The 121st South Carolina General Assembly’s regular legislative session has adjourned and I really have mixed emotions concerning our efforts.
On the one hand, we had some very positive results for District 53 and the state. On the other, I am left frustrated and disappointed because of what has been unnecessarily left on the table as our regular session ended. We have a very short window to complete and pass what we can this year and I hope we will successfully get this work done.
I would like to say that new House speaker, Rep. Jay Lucas, did an outstanding job. Speaking with several longtime House members and employees, they had nothing but praise for his leadership. I, as an eyewitness, can attest to his hard work and diligence and I don’t think he could have delivered any better results for the citizens of South Carolina.
The holdups, bottlenecks and delays, with very few exceptions, cannot be attributed to the House or Jay’s leadership. Our legislation was delivered to the Senate timely and in good order. Filibusters and other Senate delays have led to some very important loose ends that I wish had been avoided.
As mentioned above, we still have important business to attend to. The House and Senate will work over the next week and a half in conference committee to reach final agreements on bills that passed both chambers but still needed the differences between them consolidated into a final version that is acceptable to each body. At that point, both chambers will come back to vote on the conference reports.
The governor will then have five days to issue any vetoes and my colleagues and I will meet one last time to sustain or override her vetoes.
Below is an update on the major pieces of legislation passed this year in the House along with a brief synopsis of where each bill currently stands. In the coming weeks I will have an end-of-year report with updates on any changes among these bills.
I will also be working on a financial report to bring to you which will highlight grants, special funding and approved funding in the final state budget for our area. As of today, we have secured more than $700,000 in grants for District 53.
2015 House Legislative Actions
• H.3846 (Rat #0071) Joint Resolution by Yow and Henegan
Summary: A joint resolution to authorize the state budget and control board, or its successor state agency, to transfer ownership of the Cheraw National Guard Armory to the town of Cheraw.
This bill was signed by the governor. The Department of General Services of the Budget and Control Board stated this item is scheduled to go before the Budget and Control Board at its June 16 meeting. After they formalize the deed, they’ll send it to the town with a copy to the adjutant general. This bill will save taxpayers in the town of Cheraw about $2.5 million by providing a new facility for public works (or as the town deems necessary for other uses). The entire delegation worked to secure this major cost savings.
• H.3656 (Rat #0065) General Bill by Yow, Henegan and Lucas
Summary: An act to amend Act 205 of 1993, relating to the district Board of Education of the Chesterfield County School District, so as to revise the date for elections for trustees, the filing period for declarations of candidacy and the time in which board members take office.
This bill was presented with the consent of the Chesterfield County School Board. This bill will now place the election of school board members in line with the general election, saving taxpayers money and streamlining the process. It will be much less confusing and less cumbersome for election commission employees, voters and candidates. This bill has been signed into law by the governor.
• H.3658 (Rat #0066) General Bill by Yow, Henegan and Lucas
Summary: An act to amend Act 1010 of 1968 relating to the local education advisory councils in the Chesterfield County School District, so as to decrease the number of advisory councils from seven to four through consolidation of specific attendance areas, to provide unexpired terms of advisory council members serving on the effective date of this act are terminated on that date and advisory council members subsequently must be appointed by the district board of education and the legislative delegation will have no role in appointing members to the advisory councils.
I recommended this bill to the school board as I felt the current process of the delegation appointing members made the position of advisory council political. I believe that our children’s education does not need to be caught in the middle of political appointments.
Working with the school board, we came up with a that allows the board members to appoint the advisory council. This action takes the appointment authority away from the county delegation and places it among the members of the school board by area, not by district. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• H.3799: CWP Expansion — The House approved a concealed weapons permit reciprocity agreement with the state of Georgia allowing licensed CWP carriers to cross state lines without any legal ramifications. I am a primary cosponsor of this bill which is in the Senate.
• H.3154: Overseas Military Voters — This measure ensures each ballot cast by overseas military personnel is not only counted, but streamlines the process while enhancing their access to voter registration. This bill has been sent to the governor.
• S.39: In-State Tuition for Military — This grants in-state tuition rates to active-duty military and their dependents. Currently, active-duty military personnel from other states who have been stationed in South Carolina do not receive in-state tuition rates. This bill grants them that privilege and allows them and their dependents to continue receiving an in-state tuition rate as long as they remain continuously enrolled. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• H.3145: Protecting Our Citizens — This gives certain legal protections to bystanders who rescue those trapped inside sweltering cars and trucks. One of the core functions of a limited government is providing for the safety of our children and otherwise vulnerable adults. I am a primary cosponsor of this bill which is in the Senate.
• H.3433/S.3: Domestic Violence Reform — Reports indicate that South Carolina’s murder rate of women killed by men sits at twice the national average. This is unacceptable. This measure gives law enforcement more tools to help reverse this pattern of abuse in our state.
For six months, the House Special Criminal Domestic Violence Ad Hoc Committee studied all aspects of the issue. The committee listened to dozens of hours of testimony from both survivors of domestic violence and from law enforcement officers and prosecutors charged with bringing justice to those who perpetrate crimes of domestic violence. As a result of their findings the committee produced the Domestic Violence Reform Act.
This comprehensive legislation:
• Significantly enhances penalties for those found guilty of committing acts of domestic violence.
• Paves the way for middle-school students to receive instruction on how to identify and respond to domestic violence situations.
• Creates the Domestic Violence Advisory Committee composed of citizens, medical doctors and law enforcement who will review instances of death as a result of domestic violence and submit a public annual report.
Currently South Carolina’s domestic violence laws are occurrence-based — an approach that has proven insufficient by itself. H.3433 institutes a hybrid model based on the number of occurrences and adds that penalties become more severe depending on the level of injury sustained, also accounting for any aggravating circumstances. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• H.3114: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — House Republicans once again passed the Pain-Capable Child Protection Act. This legislation provides additional statutory protections for the unborn by shortening the amount of time a woman can abort her child down to a 20-week window. I am a primary cosponsor of this bill, which is in the Senate.
• H.3579: Roads and Infrastructure — Following seven months of testimony and hours of debate, the House passed a bill to address the state’s aging infrastructure. The comprehensive measure revamps the existing DOT structure, leadership and funding model. It’s important to note that House Republicans were able to include a provision that also provides income tax relief to South Carolina taxpayers. I am also a cosponsor of this bill which is in the Senate.
• H.3014: Shortening Legislative Session — For the 10th time in the past 2o years, the House has passed legislation that would shorten the legislative work session and each time, the legislation has been blocked by the Senate. By shortening the session by nearly two months, we would save valuable taxpayer dollars. I am a cosponsor of this bill which is in the Senate.
• H.3701: Balanced Budget — The Republican majority in the House voted in unison to pass the 2015-16 fiscal year budget. Balancing our state budget is something House members take very seriously and this budget proposal fully funds the necessities of our state while balancing the bottom line without incurring any new debt. Today’s economy requires families and businesses to do more with less money. The House sent a clear message that government should be held to that same standard. This bill is in conference.
• H.3168: Emergency Preparedness — The House took preemptive action by approving a bill that would guarantee the state of South Carolina is adequately equipped to deal with emergency situations. Preparation for emergency scenarios is a vital aspect of protecting South Carolinians. This bill ensures that our state law enforcement agencies will have the ability to obtain necessary resources as necessary in times of our greatest need. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• S.196: Human Trafficking — A cross-county jurisdictional loophole in the current law was recently brought to our attention by prosecutors. As a result, the House passed a measure that would allow prosecutors to engage the grand jury system for individuals who are trafficking humans over county lines. In an effort to increase reporting from exploited individuals and prosecute their traffickers, a previously established information and reporting hotline would be strengthened by expanding the publicity of the hotline to high public traffic areas. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• H.3006: Small Business Regulatory Sunset Reform Act — This act places a sunset provision on all future regulatory laws. Many regulations are outdated and this new measure would give an automatic expiration to these laws five years after implementation. This ensures we don’t have cumbersome, outdated regulations hampering business owners. This bill is in the Senate.
• H.3525: Ride-Sharing Deregulation – Uber — The House addressed issues surrounding the ride-sharing industry that specifically affected Uber and other transportation network companies. In South Carolina, we’ve always had taxis and they fall under the management of the Public Service Commission. However, the business model for TNCs like Uber wouldn’t be viable if each driver had to pay for a taxi license. In January, the PSC issued a cease-and-desist order against Uber effectively shutting its network of drivers down. In response, this “business-positive” bill was drafted to set up a framework that allows TNCs, specifically Uber, to operate legally. H.3525 establishes that framework and allows the TNC companies to get one license — allowing all of their drivers to operate under that single license. This bill is now in conference.
• H.3200: Exempting Research Professors — This provides certain exemptions to encourage state-funded university employees to develop intellectual property that benefits institutions of higher learning, making South Carolina more competitive in an effort to attract and retain top-quality researchers. This bill is in the Senate.
