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Constituent Update - End of Session Edition

Although a few items remain to be resolved, the 122nd Session of the South Carolina General Assembly came to an end on May 10th. The session, while largely overshadowed by the constant presence of the V.C. Summer nuclear failure and the corresponding response, or lack thereof, of SCANA and SCE&G, did produce some meaningful results. Here are a just a few... 

V.C. SUMMER NUCLEAR FAILURE

UTILITY RATE REDUCTIONS
Our focus in the Senate has been on ratepayers first. We have to protect their interests and their money. This is highly complex and complicated issue that cannot be simplified to a catch phrase, news headline, or campaign slogan. Any decision made will impact customers’ rates both presently and long into the future, will affect the standing of a large South Carolina employer, will disturb capital market trading and investment activities, will influence future capital investment in South Carolina; and no matter what decision is ultimately made will almost certainly result in a lawsuit.

It is our hope in the Senate to shoot straight because more than anything, customers do not want to be told they are getting something only to find out that has changed…you have experienced enough of that.

In keeping with that thought process, the Senate voted to implement an interim rate to customer bills that, if agreed to by the House, enacts an immediate 13% cut to SCE&G customers rates. There is a lot of finger pointing happening with this issue and there is plenty of blame to go around. But the blame game doesn’t build two nuclear reactors nor make you and your neighbors whole. Nevertheless, it is my belief that shareholders, not ratepayers should bear the burden for failures of management. Status: Conference Committee (S.954)

REPEAL OF THE BASE LOAD REVIEW ACT
Bills to prospectively repeal of the Base Load Review Act, and provide definitions of terms “prudent” and “imprudence” have been passed by both the House and Senate.  Status: Conference Committee (H.4375)

CONSUMER ADVOCATE CREATION
A bill creating a Utilities Consumer Advocate to safeguard the interests of rate payers in dealings with public utilities that offer such essential services as electrical power, gas pipelines for heating and cooking needs, water, sewerage, and telecommunications has been passed the Senate. The new Utilities Consumer Advocate will act independently of the regulatory authorities. Status: Returned to House with Amendments (H.4379)

CITIZEN’S INTEREST

JOINT ELECTION RULES - GOVERNOR & LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
Voters approved changing the state Constitution in 2012 to jointly elect the governor and lieutenant governor. This bill establishes the rules in which this occurs, specifically as it relates to filing deadlines, how the Election Commission will accept and list the paperwork for the joint filing,  and, importantly, the campaign contribution limits — setting $3,500 per individual toward the joint campaign. Despite the House blocking the bill by attempting to increase judicial salaries as unrelated material, the Senate led passing a clean bill to see that the Commission can carry out the election and provide ballots to early voters and military on time for the June 12 primary. The bill does not change the governor’s salary ($106,078 / yr) or the lieutenant governor salary ($46,545). Status: Signed Into Law (H.4977)
 

REAL ID COMPLIANT
The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, required states to meet specific standards for issuances of compliant identification. South Carolina said “NO” because of the exorbitant unfunded costs associated with the mandate, the timeline it would take to phase in new licenses, and the requirement for all citizens who otherwise wouldn’t need the compliant license to comply. As a result, South Carolina and the Department of Homeland Security came to a resolution and this year South Carolina became REAL ID compliant. Licenses are now voluntary and available at the DMV for the October 1, 2020 implementation deadline. A REAL ID compliant license will be required to board a domestic commercial airline flight, enter a secure federal building, or visit a military installation. Those who choose to instead use a U.S. passport or those who have no need to visit the restricted locations, or fly commercially, will not be required to obtain a REAL ID compliant license. The Senate also passed a privacy-protection amendment to prohibit the DMV from distributing the information from the database, including personal information, to any other agency. The average license will cost $25. Additional information is available on the SCDMV website: www.scdmvonline.com. Status: Signed Into Law (H.3358)

