The House of Representatives caught up on committee work this week following two weeks of snow-related furloughs over the past month. A number of important pieces of legislation moved out of committees this week that I look forward to debating on the House floor soon.
PATENT TROLLS – A House Judiciary subcommittee approved legislation this week that would provide entrepreneurs and inventors tools to combat so-called “patent trolls.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, patent trolls are people or corporations who buy patents, usually for pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy or other liquidation sales. Or, they acquire a patent on everyday objects, such as a stick characterized as a “dog toy.” Armed with an arsenal of patents, the trolls sue folks who are allegedly violating these patents. The trolls do this despite the fact they don’t engage in any other business other than holding the patents. As the sponsor of the bills, Rep. Kirkman Finlay of Columbia, said, it is essentially legalized extortion. These trolls are stifling innovation and hurting our up-and-coming companies. Patents are predominantly governed by federal law, but these bills are carefully tailored to give South Carolina tools in its arsenal to protect entrepreneurs and combat the patent trolls.
Right to life – Legislation that would ban abortions beginning at 20 weeks of pregnancy was approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee and should be on the House floor next week. Rep. Wendy Nanney of Greenville sponsored the new restrictions because new science shows that fetuses can feel pain beginning at 20 weeks. The very liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down a similar piece of legislation in Arizona. Ninth Circuit decisions are not controlling in South Carolina, however, and the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet addressed the issue.
ETHICS – As the Senate finished debate on the omnibus Ethics Reform legislation that the House approved last year, a House Judiciary subcommittee began approving smaller ethics bills as a backup just in case the full ethics reform package dies. The House Republicans stand with our Governor in support of this legislation, and we hope to have the Senate amendments back in the House very soon.
BUDGET – The House Ways and Means Committee put the final touches on the 2014-2015 state budget at the end of last week. I will write more about the budget when it reaches our desks next week, but a few highlights include: a small raise for some state employees – only their second raise since 2009; funds for 17 new SLED agents and 10 new Highway Patrol troopers; money for new school buses; and money to allow students to use lottery funds for summer semesters.
Electronic Data Privacy Protection – This Caucus agenda item bill was filed this week. This bill aims to provide some clarity for the courts, law enforcement, and consumers by stating that a warrant or exception is required prior to search of mobile devices incident to arrest, and obtaining geolocation information. Also, the act requires courts to issue a report on the number of warrants requested and exceptions granted.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 963-0337 at home or 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia.