February 3, 2023

The House passed on third reading, and sent the Senate, H. 3503, with amendments, a bill to establish and enhance criminal penalties for trafficking or distributing fentanyl, or fentanyl-related substances, which would be considered Schedule I drugs. Anyone possessing over 4 grams of fentanyl would trigger these new criminal enforcement penalties.

As amended, first time offenders with four grams or more, but less than 14 grams, of fentanyl would face mandatory minimum jailtime sentences of 10 years, and maximum incarceration for 25 years. A fine of $50,000 would also be levied. Second and subsequent offenders trafficking these amounts potentially face a minimum of 25 years in jail and a fine of $100,000.

Second or subsequent, offenders with 14, but less than 28, grams of fentanyl would face a minimum 25 years in jail and a fine of $100,000. Subsequent offenders with 28, or more, grams of fentanyl would face a minimum of 25 years in jail and up to a maximum of 40 years incarcerated once convicted. All these categories of subsequent offenders also would be fined $200,000.

No part of any of these listed sentences or fines could be suspended by a judge. Judges also could not put these offenders on probation.

The House of Representatives approved S. 381, providing for the ratification of the State Constitutional Amendment enhancing financial reserve funds, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation provides for the ratification of the amendment to the South Carolina Constitution approved by the state’s voters at the 2022 general election to enhance the state financial reserve funds that are used to cope with revenue shortfalls. The amendment provides for the state’s General Reserve Fund, currently set at 5 percent of General Fund revenue of the latest completed fiscal year, to be increased each year by 0.5% until it equals 7 percent of such revenue. The amendment increases the state’s Capital Reserve Fund from 2 percent to 3 percent of General Fund revenue and provides that the first use of the Capital Reserve Fund must be to offset midyear budget reductions.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H. 3605, a bill addressing the screening of applicants for professional and occupational licenses and the investigation of complaints filed against those who hold such licenses. The legislation provides that a professional or occupational board under the authority of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation may not solely or in part deny a license to an applicant because of a prior criminal conviction, unless the criminal conviction directly relates to the duties, responsibilities, or fitness of the occupation or profession for which the applicant is seeking a license. Boards are prohibited from using vague or generic terms, such as “moral turpitude” or “good character”, nor may they consider charges that have been dismissed or dropped or that have resulted in a finding of not guilty as a justification for denying an applicant a license. An applicant who has submitted a completed application may not be denied a license because of a prior criminal conviction unless the licensing board has given the applicant an opportunity to appear at a hearing to determine the applicant’s fitness for the occupation or profession. When a license is solely or in part denied because of the applicant’s prior criminal history, the board must, within thirty days of the hearing, issue a written final order that includes the grounds for denial and notification that appeals are to be made to the Administrative Law Court. The legislation revises provisions governing the investigation of professional and occupational licensees when complaints have been filed against them. Within 30 days after an investigation is initiated, the LLR Director is responsible for sending: (1) a letter advising the licensee that a complaint has been filed, an investigation has been initiated, and the licensee is requested to respond in writing within 14 days; (2) a copy of the complaint; (3) the name of the complainant, unless the board believes good cause exists to withhold the name; and (4) all materials filed with the complaint. In any case where an investigation prompts a licensing board to recommend a formal complaint, the legislation requires a procedural review in which the LLR Director is charged with verifying that notification requirements have been fulfilled and that any response from the licensee has been included and considered in the investigative file. Any procedural defects that the Director finds during the review must be rectified before a formal complaint can be issued.

The House approved and sent the Senate H. 3614, the “Rate Payer Protection Act”, which affords employees of public utilities whistleblower protections so that they might not refrain from reporting wrongdoing out of fear of retaliation. The legislation prohibits a public utility from dismissing, demoting, or taking other adverse employment actions against an employee who has, in good faith, reported waste, fraud, abuse, or other wrongdoing by the public utility to the Office of Regulatory Staff. Remedies are established should a public utility retaliate against an employee who acts as a whistleblower.

The House gave third reading, and sent to the Senate, H. 3122, a bill repealing outdated statutory requirements for the Attorney General to inspect local county offices and to approve all easements or other access agreements to be signed by officials with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.
Third reading was given to H. 3209 permit expiration extensions. It would allow permits by the South Carolina Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Department of Health and Environmental Control, the State, other agencies, or subdivisions of South Carolina that were issued on January 1, 2018, or later, and set to expire during the COVID-19 declared emergency, to remain in effect until December 31, 2023. As amended, covered permits also include development approvals for providing water or wastewater removal services, and air quality permits.