VETERANS FAMILY IN-STATE TUITION
We value our military personnel and their families. To thank those who keep us safe, the state now recognizes added persons eligible to receive in-state college tuition rates to include a veteran who enrolls with three years of veteran’s discharge, a transfer on active duty in the Uniformed Service of the U.S., Reserve Forces or National Guard or a person receiving assistance under Section 3311(b)(9) of the United States Code. Status: Signed Into Law (H.3034)

EXPUNGEMENTS
A bill to provide first offense simple possession drug charges, and possession with intent to distribute charges (after 20 years) may be expunged. This is meant to provide a second chance to people committed to improving their lives, while still holding people personally responsible for their actions. Status: Governor Veto (H.3209)

KEEP SOUTH CAROLINA BEAUTIFUL
Litter is a plague to keeping our state beautiful and threatens our value as a tourism state. Cigarette butts and cigarette component litter has been added to the definition of liter and mandates a fine for persons guilty of littering, not less than $25 and not more than $100 or imprisoned for not more than thirty days. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4458)

DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY
Ensuring a voice and protection for those who least have a voice — children living in foster care, poverty and abandoned by their parents — may say the most of our state. A new Department of Children’s Advocacy will be established to serve exclusively as an independent watch dog into investigations of child endangerment, abuse and death related cases. The advocate will be equipped to investigate independent of the Department of Social Services as an ombudsman for the most vulnerable children in South Carolina. The Governor shall appoint the State Child Advocate from three candidates recommended by the Joint Citizen and Legislative Committee on Children, and upon the advice and consent of the Senate, for a term of six years. Status: Signed Into Law (S.805)

CHILD FATALITY REVIEW TEAM
Requires every county coroner to establish a Child Fatality Review Team to perform a review within seven days of a case where a child under the age of eighteen has died. Status: Signed Into Law (S.170)

TELEPHONE PRIVACY PROTECTION ACT
Intended to update and enhance consumer protection provisions relating to telemarketers, new legislation establishes provisions governing the conduct of telephone solicitations that include requirements for a telephone solicitor to provide identifying information, contact information and the option to be added to the telephone solicitor’s in house “do not call list”. It establishes prohibitions on directing telephone solicitations to telephone numbers that have been added to the in house list or the national do not call registry. It prohibits the practice of falsifying caller identification system information known as spoofing, by disallowing a telephone solicitor from making a consumer telephone call with a telephone number that displays a South Carolina area code on the recipient's caller identification system unless the telephone solicitor maintains a physical presence in the state. A telephone solicitor is also prohibited from displaying the receiving party's telephone number on the contacted party's caller identification system. A private cause of action is established for those harmed by violations. The Attorney General is authorized to investigate and enforce violations. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4628)

PAWNBROKERS
A victim rights bill, allows police to retrieve an item, without further process, from a pawn shop if it is thought to be stolen, and allows for almost immediate return of property to victim if it is identifiable. It requires local governments to establish an electronic database for pawnbrokers to submit certain pawn information for the use of law enforcement. The bill will also provide that a digital photograph be taken of the pledged or purchased item, and that upon probable cause law enforcement may secure property. The pawnbroker may initiate a claim and delivery action and notify law enforcement within a 10 day period of the seizure and the law enforcement agency must hold the property until the completion of that action. Status: Signed Into Law (S.810)

JOBS & ECONOMY

SUPPORTING OUR FARMERS
Agribusiness is one of our state’s largest industries, contributing tens of billions of dollars for our economy, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Over time, government regulations have stifled poultry operations in the Palmetto State. We stand behind our local farmers and family-owned businesses who have contributed so much to agribusiness. Legislation reduces the regulatory barriers on poultry suppliers, creating a more farm-friendly environment. Agriculture has proven to be a major driver for economic growth and development, and we will continue to protect that industry in the Senate. The Governor has signed that bill into law signifying a bright future for our farmers. Status: Signed Into Law (H.3929)

MANUFACTURING JOB PROTECTION
We are leading the southeast in manufacturing with more than 5,000 facilities in the state and approximately 11% of our workforce linked to the manufacturing industry. That is a big deal, and continuing to focus on a pro-business climate is a major factor in bringing greater opportunities through higher paying jobs to our state. It is something we must continue to focus on in the future. New legislation provides safeguards against unreasonable nuisance lawsuits brought against existing manufacturing, transportation and other similar facilities. Status: Signed Into Law (H.3653)

SMALL BUSINESS PROTECTIONS
Across the nation, local political subdivisions are imposing mandates that harm small businesses. Many of these, if enacted at all, should be considered as statewide policy rather than creating a hodgepodge of regulations. S.218 limits political subdivisions from mandating employee standards that may harm small businesses and be outside of uniform, statewide workforce policy. This is an important measure to maintain South Carolina’s national recognized pro-business reputation and continue our success in providing protections for locally owned small businesses from job killing regulations and standards. South Carolina already has law prohibiting political subdivisions from mandating a minimum wage. Status: Signed Into Law (S.218)

REGULATORY RELIEF
Government should not be an obstacle to operating a business. This legislation provides relief from a strange set of circumstances where a company organized as employee owned (ESOP), is prevented from obtaining a state license to operate as a mechanical contractor. Now these types of companies may pursue alternative methods for meeting capital requirements. Status: Signed Into Law (S.4612)

MORE JOBS, BETTER POLICY
In keeping with protecting our citizens and businesses from costly nuisance/frivolous lawsuits, the Senate last year passed what is commonly referred to as the “Automatic Stay” bill. This legislation is designed to provide better protection to capital projects which experienced unwarranted delays that stalled job creation, increased congestion and otherwise resulted in high costs to taxpayers. We are a business-friendly state, but we also place a high-value on our state’s natural resources. This bill strikes the right balance in protecting our state’s valuable resources and reforming the appeal process to see that legitimate, well-founded project complaints are heard in a timely manner — not used as a hold-hostage tool. The House recently joined the Senate in passing this important bill, and it has been signed into law by the governor. Status: Signed Into Law (S.105)

INDUSTRIAL HEMP CULTIVATION
Welcoming new industry and new jobs to South Carolina, the General Assembly created a pilot program in 2017 for industrial hemp to be grown by 40 permit holders (40 areas each) as a research program. The program will be monitored and permits issued by the SC Department of Agriculture. Growers are required to be South Carolina residents and background checked by SLED. If the crop is tested to be above 0.3 percent THC, the crop will be destroyed or reconditioned. What's Hemp used for?...Click Here Status: Signed Into Law (H.3559)

PUTTING SOUTH CAROLINA BACK TO WORK
Our economy and workforce is growing. We want to see that South Carolinians are lifted out of poverty and have the opportunities to better their lives and provide for their families. That begins with meaningful employment. The South Carolina Employment First Study Committee, established in H.4093, will study and evaluate the need for a policy supportive of competitive and integrated employment of individuals with disabilities. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4093)

HEALTHCARE

NURSE PRACTITIONER PRACTICE EXPANSIONS
The most impact changes we can make to reduce the cost of quality healthcare delivery to our citizens is to reduce obstacles to quality healthcare providers. This legislation allows practice agreements between physicians and APRN’s (which are defined as nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist and certified registered nurse anesthetist). It requires APRN’s to provide at least a portion of their practice in rural and underserved areas or to underserved populations. The practice agreements allow for the prescribing of Schedule II narcotics and nonnarcotics, allows APRN’s to pronounce death and sign death certificates, issue handicap certificates, refer patients to physical therapy and hospice, certify that a patient is unable to attend school, and provide non-controlled prescriptions at an entity that provides free medical care for indigent patients. Status: Signed Into Law (S.345)

NARCOTICS AND CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT
In an effort to curb the opioid epidemic ravaging America, this legislation requires electronic prescriptions with limited exceptions for targeted substances, which are defined as Schedule II and III controlled substances. Places prescribing limits on the quantity of these substances. The bill further requires that a dispenser review the prescription monitoring program for a twelve month period for the patient if the dispenser has reason to believe the patient is retrieving the substances under specific questionable circumstances. Status: Signed Into Law (S.918)

