2017 LEGISLATIVE OVERVIEW
During the first year of the 122nd South Carolina General Assembly, lawmakers approved comprehensive infrastructure funding and governance legislation (H.3516) that includes reform measures for the operation of the Department of Transportation and provides, along with $105 million in ongoing yearly tax relief, new, recurring revenue sources to allow an additional $625 million each year for addressing South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and supporting the infrastructure system needed for public safety, quality of life, and economic development. In order to increase infrastructure funding by an estimated $177 million in the first year and an estimated $625 million a year upon full implementation, the legislation increases existing fees and establishes new fees to allow for more effective collection of revenue from all those who make use of South Carolina’s roads, including out-of-state residents and businesses. The legislation provides for an increase in the state’s motor fuel user fee of 12 cents a gallon that is phased in gradually with an increase of 2 cents each year over the course of six years. The increase is expected to generate $69 million in the first year and ultimately allow for an additional $480 million each year for the state’s roads. An increase is phased in for the C-Funds that are distributed to counties which ultimately allows for an additional $53 million a year for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to the state secondary highway system. Provisions are included for a $50 million DOT Rural Road Safety Program. A $16 dollar increase is provided for the state’s biennial motor vehicle registration fees to generate an estimated $25 million a year. New fees are established for vehicles that make little or no use of the gasoline and other motor fuels that have been the traditional revenue source for infrastructures needs. Biennial fees of $60 for hybrid vehicles and $120 for electric vehicles are established to generate an estimated $1.35 million a year. The state’s motor vehicle sales tax is replaced with an infrastructure maintenance fee. For a vehicle purchased in South Carolina, the one-time infrastructure maintenance fee is set at 5% with a cap of $500 and is collected by dealers at the point of sale. The fee is expected to generate $74 million each year. For a vehicle purchased in another state and registered in South Carolina, the one-time fee is set at 5% with a $250 cap. Collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles upon initial registration, the fee is expected to produce $20 million a year in previously uncaptured revenue. Active duty military, spouses, and dependents are exempt from this fee for transferring vehicles into the state. In order to collect revenue from out-of-state truckers, a motor carrier road use fee is imposed on large commercial vehicles that is expected to generate $9 million a year in new revenue. Almost all of the new revenue generated by the legislation is to be deposited in a newly-created Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to be used by the Department of Transportation only for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to the existing transportation system. The legislation includes a restructuring of the Commission overseeing the South Carolina Department of Transportation that retains the commission’s geographical representation and adds an additional at-large position, with all nine DOT commissioners appointed by the Governor, subject to a legislative approval process. All nine DOT commissioners serve at the Governor’s pleasure and may be removed without legislative approval. Provisions are included to remove the Commission from decisions involving the day-to-day operations of the Department of Transportation. To prevent conflicts of interest, Commissioners are prohibited from participating in such matters as awarding contracts and selecting consultants. As the state’s fees on gasoline and other motor fuels are gradually increased, a Motor Fuel User Fee Rebate program is established that allows a refundable income tax credit that covers the amount of the increased motor fuel user fee or the amount spent on preventative maintenance, whichever is less. Phased in over several years, the rebate program is capped at $114 million in the sixth year and is scheduled to expire in 2023, unless it is reauthorized. A non-refundable tax credit is provided for lower income workers. Phased in over the course of six years, the credit is expected to provide $43 million a year in tax relief when fully implemented. The state’s dual wage earner cap is gradually increased over the course of six years from $30,000 to $50,000. When fully implemented, the increase is expected to provide $19 million in tax relief each year. The refundable tuition tax credit is increased from 25% to 50%, capped at $1,500, for both four-year and two-year higher education institutions. The increase is ultimately expected to provide $7 million in tax relief each year. The legislation provides for a manufacturing property tax adjustment from 10.5% to 9% over a six-year period. Ultimately expected to provide $35.8 million in tax relief each year, the state is responsible for reimbursing up to $85 million in lost local revenue.
