2016 Legislative Overview
In its second regular session, the 121st South Carolina General Assembly authorized funding for deteriorating roads and bridges and reform for the governance and oversight of the state’s transportation infrastructure system. The legislation (S.1258) allows for an estimated total of up to $4.5 billion to be devoted to the state’s roads over the next ten years. This includes: $950 million to repair or replace all structurally-deficient bridges on Interstate and national highways; $2 billion in widenings and improvements to existing Interstates; and, over $1.4 billion in pavement resurfacing. The legislation transfers motor vehicle sales tax revenue and the revenue from various Department of Motor Vehicles fines and fees to the Department of Transportation’s State Highway Fund. Transferred funds may be used for the issuance of bonds through the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank. These revenue revisions also allow for existing DOT funds to be redirected. The legislation includes a restructuring of the Commission overseeing the South Carolina Department of Transportation that retains the commission’s geographical representation, but provides that legislators would no longer elect commissioners and that all commissioners would, instead, be appointed by the Governor, upon the advice and consent of the Senate and subject to a legislative approval and screening process. Under restructuring, the DOT Commission assumes the responsibility of appointing the Secretary of Transportation, upon the advice and consent of the Senate. In order to afford the chief internal auditor of the Department of Transportation greater independence, the legislation provides for the position to be appointed and overseen by the State Auditor rather than the DOT Commission. Revisions are also provided for the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank including requirements for the bank’s Board of Directors to obtain approval from the DOT Commission before providing any loans or other financial assistance. The minimum project amount set in Transportation Infrastructure Bank requirements is reduced from $100 million to $25 million. This threshold is lowered to allow more areas to be able to afford local match requirements and take advantage of the bank’s bonding capabilities for financing their transportation projects.
The $7.5 billion Fiscal Year 2016-2017 state government budget (H.5001, H.5002) includes $50 million in nonrecurring funds to be distributed among the County Transportation Committees to use for resurfacing, reconstructing, and repairing roads and bridges in the stateowned secondary road system. $84 million in Department of Motor Vehicles fees and fines and $131 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenue is transferred to the State Highway Fund. $49 million is allocated to the Department of Transportation to address road repair costs from the October 2015 flood damage. $72 million in nonrecurring funds is allocated as the full state and local match for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds for the 2015 catastrophic flood response. $30 million is provided for coastal beach renourishment. The Department of Health and Environmental Control receives full funding for its dam safety inspection and permitting program. For K-12 public education, $218 million is used to increase the base student cost by $130 to arrive at an estimated $2,350 per pupil. The budget legislation makes provisions for a 2% teacher salary increase along with a one year step increase for teacher salaries and an increase in the state salary schedule to 23 years. The K-12 technology initiative is afforded $29.3 million in Education Lottery proceeds. The State Department of Education is provided $18 million in Education Lottery proceeds for instructional materials. $23 million, including $2 million in nonrecurring funds, is provided for new school buses. The budget includes $28 million in recurring increases for the state’s colleges and universities. $10 million is provided for the Children’s Hospital at MUSC. $13.5 million in nonrecurring funds is devoted to worker training through the Ready SC Program at the state’s technical colleges. A 3.25% state employee pay increase is provided with $54.3 million in recurring funds. $26 million is included to cover the increased costs of operating the state’s health and dental insurance plans with no increases in the premiums paid by employees and no reductions in coverage. The Local Government Fund receives $12.5 million in recurring dollars and $10.6 million in nonrecurring dollars for total funding of $233.1 million. $5 million is provided for a Rural Health Initiative partnership between DHHS and the USC School of Medicine to enhance the recruitment of physicians to practice in underserved areas and to improve access to life-saving emergency room care in the wake of rural hospital closures. Telemedicine is afforded $10 million through the Healthy Outcomes provisions and an additional $2 million in recurring funds. $2.8 million is allocated to the Rural Infrastructure Fund that is used to provide grants for water and sewer projects that facilitate economic development in rural areas. $8 million is included for a new Statewide Water and Sewer Fund that allows areas that do not meet the criteria for being considered rural to obtain grants for sewer and water projects that are needed to support economic development. $17 million 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 $6 million for the Locate SC Site Inventory for potential business relocation prospects and $2 million for the Office of Innovation to support high-tech and high-growth industries.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.4717) that responds to the unprecedented damage of the October 2015 floods by creating the “South Carolina Farm Aid Fund” to assist farmers in order to prevent the economic collapse of many of the state’s farms which could cause a severe disruption in the state’s economy and food supply chain. Established with a $40 million appropriation from the 20142015 Contingency Reserve Fund, the Farm Aid Fund is created for making financial awards to farmers who experienced significant losses in the catastrophic flooding of October 2015. Grant awards must be used for expenses that demonstrate an intent to continue the agricultural operation, such as purchases of seed and fertilizer.
The General Assembly approved legislation crafted to address the State Supreme Court’s ruling in the long-running education lawsuit concerning the extent of the state’s responsibility for providing free public education under the South Carolina Constitution. The General Assembly approved legislation (H.4936) designating educational goals for all South Carolina high school graduates, along with the standards and areas of learning by which these goals are measured, in order to ensure that graduates have the world class knowledge and skills needed for college and career readiness. Lawmakers approved education reform initiatives (H.4939) that require the State Department of Education to develop a system for providing academic assistance, assistance with finances, and other technical support to local school districts and make annual progress reports on the impact of this assistance in terms of such factors as student academic achievement and high school graduation rates. The department is charged with new responsibilities for monitoring underperforming school districts to recommend improvements in the districts’ professional development of teachers, staff, and administrators and changes that will allow school boards to operate more efficiently and effectively. A periodic review of education laws is established for the purpose of culling out obsolete state provisions and identifying all federal education statutes and regulations along with the cost for compliance. The Office of Transformation is established within the State Department of Education (H.4940) to coordinate technical assistance for underperforming schools and districts. A higher education survey on teaching in rural and economically challenged school districts was authorized (H.4938) to question students enrolled in the state’s colleges of education on whether they have considered teaching in such districts and what incentives might prompt them to move to, and work in, such areas.
The “South Carolina Founding Principles Act” (H.3848) was approved to incorporate into the social studies standards for the state’s public schools and the required study of the United States Constitution instruction on such topics as the Federalist Papers, the structure of government and the role of the separation of powers, and the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
The General Assembly approved enhancements to the state’s Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act. Legislation (H.3184) was enacted to provide for more independent means of investigating alleged misconduct of public officials by discontinuing current practices of the legislative and executive branches of state government each exclusively investigating the alleged ethics violations of their own members and instead providing for allegations of public misconduct to be investigated by a reconstituted State Ethics Commission made up of members selected by both of these branches of government. The investigations of the State Ethics Commission are to be conducted in strict confidentiality, but, when the commission makes a recommendation that probable cause exists regarding alleged violations, the complaint and certain other documents and materials become public. If a recommendation of probable cause involves the legislative branch, the commission’s report is relayed to the appropriate legislative ethics committee to pursue the matter and decide if it is appropriate to take such actions as imposing penalties, issuing reprimands, or recommending that the legislative body expel a member. The reconstituted Ethics Commission continues to exercise its responsibilities over those in the executive branch of state government and others who are subject to the state’s Ethics Act provisions such as local government officials. Provisions are made for more expansive statements of economic interests for public officials and others who are required to make these Ethics Act filings with the passage of legislation (H.3186) that revises disclosure requirements so that they address not only public money, but also require a listing of the private source and type of any income received in the previous year by those who are filing with the Ethics Commission and their immediate family members.
Lawmakers approved legislation (S.267) shortening the legislative session by making provisions for the regular annual session of the General Assembly to end by the second Thursday in May rather than the current deadline for final adjournment of the first Thursday in June.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.1166) addressing debt and academic accreditation issues at South Carolina State University. SC State has demonstrated improvements that have allowed the institution to be taken off probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and retain its accreditation. The joint resolution makes provisions for the forgiveness of $12 million in state loans to South Carolina State University over the course of three years if the university meets specified benchmarks such as maintaining academic accreditation, achieving progress towards a balanced budget and positive net financial position, and meeting student enrollment growth goals. A revised repayment schedule is provided for the $6 million state loan to SC State that was approved by the Budget and Control Board. The authority for instituting cost-saving mandatory employee furlough programs at the university is extended through Fiscal Year 20212022. The budget legislation (H.5001, H.5002) includes $4.6 million to address the university’s debt.
Legislators approved the “Tucker Hipps Transparency Act” (H.4521), legislation named in memory of the Clemson University student who died during a fraternity activity on September 22, 2014. The legislation requires the state’s public institutions of higher education, excluding technical colleges, to maintain reports detailing student misconduct investigations related to fraternity and sorority organizations formally affiliated with the institution that include violations of a Student Code of Conduct for offenses involving alcohol, drugs, sexual assault, physical assault, and hazing. Colleges and universities must make these reports available to the public by posting them on their Internet websites and must furnish printed notifications about the reports to those who attend student orientation.
The ”South Carolina Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (H.3114) was approved to establish a prohibition on the performance of abortions beginning at twenty weeks following fertilization. Exceptions are provided to permit these late term abortions in order to prevent the death or serious physical impairment of the mother as well as in instances where a fetal anomaly is present that is likely to prevent a child’s life from being sustained after birth.
The “South Carolina AntiMoney Laundering Act” (H.4554) was approved as a means of rectifying South Carolina’s status as the only U.S. state lacking comprehensive regulatory authority over money transfers which has made the state a center for money laundering activities that facilitate organized criminal enterprises and terrorist activities. The legislation establishes new requirements for the licensure and regulation of money transmission and currency exchange services with the South Carolina Attorney General. Penalties are established for violations including felony criminal penalties for falsifying records and engaging in illicit money transfers involving larger dollar amounts. The jurisdiction of the state grand jury is expanded to include AntiMoney Laundering Act violations.
Lawmakers established crimes involving counterfeit or nonfunctional airbags in motor vehicles (S.1015) to prohibit these unlawful airbags from being imported, manufactured, sold, or installed and to disallow tampering with a diagnostic system to inaccurately indicate that a motor vehicle is equipped with a properly functioning airbag.
The “Bad Faith Assertion of Patent Infringement Act” (H.3682) was approved to respond to the activities of so-called patent trolls who make abusive assertions relating to intellectual property such as false accusations of patent rights infringement. The legislation establishes criteria for determining which demands for payment of license fees or threats of litigation constitute unlawful bad faith assertions of patent infringement and provides legal remedies for those targeted by such practices.
The Coordinating Council of Workforce Development (H.4145) was created for sharing information, encouraging collaboration, and making policy recommendations on how to make the most of the state’s various initiatives for training the current and emerging workforce to meet the needs of South Carolina’s economy.
Legislation (H.4639) was approved to authorize the Commission on Higher Education to enter into interstate reciprocity agreements governing the operation of postsecondary distance education programs offered by accredited degreegranting institutions of higher learning in South Carolina. Since colleges and universities that offer online education programs must obtain authorization in every state where a pupil resides, the legislation is offered as a means of making this authorization process less complex and expensive by allowing the institutions of higher learning in South Carolina to make use of a single distance education protocol that applies in all the states that have entered into a reciprocity agreement.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.3891) revising motor vehicle rental company fees as a means of encouraging rental companies to title and register their vehicle fleets in this state.
Legislators approved renewable energy tax incentives (H.3874) that include an income tax credit to encourage the installation of large-scale solar energy collection equipment on certain environmental clean-up sites so that these properties can be put to productive use.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.427) authorizing tax incentives for agricultural packaging operations. The legislation also provides that agricultural businesses must be considered by the Department of Commerce and the Coordinating Council for Economic Development in awarding benefits for economic development projects.
