2014 Legislative Recap

 

2014 Legislative Recap

Your Chamber of Commerce has been at the State House advocating on behalf of you and your business as the SC General Assembly wrapped up the second half of its two-year legislative session. Unfortunately, election year politics played a major role in what was and wasn’t accomplished this year. As a result, the business community’s number one priority – transportation and infrastructure funding – was largely overlooked. However, there were several major issues that were debated and decided, in 2014. Here’s a look back:

 

Budget – This year’s budget included various education funding measures (including 4K expansion, $35 million for reading coaches and camps, and money for STEM education), pay raises for state employees, and maintenance of the Local Government Fund at the same level as last year. Dedicated funding for SC’s crumbling infrastructure and highway system was not included.

Certificate of Need – This spring, the State Supreme Court ruled that the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control must continue to enforce the Certificate of Need (CON) law, regulating the plans of hospitals and nursing homes to expand or build facilities. Governor Haley vetoed the funding for the CON law in last year’s budget, leaving the program’s future uncertain. Healthcare facilities and businesses that acted without a CON over the past year may be at risk of having to start the process over, potentially costing significant time, jobs, and dollars.

Common Core – H. 3893 kept the current Common Core State Standards in place for math, as well as English and language arts for the next school year. During that time, a review will be completed, with new, state-developed standards mandated to be in place by the 2015-16 school year. The new standards and revisions must be approved by the Education Oversight Committee and the General Assembly.

Department of Administration – S.22  created a Department of Administration that reports directly to the Governor and handles administrative functions of government. The newly created department includes an executive budget and screening planning office, general services, and consolidated human resources. It also creates a new Legislative Services Agency that will be responsible for all fiscal and revenue impact statements.

Election Reform – This legislation (S. 815) is the biggest election reform measure passed in a decade, requiring counties to merge election and voter registration functions, mandating that state elections officials check vote totals in all 46 counties, and allowing the State Election Commission to oversee county offices.

Ethics – H. 3945, legislation dealing with ethics reform, languished for months in committee after passing the House and the Senate early in the session. The final version of the bill was held up in the Senate. It would have required public officials and candidates to disclose their forms of personal income and banned political action committees (PACs) tied to lawmakers, but it did not make changes to oversight and investigations of lawmakers. This legislation and similar bills have been debated for years, but ultimately a compromise has never been reached or passed.

GED Alternative/Exit Exam – H. 4840, the High School Equivalency Diploma Accessibility Act, requires that the State Board of Education offer an alternative to the GED for individuals looking to receive a high school equivalency diploma. H.3919, the Elimination of High School Exit Exam, will require high school juniors to take a college and career readiness assessment, in addition to a WorkKeys assessment.

Guns in Bars/Restaurants – S.308 allows people who possesses concealed weapons permits (CWPs)  to carry concealed weapons into bars or restaurants as long as they do not drink alcohol. Businesses are given the option to post signs that ban firearms on their property.

Nullification – H.3101, the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA) Nullification bill, or “anti-commandeering” bill, intended to make implementation of the ACA in South Carolina next to impossible. Members of the business community, including the SC Chamber of Commerce and SC Hospital Association, pushed back, believing it would have increased hardships on businesses that provide health insurance for employees and created uncertainty around healthcare regulations.

Brewery/Stone Bill – This brewery bill (H. 3512), a compromise between brewers and wholesalers, makes major changes to last year’s “pint law.” The legislation will allow a brewery to sell an unlimited amount of beer on site in conjunction with restaurant service but does not change the state’s three-tier system that requires producers to sell their beer through wholesalers. Legislators and economic developers hope this bill will help attract large brewery operations to South Carolina.

Read to Succeed/4K Expansion – S. 516 helps ensure that all children read at an adequate level at the end of third grade. Any students not reading at the third grade level will be required to spend a remedial year with rigorous reading training. Signed by the Governor, the new law offers summer reading camps to children, additional reading instruction for teachers, and includes an expansion of 4K.

Solar Power – S.1189  aims to diversify utility companies’ energy generation portfolio by creating targets for renewable energy, providing protections for rate payers and allowing regulated utilities to recover costs associated with renewable energy production. The bill drew complaints from groups outside of SC, but interested internal parties worked together over the past year to find common ground.

Texting While Driving Ban – S. 459 bans texting while driving statewide and supersedes all local ordinances. The bill was a compromise between a novice driver ban and a more stringent version.

Transportation and Infrastructure Funding – Unfortunately, there was no movement on road funding legislation this year, and dedicated funding for SC’s crumbling infrastructure and highway system was notably missing from the budget. Last year’s efforts to address the state’s dire infrastructure needs proved to be just a starting point, and the business community urged the Legislature to continue working toward solving our state’s road funding needs. A comprehensive transportation and infrastructure funding bill that contained a host of funding proposals (H. 3412) was never debated in the Senate.