Legislators approved (H.3352) 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 and revises fees that government bodies may charge for copying documents and other compliance costs to better ensure that they do not become prohibitively expensive. Enforcement provisions are revised in an effort to make them more effective. The rarely-utilized misdemeanor criminal penalty for FOIA violations is eliminated and unfulfilled FOIA requests may instead be pursued through civil actions. The legislation makes provisions for expedited hearings in the circuit court for FOIA lawsuits brought to compel a government body to provide access to public documents.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3221) that establishes a statewide program for addressing unsound school district finances which affords the State Department of Education authority that extends beyond academic matters to include fiscal affairs. Provisions are made for three escalating levels of budgetary concern so that the State Superintendent of Education can declare a ‘fiscal watch’, a ‘fiscal caution’, and a ‘fiscal emergency’ with regard to school district finances. The succeeding levels of budgetary concern carry increasingly stringent requirements for school district recovery plans, audits, and inspections as well as more intensive technical support from the state department. Should a school district’s finances warrant the most severe level of concern, prompting the State Superintendent of Education to declare a ‘fiscal emergency’, the State Department of Education is authorized to take intensive steps including assuming control over the district’s financial operations to preclude a default on any type of debt and prevent further decline in the district’s finances.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.3220) reestablishing the South Carolina Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council to review the progress, results, and compliance with the Education and Economic Development Act and to make recommendations for better achieving the act’s goals of implementing career pathways in the state’s public schools and fostering a better prepared workforce and student success in postsecondary education.
School performance ratings were revised in legislation (H.3969) establishing a single public education accountability system that meets both state and federal requirements. Under the uniform provisions, a school’s report card measures the combined academic performance of its student body using the ratings Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3358) that provides a framework for issuing and renewing state driver’s licenses and identification cards to bring South Carolina into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. In order to comply with federal mandates, the legislation: transitions South Carolina licenses from a ten-year to an eight-year renewal cycle; provides for the inclusion of a Department of Homeland Security approved image (a star) for marking compliant state licenses or IDs; and, makes provisions for scanning and retaining copies of original personal documents like birth certificates, social security cards and proof of residency that are required for establishing personal identity. The legislation provides an individual the option of obtaining a noncompliant driver’s license or identification card lacking the star emblem from the SC Department of Motor Vehicles, with the understanding that the credential will not satisfy security requirements at places, such as federal office buildings, military bases, and airports where REAL ID compliant documents are needed.
The “Retirement System Funding and Administration Act” (H.3726) was approved to implement recommendations of the joint legislative committee formed to study the unfunded liability facing the state’s pensions and propose changes that could allow the systems to remain viable by continuing to deliver benefits to retirees without undermining the state’s finances. The legislation removes limitations that keep increases in employer and employee contribution rates linked to one another for the largest pension plan, the South Carolina Retirement System which serves most state government employees, teachers, various local government employees, and others, and for the Police Officers Retirement System and provides for enhanced contributions into these systems. In the first year of the legislation’s financial restoration schedule, employer contribution rates for these systems are increased by 2%, so that the SCRS employer contribution rate increases from the current 11.56% to 13.56% and the PORS employer contribution rate increases from the current 14.24% to 16.24%. In each of the following five years, a 1% increase is scheduled for these employer contribution rates. The legislation raises and places a cap on the employee contribution rates for these systems with the SCRS employee contribution rate increasing from the current 8.66% to 9% and the PORS employee contribution rate increasing from the current 9.24% to 9.75%. The assumed rate of return on pension plan investments is reduced from 7.5% to 7.25%. The legislation makes provisions for future changes to the assumed rate of return to be recommended by the Public Employee Benefit Authority, with the General Assembly afforded an opportunity to disagree with PEBA’s recommendation prior to the new rate taking effect. Drawing upon findings of South Carolina’s Legislative Audit Council and the private firm that conducted the independent audit of the state’s pension systems, the legislation implements recommendations for simplifying lines of authority and improving the governance and management of the retirement systems. The legislation clarifies the organizational structure of the Public Employee Benefit Authority. The Retirement System Investment Commission is restructured and prohibitions are included regarding lobbyists, placements agents, and investments in which a commissioner, or an immediate family member, has an interest. The investment commission is also subject to new fee reporting requirements.
