Governor Henry McMaster on Wednesday signed a bill that gives South Carolina businesses greater protections from individuals or groups looking to delay construction projects through legal action.
McMaster signed Act 139 into law at a ceremony at his Statehouse office, surrounded by supporters including the bill’s sponsors in the legislature. The proposal limits the legal maneuver known as an “automatic stay.” Stays can be filed to delay any permits approved by a state agency — usually the Department of Health and Environmental Control — to prevent construction until legal challenges are heard. The new law sets a 90-day limit for a judge to either rule in favor of the stay or decide construction can proceed.
“This is an effort to see that we’re able to move forward quickly with a 90-day stay and shift the burden to those who are seeking to have permits denied,” McMaster said.
The governor said long delays can “unnecessarily” drive up the cost of construction projects. “Many times the costs of projects are doubled, or 50 percent is added and sometimes more than that just because of time.”
He said those who oppose certain construction projects can still do so, but the time they have to do so will be shorter.
Opponents say the stays are needed to prevent potential environmental impacts if the permit is ultimately ruled invalid by a court. “Once environmental damage has been done, it cannot be undone,” State Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, said on the House floor last month. “When a hazardous waste facility is located in a place, it cannot be un-located from that place. When a tree is cut down, it cannot be uncut down.”
The legislation was supported by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry.