Weekly Update 4.15.2011

This Week at the Statehouse
April 15th, 2011

Angel Investment

H.3779, the “Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act,” passed the House this week by a vote of 78-18. The bill received first reading in the Senate yesterday and was assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. This legislation will allow “Angel Investors” to claim an income tax credit for providing funding to small business start-ups in our state.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell made the following comments after the bill's passage, “This bill directly addresses the most important issue facing our state for the next two decades -- jobs,” he said. “Thriving small businesses and entrepreneurs will play a critical role in our state’s economic recovery. The ‘Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act’ will give private sector businesses better access to the capital they need to get off the ground, expand and create jobs.”

Budget

The Senate Finance Committee wrapped up work on the $5.3 billion budget late Thursday. The full Senate is expected to take up the budget during the week of April 25th.

Employment and Workforce

S.591, Senator Harvey Peeler's (Cherokee) bill that would give state tax credit for employers hiring an unemployed individual receiving unemployment compensation benefits, has received favorable rating in the Senate Finance Committee.

Furlough Week Ahead

The House will take next week (April 18-22) off as a furlough week. They will reconvene on Tuesday, April 26th. The Senate will meet next Tuesday and Wednesday but will take Thursday, April 21st off.

Medical School Expansion

The S.C. Commission on Higher Education met this week and announced a time-line for their review of the expansion of the University of S.C. Medical University to Greenville. The CHE will begin their review process on Thursday, May 12th. The CHE will also meet on May 19th and then wrap up discussion on June 2nd.

Port Update

Harbor Deepening Study
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman Tim Scott (S.C. 1st Congressional District) held a press conference this week to discuss funding for a harbor deepening study.  Senator Graham and Congressman Scott said that they would do anything necessary to ensure that the Port of Charleston moves forward with a harbor deepening study this year.  In addition, U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said Thursday the Port of Charleston is the “most needy” of 12 ports seeking federal help for dredging and other activities, and he pledged support to find funding before the end of this fiscal year. U.S. Senator Jim DeMint has introduced legislation to change the Army Corps’ funding practices, and the measure is co-sponsored by Senator Graham.

S.C. State Ports Authority Board
Gov. Nikki Haley has announced her nominees for the State Ports Authority Board, choosing Pamela Lackey, Patrick McKinney and Henry McMaster. Lackey is the president of AT&T South Carolina and is also the Chairwoman of the S.C. Centers of Economic Excellence Review Board and serves on the board of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, among other boards.  McKinney is a developer who lives in Charleston. He served on the S.C. Board of Education from 1987 to 1990 and is on the board of trustees for Furman University. Henry McMaster was the state’s Attorney General from 2003 until 2011. The three are awaiting Senate confirmation.

Redistricting

The South Carolina House Redistricting Subcommittee held its Upstate public input meeting concerning the 2011 redistricting of the state’s 124 S.C. House Districts and U.S. Congressional Districts this week in Greenville. More than 200 Upstate residents attended Wednesday evening's meeting. Both the House and Senate are finishing up a series of public hearings across the state.

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

Debate on H.3375, tort reform legislation, continued this week with no resolution. The business community urges the Senate to restore the legislation to versions introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (Cherokee), Senate Rules Committee Chairman Larry Martin (Pickens) and House Speaker Bobby Harrell (Charleston).

The current bill, which was amended in committee, has several provisions that are opposed by the business community. One specific provision is the amendment to the cap on punitive damages, which renders the cap essentially meaningless. S.C. is the only Southeastern state without a cap on punitive damages. Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s version of the legislation renders the admissibility of the non-use of seat belts complicated and ineffective in most cases. The legislative repeal of the Branham v. Ford Motor Company decision is also strongly opposed and would place South Carolina in a small minority of states that employs the consumer expectations test.

With the state budget and redistricting still to be debated in the Senate, there is now intense pressure and need to get a strong tort reform bill through the Senate as soon as possible. Other states have continued to improve their civil litigation climates – South Carolina does not need to wait another year!

Unemployment Insurance

House
The House Ad Hoc subcommittee met yesterday regarding UI (this committee was put together by Chairman Cooper to look at the UI issue). There was discussion about scenario 23 which would postpone paying the federal loan back for 2 years and provide approximately 30% relief to the tiers 13-20. While the majority of the subcommittee members appeared to support scenario 23, the subcommittee decided to come back in two weeks (after furlough week) to continue discussion.

Once the Ad Hoc subcommittee makes a recommendation, the skeletal bill that Chairman Cooper introduced could come up on the House floor. Then, that recommended scenario or another proposal can be offered as an amendment. There is currently a hold on the House calendar for that bill.

Senate
Scenario 23 was not adopted by the Senate LCI Committee, so there is a good chance that it would face objection and opposition if it makes it to the Senate. Senators are also working on an amendment to their bill (S.478) that, in June 2012, would reduce unemployment benefits by 20-30%. The savings to the state could potentially go to provide some relief to businesses and/or be applied to the debt. S.478 has not been placed on the Senate calendar yet.