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South Carolina Session Roundup

In 2009 the South Carolina General Assembly fought intensely with Gov. Sanford and passed arguably little significant legislation outside of its annual budget. After ending the session two weeks early, the legislature reconvened on June 16th to finalize the approval of bills in conference and to consider vetoes. 

The Battle Over the Stimulus and Budget:  During the 2009 session, feuds with the Governor over stimulus funds and the budget consumed much of the Legislature's energy and focus. Despite criticizing the stimulus as bad for America, Gov. Sanford accepted most of the money available to South Carolina.  However, he conducted a very long and public battle against accepting $700 million (money which will be paid in two equal installments over the next two years) available primarily for education and law enforcement.  

After the Governor expressed his intentions to not request $700 million of available stimulus funds, the General Assembly approved an amendment to the 2009-10 state budget designed to force Gov. Sanford to accept $350 million in federal stimulus dollars that he had previously rejected.  Under the legislators' plan approximately $185 million in stimulus funds would go to public schools, $100 million to state colleges and universities and the remaining funds would primarily go to law enforcement.  Gov. Sanford, however, vetoed the main section of the general fund budget in its entirety and a separate section containing the stimulus funds.  Lawmakers then overrode his vetoes and formally passed a $20.7 billion spending plan into law.  

Yet, the battle did not end there.  Claiming a separation-of-powers issue, the Governor filed a lawsuit in federal court to prevent the legislature from forcing him to accept the disputed stimulus funds.  The unusual battle between Gov. Sanford and the legislature finally ended when the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the Governor to request the $700 million in disputed funds.

Some of the Stimulus Funds Already Allocated / Announced:

  • Health Care:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that approximately $396.3 million has been allocated to South Carolina for programs affecting health care. Most notably, South Carolina's Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) has increased from 70.07% to 79.36% using federal stimulus funds. The increase will last through Dec. 31, 2010. 
  • Energy: The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded South Carolina an approximate $58.8 million through its weatherization program and $50.5 million through its State Energy Program. The Department has also awarded the state $31.4 million in block grants under its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program.  
  • Public Housing:  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced that South Carolina will receive an estimated $117 million in federal stimulus money from the agency. 

Energy and the Environment: 

Public Housing:  H.B. 3919, which lawmakers enacted over the Governor's veto, establishes the South Carolina Housing Commission “to provide recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly on an annual basis to ensure and foster the availability of safe, sound, and affordable housing and workforce housing for every South Carolinian.”

Health Care:  Enacted S.B. 390 expands current mental health parity laws to include substance abuse disorder and requires coverage for other mental health benefits to be equal to medical and surgical benefits. The law caps increased costs arising from such coverage at 2% the first year and 1% thereafter.  

Tax:  S.B. 12 creates the Tax Realignment Commission (TRAC). The commission is to develop criteria, within three months, for assessing the effectiveness of the current tax system structure, as well as the likely systemic impact of any proposed changes affecting tax revenues. The commission is also requested to deliver a detailed evaluation of the state's tax system structure by March 15, 2010.  H.B. 3584, which was not enacted, would have increased the state cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack. 

Consumer Protections: Legislators overrode the Governor's veto of H.B. 3301, marking the first new regulations to be placed on the $155 million-a-year payday lending business in South Carolina.  The legislation is a strong consumer protection bill, though some advocates felt that it did not go far enough, that allocates half of the licensure fees for enforcement and half for the state Attorney General's office to prosecute violations. The bill requires the creation of a database to monitor borrowers' lending activities, requires the industry to let customers go into an extended payment plan if they cannot meet payment deadlines without incurring any extra fees, restricts payday loans to one loan up to $550 at a time and imposes a waiting period of one day between loans for the first seven and two days for additional loans.  S.B. 377, if enacted, would have required public institutions of higher education to develop a credit card marketing and solicitation policy.

Miscellaneous Enacted Legislation:

  • S.B. 155, the Military Parent Equal Protection Act, pertains to child custodial and visitation rights and provides various protections for parents absent because of military service.
  • As required by Title V of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, S.B. 673, the Mortgage Lending Act, requires that mortgage lenders be licensed by the state and registered as part of the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry. The legislation also regulates various practices related to the home lending market.
  • H.B. 3087, enacted over the Governor's veto, provides that a local government may not enact an ordinance that either expands or contracts the boundaries in which a sex offender may reside, as set by state statute. 

Other Big Issues and Proposed Bills that Remained Largely Unresolved this Year. 

  • A handful of voting and election bills emerged this year following the record turnout at polls last November. Unfortunately, H.B. 3608, which would have required counties to have at least one Early Voting Center open for voters to register and vote at for 15 days before an election through the Saturday prior to the election did not move.  On a positive note, H.B. 3418, which required voters to present picture identification at the polls, was not enacted.  
  • If enacted H.B. 3245  would have required a woman to wait 24 hours after receiving an ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy.
  • H.B. 3305, a resolution to amend the constitution to oppose majority sign-up in union elections and to maintain the secret ballot for elections for public office or ballot measures, only passed the House.  The legislation was introduced in opposition to the federal Employee Free Choice Act legislation.  Since this bill aims to amend the constitution, there are several extra requirements beyond what is required to enact a law that it would have to fulfill before it could be successfully adopted.  

Resources:
The Year That Wasn't: 2009 Slim-Pickings for Legislative Accomplishments
Stimulus Spending in SC
 
Session grinds to a halt 
Conservation Voters of South Carolina