ADDICTION COUNSELORS
Another attempt to reign in the opioid epidemic, this requires addiction counselors to be licensed by the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. After October 1, 2018, an addiction counselor applicant must have a master's degree or higher and meet the other licensure requirements imposed on professional counselors and marriage and family therapists. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4601)

PALLIATIVE CARE AND QUALITY OF LIFE
Creation of a temporary study committee to consult with, and advise, the Office on Aging on an assessment of this state’s palliative care initiatives which involve improving the quality of life of patients and their families facing the issues associated with chronic life threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment, reduced hospital readmissions and treatment of pain and other conditions associated with chronic illness, including physical, psychosocial and spiritual. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4935)

PUBLIC SAFETY

STOPPING FLOW OF PRISON CONTRABAND
Increased contraband in our prison system is a troubling trend. Those seeking to bring contraband into prisons are using the latest technology including unmanned aerial vehicles - drones - to deliver weapons, drugs, cell phones and other contraband over the walls. Senate Bill 176 makes it unlawful to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle within 500 horizontal feet or 250 vertical feet within a Department of Corrections facility. A person violating is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not more than $500 dollars or imprisoned not more than 30 days. Status: Signed Into Law (S.176)

LET ‘EM WORK, LET ‘EM LIVE
The Department of Transportation experienced the tragic death of two highway workers in 2017 on top of scores of "close calls". The Highway Workers’ Safety Act imposes new fines and penalties for the endangerment of a highway worker, prioritizing the safety of our highway workers and ensure they get home safe to their families after a day of work. Fines range from $500 to $5,000 for endangering of a highway worker without injury, causing bodily harm and the death of a highway workers. With the increase in road construction projects across our state, please be mindful of these folks. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4033)

GOOD SAMARITAN OVERDOSE REPORTING
SC seeks to grant limited immunity from prosecution for a person who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug or alcohol-related overdose. For a person acting in good faith, as a “Good Samaritan,” for someone experiencing an overdose, will not be prosecuted under specific situations. The purpose is to encourage medical help for a person having an overdose and eliminate the fear of prosecution from a person in a situation to help. Status: Signed Into Law (S.179)

MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING
Mental health and addictive disorders are a growing concern for law enforcement. S.173, unanimously approved by the Senate and House, provides additional training of certified law enforcement officers to receive certification for post-dramatic stress disorder and other trauma and stress related disorders. The law enforcement training council is authorized to establish participation in the SC LEAP program for officers involved in an incident resulting in death or serious bodily injury. Status: Signed Into Law (S.173)

HUMAN TRAFFICKING
A bill to revise the criminal definitions and provide more stringent penalties that apply when a victim is under the age of eighteen. Status: Signed Into Law (H.3329)

EDUCATION

SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION
Education remains a top agenda item for the legislature, Governor and Superintendent of Education. Currently, the Superintendent of Education is elected by voters in the state. While the Superintendent, Governor and legislature have had fairly consistent visions for the state education policy, making the Superintendent a cabinet level position should result in a more uniform vision for the state’s education policy and the ability to speak with “one voice” about what education in South Carolina should look like. H.3146 proposes an amendments to Section 7, Article VI out the State Constitution to have the Superintendent appointed and serve at the pleasure of the governor beginning in January 2023. The question will be on the general election ballot for the 2018 November election for the citizens to decide. Status: Ratified - No Signature Required (H.3146)

TEACHER APPRECIATION ACCOUNTS
A bill to authorize a school district or governing body of a charter school to adapt a policy to allow teachers to be paid for unused sick leave or annual leave. This measure encourages teachers to remain in the classroom and continue to teach the children. Instead of losing those days, they can be paid by the district for those days. Status: Signed Into Law (S.888)

EXCEPTIONAL NEEDS TAX CREDIT
A bill codifying income tax credits for the education of the children with exceptional needs. These provisions had been included as a budget proviso in general appropriation acts for the last five years. Status: Signed Into Law (H.4077)

SENATE BUDGET INCLUSIONS

The FY18-19 General Fund appropriations bill remains in Conference Committee working on differences between the House and Senate versions. Here are a few things being considered.

