Last week was “crossover week.” By rule, unless a bill passes its originating body before May 1, the bill must have a 2/3 vote of the other body to be considered. Since the supermajority vote is difficult to obtain, bills filed by senators must pass the Senate by May 1 to be considered by the House of Representatives.
That rule leads to a flurry of activity in both bodies the last week in April. Here are the highlights from last week’s action in the Senate –
Changes to State Grand Jury system – The Senate passed S. 268, a bill to reform the state grand jury process. The changes place more power in the solicitors as opposed to judges and set clear criteria for when the Attorney General or a solicitor must recuse himself or be disqualified. The bill is in response to court rulings and challenges to former Speaker Bobby Harrell’s indictment last year for improper use of campaign funds. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.
Body cameras for law enforcement – The Senate passed S. 47, a bill that would require all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras subject to statewide funding. The bill now goes to the House.
Updates to state employees’ benefits and retirement boards – The Senate passed S. 675, a bill to update the governing boards and ensure better management of the Public Employees Benefits Authority and the Retirement Systems Investment Commission.
Telecom Equity? – After a good bit of debate, the Senate narrowly passed S. 277, a bill that seeks to level the playing field on state-imposed fees on telephone service. Currently, landline customers pay fees for the Dual Party Relay Service (assistance for those with hearing and speech impairments to use telephone service) and the Universal Service Fund (fee to ensure everyone in the state has access to affordable telephone service regardless of where they live). Those fees are not imposed on cell phone customers, though. Since more and more people have been dropping landline service and moving to cell phones, the fees have become more burdensome on landline and business customers. S. 277 would apply the fee to cell phone customers, as well, and cap the total amount in each fund. Therefore, although cell phone customers would be paying fees for these services, the overall fee burden would be reduced because landline customers’ bills would be reduced and the total amount in the funds would be capped.
Fighting child abuse – The Senate passed S. 250, a bill that would allow child abuse investigators to access a child’s medical records quicker when there is a suspicion that the child has been abused.
Insurance for autism – The Senate passed S. 135, a bill that would require health insurers to offer coverage for children with autism. Because of Obamacare, the state would have to pick up the cost of that coverage for people who have purchased policies on the federal exchange. The expectation is that will cost $500,000 – $1 million per year.
Funding for Roads and Bridges – Last Thursday the Senate defeated a motion to set H. 3579, for a priority debate status. The bill would raise nearly $800 million per year in funding for roads and bridges by:
- Increasing the state’s gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over a period of three years
- Adjusting the gas tax for inflation each year starting in 2018
- Doubling the fees for obtaining a South Carolina driver’s license and registering vehicles every two years
- Imposing new fees for alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles and commercial vehicles
- Raising the cap on sales taxes for vehicles from $300 to $600 and adjusting that cap for inflation
- No income tax reduction
- No structural changes to the SCDOT or State Transportation Infrastructure Bank
To pass and become law, I am convinced the bill will need to dedicate revenue exclusively for roads and bridges, provide significant personal income tax relief, and reform how decisions are made at SCDOT. Since this bill includes no tax relief and no changes to SCDOT governance and the proponents of this bill have shown little willingness to negotiate on those issues, I voted not to bring the bill up for debate.
Contrary to media reports, though, I do not think this kills the bill for the year. I believe we will be able to reach a compromise and move the legislation forward. I recognize we must address our roads and bridges, and I am committed to doing that. But I am not going to vote for an $800 million tax increase. Stay tuned.
State Budget – The Senate will return to session on Monday this week to begin debate on the state budget.
Bond bill? – As part of its budget deliberations, the House of Representatives considered legislation to issue bonds to borrow money for capital improvement projects across the state. Governor Haley announced her opposition to the borrowing plan, and the House abandoned the proposal.
Despite that resistance, the Senate Finance Committee revived the borrowing plan and it may be considered during the budget debate. I will keep you updated.
Last Week’s Meetings
I am sorry that I missed a few events last week because the legislative session ran a little later. I expect we will have a few late nights this week, too, since we will be debating the budgetConstituent Interests
Edgefield County Veterans Affairs officer – The Edgefield County Legislative Delegation is seeking persons who are interested in serving Edgefield County as the County Veterans Affairs Officer (CVAO). The CVAO assists veterans and their dependents in determining eligibility for benefits, organizes events honoring veterans, and works with local veterans organizations to best serve Edgefield County’s veterans.
The opening is a full-time position for 35 hours/week.
Persons interested in being considered for appointment as Edgefield County Veterans Affairs Officer should visit the “Veterans Officer” page on my website.
Applications must be received by Tuesday, May 5, 2015.
Hearing on Palmetto Pipeline – Kinder Morgan plans to construct a pipeline carrying up to 167,000 barrels of refined petroleum products from Belton, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. A portion of the pipeline will run through Aiken County, Edgefield County, and McCormick County. Kinder Morgan has agreed to hold a public hearing at the North Augusta Community Center (495 Brookside Avenue) at 6:00 on Thursday, May 21.
Want to see the General Assembly in Action? – The Senate meets in statewide session on Tuesdays at 12:00, Wednesdays at 2:00, and Thursdays at 11:00. Committees and subcommittees meet Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings, and Thursday mornings. You can watch live coverage of the Senate, House of Representatives, and committees here.
Taxpayer Hero – The South Carolina Club for Growth named me one of its Taxpayer Heroes for 2014. You can read the press release here, see the scorecard here, and see the explanation of scored votes here.
Our Senate District – Senate district 25 consists of all of Edgefield County and parts of Aiken, Lexington, McCormick, and Saluda Counties. If you’d like to see the district map, go here.
Speaking with Groups – Several groups, clubs, and classes around our Senate district have invited me to attend their meetings and provide legislative updates. If you would like for me to come speak with your group, please let me know.
Email updates – If you know of people in or around District 25 who do not receive my updates but would like to get them, please email their names and email addresses to me. You can also forward this email to them and encourage them to sign up for the updates at www.senatormassey.com.