May 27, 2016

The House of Representatives returned S.1258, a bill addressing ROAD FUNDING AND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION RESTRUCTURING, to the Senate with amendments. The legislation allows for an estimated total of up to $4.5 billion to be devoted to the state’s roads over the next ten years. This includes: $950 million to repair or replace all structurally-deficient bridges on Interstate and national highways; $2 billion in widenings and improvements to existing Interstates; and, over $1.4 billion in pavement resurfacing. The legislation transfers motor vehicle sales tax revenue and the revenue from various Department of Motor Vehicles fines and fees to the Department of Transportation’s State Highway Fund. Transferred funds may be used for the issuance of bonds through the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank. The Infrastructure Bank projects that are financed utilizing these transferred funds do not require a local match. The legislation’s revenue revisions also allow for existing Department of Transportation funds to be redirected. Under the legislation, the Department of Transportation is charged with developing and implementing a needs-based weighting methodology to allocate funding within the state funded road resurfacing program, which must include consideration on a county-by-county basis, to ensure that each county in the state is guaranteed funding. The legislation includes a restructuring of the Commission overseeing the South Carolina Department of Transportation that retains the commission’s geographical representation, but provides that legislators would no longer elect commissioners and that all commissioners would, instead, be appointed by the Governor, upon the advice and consent of the General Assembly. Commissioners are to serve at the pleasure of the Governor and their terms of service are limited to a maximum of twelve years. Under restructuring, the DOT Commission assumes the responsibility of appointing the Secretary of Transportation, upon the advice and consent of the General Assembly. In order to afford the chief internal auditor of the Department of Transportation greater independence, the legislation provides for the department’s chief internal auditor to be appointed and overseen by the State Auditor rather than the DOT Commission. The legislation also provides for revisions to the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Before providing a loan or other financial assistance, the Board of Directors that oversees the Infrastructure Bank must, under the legislation, submit its decision to the Department of Transportation Commission for its consideration. The DOT Commission can, in turn, approve or reject the decision or request additional information from the bank’s board of directors. The Infrastructure Bank’s policy of following the SC Department of Transportation’s project priority criteria is established as a statutory requirement. The General Assembly may, however, enact a joint resolution specifically allowing the bank to fund a project without using DOT’s prioritization criteria. The minimum project amount set in Transportation Infrastructure Bank requirements is lowered from $100 million to $25 million. This threshold is lowered to allow more areas to be able to afford local match requirements and take advantage of the bank’s bonding capabilities for financing their transportation projects.

Additionally, the House granted free conference powers to include within H.3579, the same ROAD FUNDING AND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION RESTRUCTURING provisions that the House sent the Senate in S.1258.

The House appointed a conference committee to address its differences with the Senate on H.5001, the General Appropriation Bill, and H.5002, the joint resolution making appropriations from the Capital Reserve Fund, which together comprise the proposed FISCAL YEAR 2016-2017 STATE GOVERNMENT BUDGET.

The Senate and the House adopted S.1336, a concurrent resolution to provide for the GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S ADJOURNMENT for the year. The resolution includes authorization for the General Assembly to return after this year’s June 2 deadline for final adjournment to meet during a period beginning June 15 and, if necessary, extending until June 22 during which time lawmakers may consider only a limited list of matters, such as budget legislation, conference and free conference committee reports, and the Governor’s vetoes.

The House amended Senate amendments to H.3186 and returned the bill to the Senate. The legislation provides for MORE EXPANSIVE STATEMENTS OF ECONOMIC INTERESTS for public officials and others who are required to make these filings under the Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act. Disclosure requirements are revised so that they address not only public money, but also require a listing of the private source and type of any income received in the previous year by the filer or a member of his immediate family. Exceptions are included to apply to such sources of income as pensions, mutual funds, and interest from bank accounts. Under the legislation, a statement of economic interests must also include the source, type, and amount of any income received in the previous year by the filer or a member of his immediate family from a direct contractual or employment relationship with a lobbyist principal. This includes consulting, acting as an independent contractor, salary, or any other arrangement from which payment in return for services or goods is made by a lobbyist principal to a filer or a member of his immediate family. The legislation also establishes REPORTING REQUIREMENTS FOR INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES AND ELECTIONEERING COMMUNICATIONS that are made to influence the outcome of an election or ballot measure question. The legislation requires reports to be made to the State Ethics Commission by those individuals and groups, not already subject to the campaign finance requirements imposed upon committees, who make an independent expenditure in excess of five hundred dollars during a year or who engage in electioneering communications. Electioneering communications are mass communications making use of broadcast television, cable, satellite communication, mass postal mailing, or telephone banks during set periods before elections and primaries that refer to a clearly identified candidate for elected office or ballot measure. Such matters as news coverage and candidate debates are not considered electioneering communications. The required reports must include such matters as detailed descriptions of expenditures, identifying and contact information for those filing the report, and identification of contributors who have made donations exceeding one hundred dollars.