The General Assembly approved the $27 billion Fiscal Year 2017-2018 State Government Budget (H.3720, H.3721) which includes $8 billion in recurring state general fund revenue, $95 million in nonrecurring state funds, and $139 million in Capital Reserve Funds. The Capital Reserve Fund is utilized to supply South Carolina’s share in Federal Emergency Management Agency natural disaster recovery efforts, with $68 million provided for the state’s FEMA match for Hurricane Matthew and $1.25 million provided for the FEMA match for the Pinnacle Mountain fire. $700,000 of these Hurricane Matthew FEMA match funds are allotted to the Town of Nichols which suffered particular devastation during the storm’s floods. $5 million in nonrecurring funds is provided for statewide coastal beach renourishment. $150 million is devoted to the initial 2% increase in the employer contribution rates for the South Carolina Retirement System and the Police Officers Retirement System that is in keeping with the schedule for addressing the unfunded liability facing the state’s pensions enacted in the Retirement System Funding and Administration Act. The funds cover the entire 2% increase for state employees and Education Improvement Act obligations as well as 1% of the employer contribution increase for all others so that local governments and other employers that participate in these state pension systems will be responsible for funding only half of this 2% increase in employer contribution rates. $25.4 million is included to cover the increased costs of operating the state's health insurance and dental plans with no increases in the premiums paid by employees. For K-12 public education, $60 million is used to increase the base student cost by $75 to arrive at $2,425 per pupil. The Abbeville Equity Districts Capital Improvement Plan is afforded $55.8 million in nonrecurring funds to be allocated by the Department of Education for funding school facility upgrades at the plaintiff school districts in the Abbeville education law suit and any other school districts with a poverty index of at least eighty percent. Funding is to be used for construction or renovation of such instructional facilities as classrooms, libraries, media centers, laboratories, cafeterias, and physical education spaces, as well as for health and safety improvements and technology upgrades inside school facilities. $1.3 million is provided to technology upgrades in the education lawsuit the plaintiff school districts. $19.4 million in Education Improvement Act funds is included to address S.C. Public Charter School District growth. The budget includes $2 million in recurring funds for leasing and $3 million in nonrecurring funds for purchasing new school buses. $3 million is allocated to help fund the cost of industry certification exams so that students in vocational programs will not have to bear the full cost of obtaining the certifications needed for pursuing their chosen careers. Full funding is provided for the LIFE, HOPE, and Palmetto Fellows higher education scholarship programs. $8 million is appropriated for Workforce Scholarships to provide grants for tuition, fees, transportation, or textbook expenses to South Carolinians enrolled in career education programs at technical schools or professional certification programs. $10 million in recurring funds is divided among the state’s four-year and two-year public institutions of higher learning. The Board of Technical and Comprehensive Education is afforded $4.8 million to be divided among the state’s technical colleges, $9.6 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for worker training through the Ready SC Program at the state’s technical colleges, and $3 million from the Education Lottery for Allied Health career training. $4.8 million in recurring funds and $16.1 million in nonrecurring funds is provided for the Deal Closing Fund that the Department of Commerce uses to recruit new business to the state. The Department of Commerce is afforded appropriations of $8 million in nonrecurring funds, $4 million in recurring funds, and $5 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for the Locate SC Site Inventory, $2 million in nonrecurring funds for applied research centers, $300,000 in nonrecurring funds for IT-ology Coursepower, $400,000 in recurring funds for small business development centers, $350,000 in recurring funds for international strategy and trade, $150,000 in recurring funds for the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development, $250,000 in nonrecurring funds for non-community development block grant disaster recovery from the 2015 flood, and $500,000 in nonrecurring funds for the Military Base Task Force. $1 million in nonrecurring funds is provided for the Jasper Ocean Terminal. The Department of Agriculture is afforded $650,000 in nonrecurring funds for consumer protection equipment, $1.25 million in recurring funds for agribusiness development grants to increase the available of fresh fruits and vegetables in underprivileged urban communities, and $1 million in recurring funds to expand “Certified SC” marketing of the state’s produce. The Local Government Fund receives $10 million in recurring funds to increase its funding level to $222 million. The Department of Health and Human Services is afforded $45.4 million in recurring funds to address Medicaid program cost growth. $8.8 million is provided from the Capital Reserve Fund for a Medicaid Management Information System. The budget furthers efforts to enhance provider capacity in underserved communities through such initiatives as physician residency placements in rural areas. $4 million in nonrecurring funds is provided for a Rural Hospital Transformation Plan and $2 million in recurring funds is provided for a Rural Health Initiative partnership between DHHS and the USC School of Medicine to improve access to life-saving emergency room care in the wake of rural hospital closures. The state’s telemedicine network is afforded $9 million through its proviso and a $2 million increase in recurring funds. The Area Health Education Consortium is afforded $167,000 in recurring funds for the rural primary provider program that awards grants to physicians who agree to work in underserved rural settings. The Medical University of South Carolina Hospital Authority receives $3 million in recurring funds to begin the process of reestablishing an Adult Burn Unit in the state, and $750,000 in recurring funds for statewide health innovations. The Department of Health and Environmental Control receives $4.9 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for its dam safety inspection and permitting program, $3.2 million in recurring funds for its data center infrastructure, $3.8 million in recurring funds for electronic medical records, and $1 million in recurring funds for Best Chance Network/Colon Cancer early detection screenings. The Department of Mental Health receives $11 million for forensics and the Sexually Violent Predator Program and $500,000 for school-based services. The Department of Disabilities and Special Needs receives $9 million in recurring funds to increase front-line staff salaries. The Forestry Commission receives $1 million in nonrecurring funds for firefighter safety and public protection equipment and $300,000 in recurring funds for firefighter personnel. The Attorney General’s Office receives $618,860 for Internet crimes against children and violent sex crimes prosecution. The State Law Enforcement Division is provided $406,910 in recurring funds for law enforcement officer rank change, $488,000 in recurring funds for officer overtime, $1 million in recurring funds for vehicle rotation, and $829,665 in recurring funds and $448,000 in nonrecurring funds for counter terrorism and arson personnel. The Department of Public Safety is appropriated recurring funds in the amounts of $180,720 for information technology security positions, $88,000 for network infrastructure needs, $939,600 for in-car video cameras, and $700,000 in recurring funds for local law enforcement grants. The Department of Corrections receives $5.4 million in recurring dollars for its correctional officer hiring rate adjustment and retention plan to reduce turnover rate at the agency. The Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services is provided $1.1 million in recurring funds for its agent vehicle support plan and $1.2 million in recurring funds for domestic violence specialized caseload. The Department of Juvenile Justice receives $502,375 in recurring funds for its correctional officer hiring rate adjustment and retention plan to reduce turnover rate at the agency. The Criminal Justice Academy receives $550,400 in recurring funds for law enforcement psychological screening. The Department of Natural Resources is allocated $4.1 million in recurring funds for law enforcement salary realignment. Clemson PSA receives $1.2 million for the statewide extension program and $1.1 million to enhance agriculture and natural resources programs and facilities. South Carolina State PSA receives $849,341 for 1890 matching funds. The Division of Information Security at the Department of Administration receives $2 million in recurring funds for enterprise technology and remediation to enhance threat prevention and detection measures at state agencies. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism receives $2.2 million in nonrecurring funds to address revenue loss at coastal state parks due to Hurricane Matthew. $3 million in nonrecurring funds is provided for the Parks and Recreation Development Fund which is used for awarding grants to fund improvements at local government parks and recreational facilities. A $1 million increase is provided for state aid to county libraries. The Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging receives $23,450 in recurring funds for the Vulnerable Adult Guardian Ad Litem Program and $400,000 in recurring funds for family caregiver services that allow seniors to remain in their homes and avoid the more expensive alternative of institutional care.
Lawmakers approved comprehensive statutory revisions regarding mopeds (H.3247). The legislation establishes new requirements for registering and licensing mopeds with the Department of Motor Vehicles and provides for safety measures such as a requirement for the vehicle’s lights to be turned on while in operation. Restrictions are imposed to govern how mopeds travel on the state’s roads, including provisions that limit mopeds to a maximum operating speed of thirty‑five miles per hour and prohibit their operation on roads that have a speed limit greater than fifty‑five miles per hour. The legislation replaces the multiple, sometimes conflicting, definitions for mopeds currently found in statutes with a single new definition and makes other revisions to allow for greater consistency in the way that the laws governing motor vehicles, including DUI offenses, are applied to mopeds.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.4033) establishing the offense of endangering a highway worker while driving in a highway work zone and failing to obey traffic control devices or traveling in undesignated lanes. The legislation establishes an array of penalties for violations, including a fine of not more than $5,000 when the driver causes a highway worker to suffer great bodily injury.
The General Assembly revised motor vehicle child passenger safety seat requirements by approving legislation (H.3864) that updates age, weight, size, and position specifications for lawfully securing infants and children in approved motor vehicle child safety seats. Child passenger safety restraint system requirements provide for a progression from rear-facing seats for infants, to forward-facing seats, to belt‑positioning booster seats, and ultimately, when a child is at least eight years old or at least fifty‑seven inches tall, to a properly fitting adult safety seat belt.
Lawmakers approved requirements (H.3824) for conducting a review of a patient’s controlled substance prescription history before a physician or other health care practitioner may issue a prescription for Schedule II controlled substances, such as opioid medications. Training on prescription medication monitoring is included in continuing education requirements for health care professionals.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.179) establishing certain legal immunity while seeking medical assistance for a drug or alcohol overdose as a means of encouraging individuals to obtain life-saving treatment for themselves or others.
Legislators made provisions (H.3817) for more expansive law enforcement controlled substance take‑back programs by allowing pharmacies, narcotic treatment programs, and certain others to register as collection centers for unused prescription drugs as a means of preventing substance abuse by keeping opioids and other potentially dangerous prescription drugs out of the wrong hands.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.354) to make provisions for Department of Mental Health crisis stabilization unit facilities where individuals entering hospital emergency rooms suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues may be transferred to begin receiving such appropriate care as psychiatric stabilization and detoxification services.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.173) requiring continuing education on mental health issues for law enforcement officers that includes training on such topics as responding to situations where individuals are experiencing a mental health or addictive disorder crisis. The legislation also makes provisions for training and counseling regarding law enforcement officers who are experiencing post‑traumatic stress disorder.
Lawmakers approved legislation (S.344) that provides those who have been medically diagnosed with autism the option of including an autism designation on driver’s licenses and special identification cards as a way of reducing the likelihood of law enforcement officers misinterpreting movements and behavior during traffic stops and other interactions.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3041) enhancing criminal background check requirements for real estate licensure by implementing fingerprint-based screening and by requiring these background checks not only for initial licensures but also for licensure renewals under a six-year cycle that requires screening with every third renewal. The legislation also expands the grounds that the Real Estate Commission may use to deny licensure or take disciplinary action so that they also include failure to disclose civil judgments arising from fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit.
The “South Carolina Crime Victim Services Act” (S.289) was approved to restructure the state’s various crime victim services programs by consolidating them into a division of the Attorney General’s Office.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.3719) expanding the State Forester’s authority to prohibit open burning in the interest of protecting the public from potentially devastating wildfires. The legislation authorizes the State Forester to prohibit all open burning regardless of whether a permit or notification is required, including campfires, bonfires, and other fires for recreational purposes.