Tax Conformity - Each year, SC must make the decision whether or not to conform with federal tax law. The process is typically routine. This year, with the changes to federal tax law, the decision is not so clear cut. You can read more on this issue HERE.

Analysis of Teachers Duties – An amendment to relieve teachers of burdensome tasks that interfere with their ability to teach. The budget proviso requires the Department of Education to conduct a bottom-up analysis of the tasks of teachers in South Carolina to determine what duties placed on teachers are unnecessary or may be consolidated to other functions, or be performed by another staff position. Our teachers are asked to do a lot including administrative duties outside the classroom. We must get back-to-the-basics in providing a high quality education for students in the classroom. This budget proviso puts us on the right path forward to see that our teachers able to focus on what we ask them to do…teach our children.

Tuition Transparency – The tuition transparency amendment requires public universities to post where, and for what purpose, tuition goes that exceeds the amount required to fund classroom costs for a program.

Saying Thanks To Teachers – A teacher can make one of the greatest impacts on a child’s life. The Senate budget recognizes the dedication that teachers give in the classroom by providing adding an additional $2,000 to the starting salary of a K-12 teacher in the public system, a 1% raise, and complete funding of step increases. More needs to be done.

Retiring Rolling Firebombs – Outdated school buses, particularly a model prone to fires, have jeopardized the safety of our children for far too long. The Senate budget rids our school districts of these “rolling fire bombs” and the danger they present our students. The Senate budget also increases the base student cost paid to local school districts and includes over a $10 million increase for Need Based grants for Higher Education, the largest increase since the FY1999-2000 budget. The House version of the budget provided no increase.

This year’s budget is a positive step forward for educational opportunities in South Carolina, prioritizing the critical needs of education and the importance of our teachers, parental involvement and students’ ability to learn in the classroom.

Responding To Our First Responders — Our state has been impacted by several natural disasters in the last few years. We thank our law enforcement, DNR and other first responders who gave assistance during these tragedies. The FY18-19 budget includes additional salary to those responders who assist in preventing the spread of forest fires. The Senate additionally made an impactful investment to provide for additional SLED agents to reduce case loads, increased trooper pay, Department of Corrections officer pay increase, community specialists for the Department of Juvenile Justice and providing the needed resources to see that our officers are trained and protected in the growing concern of mental health situations and PTSD therapy.

Opioid Prevention Assistance – The opioid epidemic is ripping apart families and communities nationwide, and our state is not immune from its impacts. We are committed to stopping abuse of dangerous controlled substances. This year’s budget includes an additional $11M for opioid abuse prevention and treatment programs.

Ratepayers First — The Senate also passed an amendment to have the Public Service Commission order regulated utilities to pass along the full tax benefits received from the Trump Administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act wholly to electric customers. We don’t need to try to fool customers about reductions in rates resulting from an Act passed by Congress. By estimates, these utilities will receive large amounts in tax relief under the federal tax plan. We, in the Senate, believe those benefits ought to go directly to customers to provide immediate rate relief.

Those Who Serve Our State — Our front line state employees are crucial to seeing that the everyday services provided to South Carolinians are reliable, efficient, and performed with a friendly face. The Senate budget recognizes the importance of those who have chosen to serve the state by providing a $500 bonus to state employees who have been employed at least six months and make less than $50,000.

Putting South Carolina Back To Work — Our economy is strong and workforce is growing. We want to see that working South Carolinians are lifted out of poverty and have the opportunities to better their lives and provide for their families. The Senate budget ensures that SNAP benefits are available and accessible to those who truly need them.

If you have any questions or comments about the legislative session or any other issue, please reach out to me at sean@bennettscsenate.com

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve this community,




Senator Sean M. Bennett
Dorchester, Charleston, & Berkeley Counties