The House amended S.913 and gave the bill second reading approval. The legislation provides for ENHANCEMENTS TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT provisions which guarantee citizens’ access to government proceedings and public documents. The legislation adjusts time frames for responding to FOIA requests to require more prompt compliance from public bodies, but additional time is allowed for compiling older documents. The fees that government bodies may charge for complying with FOIA requests are revised to better ensure that they do not become prohibitive. Under the revisions, fees may not exceed the actual cost of the search, retrieval, and redaction of records and fee calculations must utilize the hourly salary of the lowest paid employee qualified to perform the request. Public bodies must develop fee schedules to be posted online. Copying fees may not exceed prevailing commercial rates and public bodies may require a deposit, not to exceed twenty five percent of the total cost for reproduction of the records, before beginning work on the request. The legislation accommodates the electronic transmission of requested records. Enforcement provisions for the Freedom of Information Act are revised in an effort to make them more effective. The rarely-utilized misdemeanor penalty for FOIA violations is eliminated and unfulfilled FOIA requests may instead be pursued through civil actions. The Office of Freedom of Information Act Review is created within the Administrative Law Court under the supervision of the Chief Administrative Law Judge to decide disputes regarding FOIA requests. The review office is offered as a new resource that citizens may use to obtain the access to public documents promised by the Freedom of Information Act without bearing the legal costs involved in compelling a government body to fulfill its FOIA responsibilities through a court challenge.

The House appointed a conference committee to address its differences with the Senate on H.3184, a bill establishing enhancements to ethics laws by providing for MORE INDEPENDENT MEANS OF INVESTIGATING ALLEGED MISCONDUCT OF PUBLIC OFFICIALS in the legislative and executive branches of government.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.4939, a bill to provide for EDUCATION REFORM INITIATIVES, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. Through this legislation, the General Assembly directs the State Superintendent of Education, the executive director of the Education Oversight Committee, the chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, and the chairman of the Senate Education Committee to each appoint one representative to a committee to be chaired by the appointee of the State Superintendent of Education to review the state’s education laws found in Title 59 of the South Carolina Code and report to the General Assembly on all statutes that are found to be obsolete or no longer applicable. The report must also identify all the federal education statutes and regulations with which the state of South Carolina is required to comply and include the total cost to the state for compliance. This report must be submitted by December 31, 2016, and updated at least every five years thereafter. The State Department of Education is required to develop a system for providing services and technical assistance to school districts that must include academic assistance and assistance with finances. The State Superintendent of Education must report the initial design of the system to the General Assembly by December 31, 2016, and then provide an annual progress report on the system that includes data documenting the impact of the assistance to the local school districts on student academic achievement and on high school graduation rates. Additionally, the State Department of Education is charged with monitoring the professional development of teachers, staff, and administrators in districts it determines are underperforming to ascertain what improvements and changes are necessary in accordance with the provisions of the Education Accountability Act. The department also shall monitor the operations of school boards in underperforming districts in order to determine if they are operating efficiently and effectively. These improvements and changes must be communicated to the school districts and other involved parties.
The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.4938, a joint resolution providing for a SURVEY OF THE STATE’S COLLEGE STUDENTS ON TEACHING IN RURAL AND ECONOMICALLY CHALLENGED SCHOOL DISTRICTS, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. The legislation directs the State Department of Education (SDE) and the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) to collaborate with the Commission of Higher Education in surveying students enrolled in the state’s colleges of education. This survey is to be administered to those college students who have been fully admitted into their institution’s teacher education program, and similar survey information may be obtained from students in other programs at the state’s institutions of higher learning through other means. The survey must include such questions as whether students have considered teaching in a rural and economically challenged districts and what incentives, if any, would cause them to move to, and work in, such a district. Survey results must be reported to the General Assembly by December 1, 2016.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3560, a bill revising TEACHER DISMISSAL provisions. Notably, the legislation affords school districts the option of making use of new authority to delegate the conduct of evidentiary hearings to qualified hearing officers. The legislation provides that the superintendent or his designee may meet with the teacher before issuing a notice of dismissal to discuss alternative resolutions. The parties attending this meeting must have the option of having a representative present.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.4413 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation revises SAFE HAVENS FOR ABANDONED BABIES provisions that designate locations, such as hospitals, police stations, and fire stations, where someone may leave an infant under certain circumstances without criminal penalty. The legislation requires all such locations to post a notice on the premises that prominently displays to the public that the facility, agency, or other location is a designated safe haven at which a person may leave an infant. The legislation also provides that the safe haven provisions apply to infants who are no more than sixty days old rather than the current standard of no more than thirty days old.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.4546, a bill ENHANCING REQUIREMENTS AND REVIEWS REGARDING CHILDREN PLACED IN FOSTER CARE, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. The legislation includes provisions for the Department of Social Services to normalize the lives of children in foster care by allowing a caregiver, without the department’s prior approval, to make decisions similar to those a parent would be entitled to make regarding a child’s participation in age or developmentally appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities such as sports, field trips, social activities, vacations, employment opportunities, and after school programs. In determining whether to allow a child in foster care to participate in an activity, a caregiver must exercise the reasonable and prudent parent standard. DSS must provide to a foster child a document describing the rights of the child regarding education, health, visitation, court participation, and the right to stay safe and avoid exploitation, and obtain a signed acknowledgement from the child upon receipt.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3653 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation revises the “Law Enforcement Assistance and Support Act” to include provisions for LAW ENFORCEMENT MUTUAL AID AGREEMENTS that allow for the sharing of officers and other law enforcement resources among state, county, municipal, or other agencies.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.4548, a bill addressing CLOSING FEES CHARGED BY MOTOR VEHICLE DEALERS, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. Responding to a 2015 ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court, the legislation revises provisions authorizing motor vehicle dealers to charge closing fees in motor vehicle sales for all administrative and financial work needed to transfer the motor vehicle such as compliance with all state, federal, and lender requirements, preparation and retrieval of documents, protection of the private personal information of the consumer, records retention, and storage costs. The legislation establishes a process for the Department of Consumer Affairs to review proposed closing fees to determine whether they are reasonable in amount. A motor vehicle dealer is, however, authorized to charge a closing fee of no more than two hundred twenty-five dollars per vehicle which is considered to be automatically approved as reasonable under these provisions without having to be submitted to the department for review.

