October 23, 2014

Legislative Update: January 25

Most of Tuesday’s big news in the Statehouse happened outside the House and Senate chambers, as legislators continued to spend most of their time in committee.

–Governor Nikki Haley announced she had signed an executive order prohibiting striking union members from receiving unemployment benefits. While that is already part of state law, her Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation director says some unions are ignoring it. Haley also pushed for a bill sponsored by state Rep. Bill Sandifer (R-Oconee) that would close some loopholes in union regulations. Democrats called the bill overkill.

— The House passed and sent to the Governor legislation that revamps much of the state’s fishing regulations. Among other things, it would expand protections to many types of freshwater fish. The bill passed the House 93-3.

— The House also sent to the Senate a bill by Rep. Eddie Tallon (R-Spartanburg) that would create a new alert system to warn the public about an at-large suspect who has killed, injured, or kidnapped a police officer. Known as the “Blue Alert” system, it would be modeled after the “Amber Alert” system for abducted children.

– The Senate did little Tuesday, unable to move forward on legislation creating a Department of Administration with President pro tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) out sick for the week. They did spend an hour debating a new bill by Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) that would ban any employee fired for cause from collecting unemployment insurance benefits.

–The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill that would clarify how long a home can be rented out before it has to pay higher property tax rates. Currently, there is no limit. The bill would set a three-month limit for renters… The committee also advanced a bill by Rep. Dwight Loftis (R-Greenville) that would allow a biotechnology company to claim a job development tax credit. It would also extend the privilege to firms that do research into physical, engineering, and life sciences.

— The House Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee advanced legislation by Rep. Sandifer that would impose a steep fine on those who fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits. The proposed bill calls for a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense, $10,000 for a second offense, and $15,000 for the third. Current law has a maximum $100 fine.

— A Business and Commerce subcommittee advanced a bill by Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) that stiffens the regulations for miniature trains. Peeler drafted the legislation after a Spartanburg “kiddie train” crashed last March, killing a six-year-old boy. The bill would require such trains to have a working speedometer and a regulator that limits its speed to the manufacturer’s recommendations. The bill passed the Senate in May.

— The House Judiciary Committee shot down a bill by Rep. Joan Brady (R-Columbia) that would have made it a crime for a minor to send sexually explicit photos of themselves through their phone. The committee worried the bill presented too many legal issues.

— The Charleston delegation of legislators sent a letter to the state Department of Transportation “strongly encouraging” them to take control of the I-526 expansion project. Charleston County has recently decided not to move forward with the project. The State Infrastructure Bank, the project’s financier, is also asking the state to take over.

— A Senate probe found no legal wrongdoing, but still harshly criticized DNR board chair Caroline Rhodes for her role in the agency chief’s resignation. John Frampton announced he would step down in March, but Rhodes and others convinced him to move that up to January. However, two board members claimed the board acted improperly by doing so.

On Tap:

— Gov. Haley will hold a press conference at the Department of Mental Health Wednesday. Her office would not say what the press conference was about, but the Governor did request an additional $7.3 million for the “Sexually Violent Predator Treatment” program in her budget submitted to legislators.

–The legislative Joint Bond Review committee will meet Wednesday to discuss several new bonds, including the widening of I-26 in Berkeley County. The project will also build a new intersection along the interstate at Sheep Island Road. The Infrastructure Board approved the project last week.

SENATE

–A judiciary subcommittee panel will take up a bill by Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) that would allow officers to test the saliva of a driver they pull over on a DUI suspicion. Saliva tests can be used to detect many types of drugs.

–A labor subcommittee will discuss benefits for terminated employees.

–The Fish, Game, and Forestry committee will hear the results of a review into the resignation of Department of Natural Resources director John Frampton (story above)

–An education subcommittee will hear from the public on a bill by Sen. Danny Verdin (R-Laurens) that would remove the time limits for senior citizens taking their general educational development tests.

–A medical affairs panel will listen to testimony on a possible Interstate Healthcare Compact. The compacts are a method being pushed by opponents of the recently-passed healthcare reform law as a way to work with other states to get out from the law’s new Medicaid requirements.

–Another judiciary subcommittee will hear testimony on several new bills, including one by Sen. McConnell that would create an automatic five-year prison sentence for a person carrying a firearm while committing a drug crime.

HOUSE

–A labor subcommittee will hear testimony on a bill by Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) that would require cell phone companies to give a parent access to text messages sent and received by their children so long as the child is on the parent’s plan.

–Budget writing continues for the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday. Some committees making their requests include DNR, the Public Services Commission, and the Department of Mental Health.

–An insurance panel will hear testimony on a bill by Rep. Deborah Long (R-Indian Land) that deals with eye doctors on HMO plans.

–The House Agriculture Committee will discuss a bill by Rep. Tom Young (R-Aiken) that protects landowners from being sued if a horseback rider is injured while riding across private property.

–A judiciary committee panel will consider a bill by Rep. Clemmons that allows the state Attorney General to appoint investigators… Another will hear from the executive director of the State Election Commission Marci Andino. Andino is likely to be questioned about a reported 900 voters who cast ballots despite being listed as dead in state records.

–A transportation subcommittee will take up a bill by Rep. Robert Brown (D-Hollywood) that would require a court to post a notice of closure along a street any time it is considering closing that road.