Editor's Note: This report was originally published at www.scpolicycouncil.org.
At this point in the legislative session, one can predict with a certain degree of accuracy which bills will not become law this year. This is due to a legislative rule that bills originating in the House which have not crossed over to the Senate by April 10 (and vice versa) cannot be considered by the Senate without a two-thirds majority.
In the legislative process, there is a big difference between “mostly dead” and “all dead.” And with that disclaimer, here are some of the most significant bills that did not make the crossover deadline.
S.516: Gun control – closing the “Charleston loophole”
The only gun control bill to move this year was S.516, which would have lengthened the waiting period for firearms purchase background checks to five days. The bill would also have mandated that courts, municipal judges, magistrates and law enforcement divisions report incidents that could show up during an individual’s background check (restraining orders, domestic violence orders or convictions, etc.) in a much shorter time frame – from ten days to twenty-four hours, depending on the entity. Even aside from the infringement on Second Amendment rights, this bill is rife with unintended consequences and would do little to close the purported loophole, as lawmakers acknowledged during the bill’s subcommittee hearing. The bill did not pass out of committee, and an attempt in the Senate to add it to the budget as a proviso failed as well.
H.5000 – “Reforming” the state pension structure
Last year lawmakers passed a pension funding bill as “phase one” in a two-part process of addressing South Carolina’s massive pension deficit. H.5000 – ostensibly the “phase two” bill – was filed only recently and amends the pension plan itself. However, it falls far short of true reform and fails to address the reasons the current plan is unsustainable. In a nutshell, it would not eliminate the defined-benefit element of the plan and it would continue to allow unrealistic predictions of pension investment returns. As this bill never even received a committee hearing, further pension discussion will likely wait until next year.
S.547 and H.5043 – Federal and State Constitutional Conventions
Bills calling for conventions to amend the US Constitution are usually filed every year. This year, however, the federal constitutional convention bill was joined by legislation calling for a convention to amend the state constitution. The problems with those bills are the same – namely that the most glaring problems in both state and federal government are not caused by their respective constitutions, and constitutional conventions would likely do more harm than good.
The federal constitutional convention bill (S.547) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it stalled. The state constitutional convention bill (H.5043) was never given a committee hearing.
H.4380 – Ordering a Refund to Customers for Abandoned Nuclear Project
This is the only one of the six bills proposed by the special House energy investigatory committee that did not pass the House. This bill would instruct the Public Service Commission (PSC) to order a refund to ratepayers for the V.C. Summer nuclear construction project if the PSC found that the project costs were the result of imprudence, poor management, etc. As with some of the other House energy bills, the constitutionality of this legislation is unclear and it would likely have triggered a court challenge. Given the controversy and debate surrounding proposed legislation to simply lower rates, it is not surprising that House leadership has not attempted to pass this bill.
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 violations. The bill also contains legal protection for anyone acting under its provision.
While this legislation would have given South Carolina patients another medical option while guarding against non-medical usage, the bill was stonewalled in both chambers. The Senate bill reached the Senate calendar too late in the process to have a likelihood of passage, while the House bill never received a committee vote.
S.386 – Eliminating the Judicial Merit Selection Commission
One of our key recommended reforms to end the legislative concentration of power and culture of corruption in state government is the establishment of an independent judiciary. Currently, judges are screened, nominated and elected by lawmakers, giving the legislative branch sole influence over the judicial branch.
S.386 would have ended this legislative domination with a constitutional amendment instituting the federal approach of judicial nominations by the chief executive (governor) with a simple Senate confirmation. It would also have eliminated the legislatively controlled Judicial Merit Selection Commission. This is one of the most important reforms lawmakers could have implemented, but it did not even receive a committee hearing.
S.255 – Electioneering/donor disclosure
This bill 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 would face tougher reporting requirements at the state level than full-on political action committees that are directly involved in elections.
Lawmakers have attempted to pass various versions of this legislation for years. While the bill did not even receive a committee hearing this session, we will likely see some form of this bill again next year.
H.3722: Bond bill – Increases debt for agency projects
This bill would authorize $497 million of new debt for various state agency pet projects. This bill was filed last year, when lawmakers said during budget deliberations that there was little money to spend. Even aside from the fiscal concern of plunging the taxpayers further in debt in the absence of cash on hand, maintenance and repair (which this bill would have funded) should be covered through the yearly budget – not paid for by debt financing. The bill did not move this year despite being on the floor calendar – perhaps due to the fact that 2018 is an election year. However, as House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White has stated his intent to propose similar bond bills every few years, a similar proposal will undoubtedly be filed next year.
H.4421 – Expanding customer-based solar generation (net-metering)
Two bills addressing the 2% cap on customer-based solar generation made it to the House floor. Only one of them passed second reading – H.4421. This bill would have lifted the cap preventing additional customers from installing home-based solar panels once the 2% ceiling was reached (under current law, only 2% of a utility’s overall power generation can come from customer-based solar panels). The bill contained solar incentives, but differed from existing state law by stating that non-solar customers could not be forced to pay for those incentives or to absorb the costs of solar customers. This shifted those costs to the utilities. While not all the provisions of this bill are positive, it would have successfully eliminated one barrier to customer choice and helped to level the playing field between solar and non-solar customers.
After receiving second reading in the House, the bill failed on its third reading vote the following week. Third reading is normally a procedural vote, as amendments and debate occur on second reading, but in this case House members pointed out that the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote on property tax exemptions. As this bill exempts solar equipment from property taxes, a two-thirds majority vote was required. Lawmakers voted against amending the bill to remove the exemption, and as the bill did not receive the required supermajority vote, the bill failed.
As noted earlier, elements of these bills could still find their way into state law through other bills or budget provisos. Even if they do not, lawmakers often attempt to pass many of these bills every year. As the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, SCPC will continue to keep readers informed on the status of the various legislative attacks on their purses and their freedom.