The House approved S.1252 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation establishes provisions that require the State Fire Marshal to issue a license for a COMMUNITY FIREWORKS DISPLAY in a county with a population of less than thirty thousand if certain safety conditions and other requirements are met.

The House approved S.685, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation revises the provisions governing the licensure and regulation of ENGINEERS AND SURVEYORS, including: revisions to training requirements; requirements that certain members of the South Carolina State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors must be actively practicing their professions; provisions governing the operation of branch offices; and, authorization for the issuance of a waiver of licensing and credentialing requirements for up to ninety days to allow out-of-state engineers to respond to emergencies in South Carolina.

The House approved S.1177 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation revises provisions for the professional licensure of architects by replacing provisions for the “Intern Development Program” with provisions for the “ARCHITECTURAL EXPERIENCE PROGRAM”. The program allows students to receive academic credit for internship experience as a means of facilitating entry into the field of architecture.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to S.454 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation provides for the issuance of DEER HUNTING TAGS for in-state residents and non-residents. This new tagging system does not revise game zones or seasons, but it does include requirements for hunters to tag every deer taken in the state. The legislation provides for the Department of Natural Resources to issue eight doe day specific tags and three buck tags with the purchase of a South Carolina hunting license and big game permit for in-state residents. Hunters (including youth and gratis licensees) will have the option to purchase two additional buck (with four points on one side or a minimum 12-inch antler spread) tags at $5 each and/or four additional doe tags at $5 each. All funds collected from the two additional buck tags sales will go into a Coyote Management Program. With the purchase of a hunting license and big game permit, non-resident hunters will pay $50 for the first purchased antlered tag and $20 for each additional antlered tag (with a maximum purchase of four tags of which two must have size restriction). There is a $10 charge for each antlerless tag purchased. The legislation provides for antlerless and antlered deer limits to be two doe taken per day and two bucks taken per day. The Department of Natural Resources to provide a report of a four year study by July 1, 2022, to the Chairman of the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee and the Chairman of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee on such issues as the status of state’s the white tailed deer population and a review of the tagging program.

The House approved S.381, a bill addressing SERVICE CREDIT PURCHASES IN STATE RETIREMENT SYSTEMS FOR THOSE TERMINATED JUST BEFORE ATTAINING RETIREMENT ELIGIBILITY, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. The legislation provides that an active member of the South Carolina Retirement System or South Carolina Police Officers Retirement System who is terminated within one year of retirement eligibility shall have five business days after the date of termination to purchase any service credit that the member is eligible to purchase as provided in order to attain retirement eligibility.