The “Persons with Disabilities Right to Parent Act” (H.3538) was approved to establish provisions that parental rights cannot be terminated solely on the basis of a parent’s disability. To avoid removal of a child from the home of a parent or legal guardian with a disability, the legislation requires that reasonable efforts and accommodations must be made that are individualized and based upon specific disabilities.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3034) revising eligibility criteria for in-state higher education tuition rates for veterans and their dependents to bring state law into conformity with federal G.I. Bill provisions for scholarship assistance.
Lawmakers authorized (H.3256) special license plates for recipients of the Palmetto Cross Medal, which is a National Guard award presented by the Adjutant General in the name of the Governor to South Carolina citizens, military or civilian, who have distinguished themselves conspicuously by extraordinary heroism at the risk of their own lives, or who have performed exceptionally outstanding service to make a lasting contribution to the state or nation.
The General Assembly made provisions for electronic insurance documents through the passage of legislation (H.3488) that includes authorization for insurers to deliver, store, or present evidence of insurance coverage by electronic means and provisions that afford consumers the option of receiving and signing notices and documents electronically.
Lawmakers approved legislation (S.9) eliminating the medical expense insurance policy exclusion for intoxication so that insurers are no longer afforded the option of denying hospital, medical, and surgical expense coverage in accident and sickness policies because the insured is intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.3132) that revises the licensure and oversight of hospice programs which offer medically supervised palliative and supportive care for terminally ill patients and their families. The legislation revises hospice program licensure and regulation with the Department of Health and Environmental Control to establish new provisions governing the operation of multiple locations in addition to a hospice program’s primary office and the expansion of a hospice program beyond its licensed geographic service area into additional counties. The legislation includes requirements for the proper disposal of certain controlled substance unused medications upon the death of someone who has been receiving outpatient services from a hospice.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.218) prohibiting local governments from requiring an employee benefit. The legislation revises labor and employment provisions, by providing that counties, municipalities, and other political subdivisions of this state may not require an employer to offer an employee benefit, such as health benefits, disability benefits, retirement benefits, paid holidays, paid sick or vacation leave, or profit‑sharing arrangements. The legislation does not limit the authority of political subdivisions to establish benefits for their own employees.
The General Assembly authorized local government employee participation in the State Health Plan by approving legislation (S.61) that revises eligibility provisions to allow employees and retirees, along with their dependents, of any of the state’s counties, municipalities, or other political subdivisions to participate in the health insurance plan that serves state government employees.
The “Pyramid Promotional Scheme Prohibition Act” (H.3883) was approved to revise the way that the state’s laws address money-making schemes where payment is based primarily upon recruiting others into the operation rather than selling products or services. The legislation designates a pyramid promotional scheme as an unfair trade practice, entitling victims to obtain legal relief under the provisions of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.3215) that creates the criminal offense of impersonating a lawyer and provides for graduated penalties that range from misdemeanors for initial violations to felonies for certain subsequent violations.
The South Carolina Industrial Hemp Program (H.3559) was established to allow residents of the state to cultivate the agricultural crop for potential use in such varied products as cloth, construction materials, cordage, fiber, food, fuel, paint, paper, particleboard, and plastics. The program includes such provisions as criminal background screening for those who apply to the Department of Agriculture for permits and authority for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to conduct inspections. Periodic laboratory testing is required to screen industrial hemp crops for the narcotic substance found in marijuana. Samples with unlawfully high levels of the chemical must be destroyed. Criminal penalties are established to address the cultivation of industrial hemp as a means of disguising marijuana production or distribution operations.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3531) that imposes restrictions on the ownership of large wild cats, non-native bears and great apes as a means of furthering conservation efforts for the welfare of vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species while protecting the public against the potential safety risks posed by holding these wild animals in captivity.
Lawmakers made provisions (S.443) for a night hunting program for coyotes, armadillos, and feral hogs on property registered with the Department of Natural Resources in order to reduce the populations of these nuisance animals.
The General Assembly authorized the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue Coastal Carolina University “2016 Baseball National Champions” special license plates (S.365), “Clemson University 2016 Football National Champions” special license plates (S.263), and, “University of South Carolina 2017 Women’s Basketball National Champions” special license plates(S.617).