Weekly Update 3.25.2011

This Week at the Statehouse
March 25th, 2011

House Furlough

This week the House was on furlough and will return to Columbia next week.

Angel Investment

H.3779, The Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act, is on the House Ways & Means Committee agenda for next week. The committee will meet on the afternoon of March 29th.

This legislation will allow “Angel Investors” to claim an income tax credit for providing funding to small business start-ups in our state.

Employment and Workforce

This week, the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry (LCI) Committee took up S.532, which suspends unemployment payments for anyone who applies for a position with an employer and either fails or refuses to take a drug test. After a lengthy discussion, the LCI Committee sent the bill back to subcommittee for further review.

S.591, legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (Cherokee), passed a Senate Finance subcommittee this week. The legislation would allow employers to claim a $100 per month income tax credit for every month they employ a worker who was previously collecting unemployment benefits.

In other unemployment news, a new law gives employers 10 calendar days to reply to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce’s (DEW) request for information about whether an employee quit, was laid off, was fired for cause or retired. The previous law provided 12 days.

Port Update

The South Carolina State Ports Authority announced Wednesday that port volume was up 7 percent in February compared to the same period in 2010.

Redistricting

The U.S. Census bureau released official 2010 Census data this week. South Carolina's population swelled 15.3% in the past decade to rank among the nation's 10 fastest-growing states.

To take a closer look at the new Census data for South Carolina, please click here. In addition, the SC House and Senate have set up websites to update the public on the redistricting process. For more information visit http://redistricting.schouse.gov/ or http://redistricting.scsenate.gov/.

Tort Reform

Last week, upon the motion of Sen. Larry Martin (Pickens), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, a tort reform bill H. 3375, was set for special order by a unanimous vote of the Senate. It however, was not taken up this week in the Senate. In its current form, H.3375 is business-negative after the Senate Judiciary Committee amended it and watered down specific business-positive aspects of the legislation.

Specifically, many allied groups in the business community, including the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Civil Justice Coalition, oppose an amendment to the cap on punitive damages, which renders the cap essentially meaningless. South Carolina is the only southeastern state without a cap on punitive damages. In addition, the business community supports requiring circuit court solicitors to seek the approval of the Attorney General before bringing civil actions. The Senate Judiciary Committee amendment raises the fees paid to outside counsel, resulting in a windfall to private attorneys at the expense of taxpayers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s version makes the admissibility of the non-use of a seat belt complicated and ineffective in most cases. The House-passed language regarding the admissibility of the non-use of a seat belt in civil cases that is supported by the business community.

The legislative repeal of the Branham v. Ford Motor Company decision is also strongly opposed by the business community. The committee amendment would place South Carolina in a small minority of states that employ the consumer expectations test. The amendment also ignores a unanimous Supreme Court ruling and the practice of trial and appellate courts of South Carolina. The business community is also concerned about the amendment’s impact on the state’s ability to grow its cluster of automotive manufacturing businesses and jobs.

It is imperative the full Senate return the bill to the versions introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (Cherokee), Senate Rules Committee Chairman Larry Martin (Pickens) and House Speaker Bobby Harrell (Charleston).

Upcoming Events

The South Carolina Senate Redistricting Subcommittee will hold a Upstate public input meeting concerning the 2011 redistricting of the state’s 46 state Senate and U.S. Congressional districts from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on March 31 in the Greenville County Council chambers, 301 University Ridge (County Square), Greenville.