• H.3979: Judicial Selection Reform — Reforms the process used to select our state’s judges. Currently, judicial candidates are screened through a panel that is limited to selecting three individuals for any given judicial election. This bill would remove the cap and allow anyone who is deemed qualified to run for the bench. By doing so, we open up the process and allow everyone to participate, not just a select few. I am a primary cosponsor for this bill and it is in the Senate.
• H.3250: Certificate of Need — This bill revises and streamlines the Certificate of Need process and repeals it completely in 2018. The House overwhelmingly supported this measure which helps to limit the regulation of health care providers around the state. This bill is in the Senate.
• H.3582: Patent Infringement — Patent trolls hinder private development projects and stifle innovative research from the private sector. This measure ensures that South Carolina innovators receive added legal protections for their unique ideas. By creating a safe haven for innovation, we increase our marketability to research institutions and aid our economic progress. This bill is in the Senate.
• H.3663: S.C. State Resolution — The House took forceful and necessary action to solve the well-publicized troubles at S.C. State University. The House unanimously passed a joint resolution to put S.C. State back on track that:
1. Removes the current S.C. State board members.
2. Gives authority to newly appointed interim board members.
3. Allows the interim Board of Trustees to remove the current president if they deem that action necessary.
This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• S.364: Read to Succeed Act — This helps focus on early intervention in literacy by providing for reading coaches and summer reading camps with the goal of having every child in S.C. reading on grade level before leaving third grade. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
• S.8: Adjutant General — The House has passed this bill many times and the Senate finally agreed this year to allow the next adjutant general to be appointed rather than elected. This new form of origination allows politics to be removed from the duties of the state’s top military officer, very similar to the national model. This bill was signed into law by the governor.
The House, led by Speaker Lucas, has worked diligently on ethics reform in this session. I want to call your attention specifically to the following House efforts. All but one of the following ethics bills reside in the Senate.
• H.3722: Ethics Reform — The House passed a package of 12 ethics reform bills in addition to this omnibus package (H.3722) that rolls the reform measures into one bill. Below are the highlights of this reform package. I was a primary cosponsor for this bill and it is still in the Senate.
— Income Disclosure H.3186: Requires members of the General Assembly to disclose the source and type of all income received from any private entity. This bill is still in the Senate.
— Restructuring Ethics Commission H.3184: Revamps the makeup of the South Carolina Ethics Commission and turns the commission into an independent investigative body. The independent commission is given the full resources of the S.C. law enforcement community and is tasked with investigating ethics complaints made against elected officials. The State Ethics Commission would be composed of four members appointed by the governor, four elected by the Supreme Court and two members elected by each the House and Senate. This bill is still in the Senate.
— Eliminating Leadership PACs H.3188: Bans candidate-affiliated “leadership” political action committees. It even goes one step further and states that elected officials can no longer accept campaign contributions from leadership PACs. This bill is still in the Senate.
— Campaign Finance Laws H.3195: Prohibits lobbyist principals from paying for members of the General Assembly to attend American Legislative Exchange Council conferences. This simply removes an existing loophole in the law. This bill is still in the Senate.
— Primary Runoff Election Finance Law Reform H.3193: Clarifies how campaign funds should be attributed to primaries and primary runoff campaigns. Existing law was leading to confusion among some candidates for public office. These changes make clear which funds should be attributed to a campaign runoff election account. This bill is still in the Senate.
— Creation of Freedom of Information Act Office S.11: Establishes an office specifically designed to handle Freedom of Information Act concerns. The measure also expands the right to access existing electronic transmission of public records, sets a reasonable fee schedule for accessing records and reduces the turnaround time on obtaining records from 15 to 10 days. This bill was sent to the governor.
— Whistleblower Protection H.3202: Strengthens the existing whistleblower law and provides additional monetary incentives for government employees to report misuse of taxpayer dollars. The hope is that where fraud exists, this provision empowers state employees to come forward with that information, saving taxpayer dollars. This bill is still in the Senate.
— Publicly Posting Agendas H.3192: This tightens the requirements on all government bodies by requiring them to post a public meeting agenda prior to engaging in official business. This measure sheds sunlight on all government bodies and gives the public a better idea of what their government is doing and when they’re doing it. This bill is in the Senate.
As you can see, all but one piece of the immediately above ethics legislation resides in the Senate. My hope is that we can complete and pass most of it soon.
It is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly. If you ever find yourself in need of assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me by phone at 843-623-5001 or by mail at 200 W. Main St., Chesterfield, SC 29709. You can also email me at Richardyow@schouse.gov.