWP holders between South Carolina and all other states. This bill never received a committee hearing.
Another bill – H.3930 – contained many of the same elements, but in the enacting language specified that the new protections would apply only to “individuals who legally may purchase a firearm from a properly licensed and certified firearms dealer.” This provision is almost certainly unenforceable. This bill passed the House band is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
H.3240 – CWP reciprocity
This legislation is a reciprocity bill that would have required South Carolina to recognize concealed weapons permits (CWPs) from all other states. Visitors, under this law, would follow South Carolina’s concealed carry laws while in our state. Under current law, South Carolina recognizes out-of-state CWPs only if that state imposes training and background check requirements as part of their CWP application process.
Keeping and bearing arms is a right and not a privilege, and citizens should not need to obtain permission from the government to exercise this right. This bill would have been a step in the right direction as it provided more freedom to gun owners from out of state. The bill passed the House and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
S.158 – Gun control
S.158 is one of a number of bills that would have created additional roadblocks to obtaining a firearm, none of which passed out of committee. This specific legislation would have increased the waiting period for background checks when purchasing a gun from a firearms dealer to 28 days.
Individuals who wish to obtain a firearm for criminal purposes are extremely unlikely to attempt to obtain that firearm in a way that requires a background check. Even if a potential violent criminal fails a background check, he can always obtain a firearm through illegal channels. By contrast, a law-abiding citizen who has an immediate need of a firearm for self-defense purposes would be hindered from protecting himself. This bill – along with all the other gun control bills filed – did not make it out of committee during the last session, although it could do so in the next.
H.3521 and S.212 – Authorizing production of medical cannabis
Companion bills H.3521 and S.212 would allow cannabis to be produced and distributed by facilities to authorized patients and their caregivers for treating debilitating medical conditions. All production, distribution, purchasing, and usage would be heavily regulated by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, with strict penalties for violation. The bill also contains legal protection for anyone acting under its provision.
While the regulations in the bill are quite burdensome, this legislation would at least make it possible for South Carolina patients to be treated with cannabis. Medical professionals, not the state, should be the primary judges of appropriate medical treatment. Both bills are still in their respective committees.
S.345 – Independent practice for nurse practitioners and registered nurses
If S.345 passed, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists would be allowed to practice independently, subject only to a collaborative practice arrangement with a physician. Current law requires them to work under a doctor’s supervision. The healthcare industry is one of the most over regulated industries in the country, which serves to both drive up costs, decrease innovation, and limit patient access to care. This reform would be an excellent step in the right direction and has been passed by a number of other states. This bill is still in the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.
H.3450 – Licensing electrology
H.3450 is one of a number of bills increasing the licensing and regulatory burden on entrepreneurs and businesses. This bill – and there are many like it – would require licensing by the Board of Medical Examiners for the practice of electrology and for electrology instruction. The bill created the Electrology Licensure Committee which would have consisted of five members appointed by the Governor.
This would impose onerous requirements, regulations, fees, etc. with broad powers given to a governing board. Aside from the bureaucratic bloat and potential for abuse inherent in this legislation, licensing laws rarely enhance public safety or make quality more likely. They almost always drive up prices and keep lower-income entrepreneurs from entering the industry. This bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.
S.446 – Increasing state-funded venture capital fund
This bill would divert more tax dollars to the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) – a state-owned venture capital firm controlled by a conglomeration of bureaucrats and lawmakers. The SCRA is funded largely by one-for-one tax credits. This bill would effectively double the SCRA’s private contribution fund by doubling the available tax credits from $6 million to $12 million. It would also decrease the individual tax credit cap from $2 million to $250,000 and would exempt SCRA officials from qualifying for this credit. Under no circumstances should state government own a venture capital firm, especially when said firm is non-transparent and exempt from the ordinary rules governing agency salaries, mission, etc. If lawmakers want to double the funding for this entity, they should do it openly through the budget process rather than a backdoor system of tax credits. This bill passed the Senate and is now in the House Ways and Means Committee.
These bills are just a sampling of the legislation on the table for discussion in the next session. Both the House and the Senate have begun prefiling new legislation, which our policy team is currently in the process of analyzing. An overview of the House and Senate prefiles will be posted soon, and we will continue to keep our readership updated on these and the other important issues as they move through the legislative process.