The House approved S.933, relating to PETITIONS FOR RECEIVING A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA THAT WAS DENIED SOLELY BECAUSE OF A FAILURE TO MEET FORMER EXIT EXAM REQUIREMENTS, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation eliminates the deadline for submitting a petition to receive a high school diploma by someone who is no longer enrolled in a public school and who previously failed to receive a high school diploma or was denied graduation solely for failing to pass the exit exam that was formerly required for high school graduation. A two-year extension is provided for the report that the South Carolina Department of Education must prepare on the number of high school diplomas granted under these provisions so that the report has a deadline of January 31, 2019.

The House returned S.689, relating MOTORCYCLES AND MOPEDS, to the Senate with amendments and the Senate subsequently concurred in those amendments and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation provides that no person shall ride upon a motorcycle as a passenger unless, when sitting astride the seat, the person can reach the footrests with both feet. This provision does not apply to someone riding in a motorcycle sidecar. The legislation revises provisions for motorcycle and moped beginner’s permits, to provide that a permittee may not operate a motorcycle at any unpermitted time unless supervised by a licensed motorcycle operator 21 years old and with one year of experience. The moped requirement notes a permittee may not operate a moped at any other time unless accompanied by a licensed driver twenty one years of age or older who has at least one year of driving experience. The legislation eliminates the requirement that a parent or guardian must provide the required supervision. The accompanying driver must be within a safe viewing distance of the permittee when the permittee is operating a motorcycle or a moped.

The House approved S.1111, relating to MOTOR VEHICLE MANUFACTURERS’ LICENSE PLATES, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation revises provisions for the issuance of a standard license plate to a manufacturer for vehicles it has manufactured and which are used in a benefit program for the manufacturer’s employees or used by the manufacturer for testing, distribution, evaluation, and promotion. The legislation provides that the annual registration fee for this plate is derived by computing the average price of the vehicle manufacturer’s fleet times the property tax rates times the average millage for all purposes statewide for the preceding calendar year, and charges the Department of Revenue with determining the annual registration fee and then notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles of the adjusted fee amount, which is effective for the next two years. For 2017 and 2018, the legislation sets this license plate’s annual registration fee at seven hundred eighty nine dollars.

The House returned S.1166, a joint resolution ADDRESSING DEBT AND ACADEMIC ACCREDITATION ISSUES AT SOUTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY, to the Senate with amendments. The legislation makes provisions for the forgiveness of $12 million in state loans disbursed to South Carolina State University over the course of three years if the university meets specified benchmarks such as maintaining academic accreditation, achieving progress towards a balanced budget and positive net financial position, and meeting student enrollment growth goals. The authority for institution cost-saving mandatory employee furlough programs at the university is extended through Fiscal Year 2021 2022.

The House voted not to concur in Senate amendments to H.4492, a bill revising NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS FOR DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES CHILD PLACEMENT HEARINGS.

The House gave second reading approval to S.932, a bill providing a DEADLINE EXTENSION FOR RECEIVING CERTAIN ARMED FORCES PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT RATIOS. This bill revises provisions relating to property tax assessment ratios, so as to revise an application deadline for certain property owned by certain members of the armed forces. The legislation includes provisions for taxpayers who were qualified to receive the special assessment rate for tax year 2014 or 2015, but who missed the application deadline, to receive refunds.

The House returned S.973, a bill extending and revising provisions for DEVOTING A PORTION OF INSURANCE PREMIUM TAX REVENUES TO THE FUNDING OF FIREFIGHTING NEEDS AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES TRAINING, to the Senate with amendments. The legislation extends until June 30, 2030, the requirement for using two and one quarter percent of each year’s insurance premium tax revenues to fund emergency response needs and redistributes the revenue so that: one percent is transferred to the South Carolina Forestry Commission to be used for firefighting and firefighting equipment replacement; one percent is transferred to the aid to fire districts account within the State Treasury to be distributed to local fire departments for firefighting equipment replacement, with half of annually allocated funds to be distributed equally among the state’s fire departments and the remaining balance used to fund the V SAFE grant program for local volunteer fire departments; and, one quarter of one percent is transferred to the aid to emergency medical services regional councils within the Department of Health and Environmental Control to be used for grants to fund emergency medical technician and paramedic training.

The House returned S.280 to the Senate with amendments. This bill revises provisions relating to financial statements and net worth requirements for GENERAL CONTRACTORS AND MECHANICAL CONTRACTORS, so as to adjust and update the net worth requirements for licensure and license renewal. The legislation includes a provision to specify that a contractor’s license is not required for certain installation, repair, or maintenance of a sign or billboard.