The South Carolina Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program (S.1028) was created to integrate veterans into the field of agriculture and support veterans currently working in agriculture.
Legislators authorized tax relief for military retirees (H.3147) by phasing in over the course of five years a South Carolina individual income tax deduction for military retirement benefits in an amount of up to thirty thousand dollars each year for those who are at least sixtyfive years old and up to seventeen thousand five hundred dollars each year for younger taxpayers. A surviving spouse receiving military retirement income is eligible for the deductions.
Legislation was approved (H.5193) to make enhancements to the “South Carolina Overdose Prevention Act” that all allow for more expansive dispensation of opioid antidotes to those who may be at risk of a drug overdose. The legislation also directs the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to study the use of marijuana in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans as a possible alternative to opioid prescriptions.
Legislation (H.4816) was approved to designate June 27th of each year as South Carolina PostTraumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) Awareness Day.
The “South Carolina Telemedicine Act” (S.1035) was approved to revise statutes governing the practice of medicine to incorporate provisions for telemedicine which involves the use of such means as electronic communications and information technology to allow a physician to practice medicine in one location while the patient is in another location.
“Hope’s Law” (S.339) was enacted to establish requirements for mammography reports to be provided to patients that include information about dense breast tissue which makes mammogram results more difficult to evaluate and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
The “Cervical Cancer Prevention Act” (H.3204) was approved to provide authority for the Department of Health and Environmental Control to offer voluntary cervical cancer vaccination, the human papillomavirus vaccination (HPV) series, for adolescent students including those enrolling in the seventh grade in any school, public, private, or home schooling program, in this state. The legislation specifies that vaccination is not mandatory for students and parental consent requirements are included for vaccinations provided by DHEC. The department may develop and provide informational brochures concerning adolescent vaccinations.
“Ronald Rouse’s Law” (H.3265) was enacted to establish new requirements for public high school students to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training including handsonly CPR training and awareness in the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
The “Emergency Anaphylaxis Treatment Act” (H.3706) was approved to allow authorized institutions, organizations, and businesses, such as colleges and universities, daycare facilities, places of worship, restaurants, places of employment, recreation camps, youth sports leagues, amusement parks, and sports arenas, to keep supplies of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as EpiPens, in stock to administer this potentially life-saving medication to those who are experiencing severe allergic reactions. The legislation establishes a protocol that allows physicians and certain other healthcare professionals to prescribe stock supplies of epinephrine auto-injectors for these authorized places that may be administered by designated individuals who have completed required training on the proper use of these auto-injectors and how to recognize the symptoms of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. The legislation affords certain immunity from legal liability regarding the good faith use of epinephrine auto-injectors.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3145) affording protection from legal liability for those who take actions to prevent hot car deaths of children and vulnerable adults who are left unattended in locked motor vehicles. The legislation provides that a person is immune from civil liability for the property damage resulting from a forcible entry into a motor vehicle for the purpose of rescuing a minor or vulnerable adult who appears to be in imminent danger of suffering harm.
Legislation (H.5218) was approved designating the month of May of every year as “Water Safety Awareness Month” in South Carolina to promote an understanding of the critical importance of water safety practices in an effort to reduce drowning deaths among children in this state.
The “Eye Care Consumer Protection Law” (S.1016) was enacted to establish requirements for spectacles and contact lenses to be dispensed to patients only with valid prescriptions from optometrists and physicians properly licensed in South Carolina. A prescription for spectacles or contact lenses may not be based solely on eye scans generated by an automated kiosk.
“The Right To Try Act” (H.4542) was approved to provide authorization for physicians to prescribe certain promising experimental treatments to terminally ill patients who have considered and exhausted all other treatment options currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.4773), designated as “Margy’s Law”, which expands South Carolina’s Emergency Medical Services Do Not Resuscitate Order Act by including provisions for a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet that may be worn by someone with a terminal condition to signify to health care providers and EMS personnel that they are to withhold resuscitative treatment in keeping with an official order.
In response to a maternal death rate in South Carolina that exceeds the national average, legislation (H.3251) was approved to establish the Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Review Committee under the Department of Health and Environmental Control to review maternal deaths and develop strategies for their prevention.
Legislators approved enhancements for foster care that include limitations on the number of children who may be placed in a foster home (H.4510) and provisions for the Department of Social Services to normalize the lives of children in foster care by allowing a caregiver, without the department’s prior approval, to make decisions similar to those a parent would be entitled to make regarding a child’s participation in age or developmentally appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities such as sports, field trips, social activities, vacations, employment opportunities, and after school programs (H.4546).
Lawmakers made provisions for two additional at-large family court judges (H.4877).
The General Assembly approved a bill (H.4387) prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from requiring officers to meet a quota for the number of citations issued. Employees who file official reports of alleged violations are protected by the state’s “Whistle Blower Act”.
Legislation (H.4878) was approved to establish confidentiality provisions for communications with law enforcement peersupport teams, made up of such personnel as chaplains, mental health professionals, and public safety peers, which provide emotional and moral support to public safety employees and their immediate family members following critical incidents.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.5299) that establishes a certification process to provide authority for businesses to transport necessary goods and services to disaster areas during curfews.
Funding for firefighting needs and emergency medical services training was approved in legislation (S.973) that allocates a portion of insurance premium tax revenues to support firefighting and equipment replacement at the South Carolina Forestry Commission, equipment replacement and VSAFE grants for local fire departments, and grants for training emergency medical technicians and paramedics.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.454) that makes comprehensive provisions for the issuance of deer hunting tags for in-state residents and non-residents. This new tagging system does not revise game zones or seasons, but it does include requirements for hunters to tag every deer taken in the state.
Responding to innovations in such areas as wireless communications and Internet-based services that have transformed the telecommunications marketplace over the course of recent years, the “State Telecom Equity in Funding Act” (S.277) was approved to revise statutory requirements for telecommunications service providers to make contributions to the Universal Service Fund as well as to the program that provides specialized telecommunications services to those who are deaf or have other hearing or speech impairments.
Legislation (S.21) was approved to authorize the issuance of driver’s licenses to those who use bioptic telescopic lenses for vision assistance so long as these individuals satisfy specialized training requirements and meet other criteria. Drivers who use these lenses are subject to certain restrictions such as driving only during daylight hours, no driving during adverse weather conditions that significantly reduce visibility, a maximum speed of fifty miles per hour, no driving on an interstate highway, and a prohibition on operating a motorcycle, moped, or motor scooter.
Lawmakers designated January 17th of each year as “Eartha Kitt Day” in South Carolina (H.3036) to honor the late Eartha Mae Kitt, nationally and internationally known actress, singer, and native South Carolinian, and to promote cultural tourism in the state.
Legislation (H.5020) was approved to declare the third Saturday in May of each year as “South Carolina Day of Service” when all South Carolinians are encouraged to lend a hand to make a positive difference.
The General Assembly made provisions for adding a Habitat for Humanity check off on income tax forms (H.4765) that may be used to make voluntary contributions to support the organization’s charitable house building programs.
The “South Carolina Public Prayer and Invocation Act” (S.233) was approved to make revisions that are in keeping with particular court rulings to the statutory protocol governing the way in which a deliberative public body may invite religious leaders to offer voluntary public invocations at its meetings.
Addressing an abiding concern of the late South Carolina Senator, the “Clementa C. Pinckney Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act” (H.3325) is named in memory of Pinckney, who, while serving in his capacity as Senior Pastor of Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was shot to death along with eight members of his congregation as they gathered for an evening Bible study on June 17, 2015. Lawmakers approved the legislation to establish a protocol for partitioning real estate when a court determines that the land meets the criteria established for heirs’ property as a means of preserving property rights in situations where land has been passed down through generations without written wills or properly probated wills so that the property is owned in common by multiple heirs.