Statehouse Update Feb 27-29

Statehouse Update Feb 27-29

Update 3/1/24: Several adjustments were made to this summary to reflect developments that occurred during the week.

A bill establishing a public option for liquor liability insurance, backed by taxpayers’ money, is under consideration this morning. The proposal would also reduce the state’s mandatory $1 million policy requirement – but only for businesses that agree to close early, limit drink specials, or meet other requirements. Read our latest analysis for more details.  Updated information bellow.

Here’s the good news: a superior bill – one that targets the root cause behind rising insurance premiums – is also in committee this week. Senators will take it up Wednesday morning (see below for details).

The push for judicial reform meanwhile carries on. Today, a Senate panel meets to consider 16 bills relating to the selection of judges, including S.178, which would overhaul the JMSC, among other positive changes. To get up to speed on this issue, visit our Judicial Reform Action Page and follow us on X (formerly Twitter).    Updated information bellow.

And finally, the first draft of South Carolina’s FY24-25 budget was approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee. That means the full House will likely debate the spending bill in mid-March. In the meantime, we encourage legislators and citizens alike to read our 2025 SC Sustainable Budget, which recommends a hard limit on the new budget based on population growth and inflation.   

Update: On Wednesday, the House introduced a bill that would significantly expand South Carolina’s Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program. The new proposal would remove the ESA’s household income restrictions starting in the 2026-27 school year. It would also repeal the cap on enrollment (currently limited to 15,000 students by full implementation) starting in the 2027-28 school year. Learn more in our new update.

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CIVIL LIABILITY REFORM
  • State-run liquor liability insurance program (H.5066) – This bill would create a program under the S.C. Department of Insurance that encourages businesses to purchase a government-offered liquor liability insurance policy. It would also reduce the state’s $1 million policy requirement by varying amounts for businesses that meet certain conditions, such as closing by 10pm or earlier, keeping alcohol sales below a certain limit, and limiting drink specials. Update: Following out report, which revealed that H.5066 would create a state-run liquor liability insurance program funded with taxpayers' money, the House Judiciary Committee voted to remove that section of the bill. The amended bill, advanced by the full committee Tuesday, would still reduce the $1 million liquor liability insurance policy requirement for businesses meeting certain conditions (although this conditions have since been revised). The bill is now on the House floor. 

  • Fairer liability system (S.533) – This bill would require juries or judges to consider nonparties in addition to defendants when determining fault in civil cases. It also strikes an existing rule that, under certain circumstances, allows businesses or individuals to be held fully liable for legal damages even if they are just 1% at fault for an injury. These changes would result in fewer South Carolina businesses paying excessive and disproportionate damage awards in civil cases. Learn more about this issue hereStatus: A Senate Judiciary subcommittee considers the bill on Wednesday at 11:30am.

  • Insurance premiums study committee (S.844) – This joint resolution would create a study committee to examine South Carolina’s civil liability and insurance laws, particularly as they relate to the issue of rising liability insurance premiums. While we welcome debate on this issue, creating a study committee – which has until January 2025 to report its findings – would likely delay progress on existing bills, such as S.533. StatusA Senate Judiciary subcommittee considers the bill on Wednesday at 11:30am.

  • Liability for sale of alcohol (S.1084) – This bill specifies the conditions under which a person or entity selling alcohol can be held liable for damages to a third party based on the individual's intoxication. Status: A Senate Judiciary subcommittee considers the bill on Wednesday at 11:30am.

 

JUDICIAL REFORM

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee meets Tuesday at 10:30am to consider 16 bills relating to judicial selections. Below are several bills of significance. To see the full list of bills in committee, click here.  

  • S.178 – This bill would reduce the size of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (from 10 to seven members) and allow the governor to appoint six of its members. The seventh member would be the governor or his designee. It would also prohibit members of the General Assembly, their immediate family members, or their business associates from serving on the commission, and repeal a cap that prevents more than three judicial candidates from being nominated per open seat.

  • S.249 – This joint resolution would amend the S.C. Constitution and provide that the governor shall appoint judges following their nomination by the JMSC. This is perhaps the most significant change on the table; however, it is unlikely to advance based on the committee’s remarks. We will provide updates should it make progress.

  • S.248 – This bill would serve as enabling legislation and codify the gubernatorial appointment of judges should S.249 pass.

  • S.482 – This bill would require judicial candidates to receive a majority vote from both the House and Senate to be elected as judge (currently, candidates only need a numerical majority of the joint 170-member body). This change is one of SCPC’s seven proposed judicial reforms. The bill also makes changes to magistrate selections.

  • S.130 – This bill would expand the JMSC to 13 members and give the governor five appointments, while repealing the three-person cap on judicial nominees per seat. It would also require judicial candidates to receive a majority vote from both the House and Senate to be elected as judge. 

Update: On Thursday, the full Senate briefly took up a judicial reform proposal (S.1046). Debate will begin in earnest on Tuesday, Mar. 5. It would do the following (based on the Senate Judiciary Committee's version of the bill): 

  • Reduce the number of legislative appointments to the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC), reduce its size, and terminate its existing membership. Legislators would effectively be prohibited from serving on the commission. All newly appointed members must be attorneys in good standing with the South Carolina Bar (and one must be a retired judge).
  • Stipulate that if a judicial candidate is a family member of a sitting JMSC member, that member must resign.
  • Repeal the cap that prevents more than three qualified candidates from being nominated per open judicial seat.
  • Require all public hearings of the JMSC to be livestreamed, making exceptions for executive session.
  • Increase the period from one to two years that an outgoing legislator must wait until he or she can be elected as judge.
  • Require judicial candidates to receive a majority of votes from both the House and Senate to be elected (currently they only need a majority of votes from the joint body).
  • The JMSC cannot formally release its yearly candidates report until 12 days after the names of nominees have been provided to lawmakers. This would give lawmakers more time to review nominees before those nominees can start seeking pledges.
  • Recommendations for magistrate appointments made to the governor must occur through a weighted vote of the full county legislative delegation (currently this involves only the local Senate delegation).

REGULATION
  • Name image and likeness(S.993 & H.4957) – These two bills would substantially revise the NIL standards for collegiate athletes across the state, allowing state universities to facilitate NIL deals for student athletes. For more information about the proposals, click hereUpdate: The Senate Education Committee passed H.4957, it now moves to the house floor.

  • Affordable housing initiatives (H.4552) – Relating to the definition of “redevelopment project” for federal military installations, to provide that a redevelopment project includes certain affordable housing projects. Update: The House 3M Committee amended the bill and passed it, it now moves to the House floor.

 

TAXES AND FEES

A Senate Finance subcommittee meets on Tuesday and Thursday to discuss several bills that relate to tax credits and deductions. For the complete list of bills, click here for Tuesday and here for Thursday. 

  • Golf club dues tax exemption (H.3880) – This bill would prevent admissions tax from being charged or collected on annual or monthly dues paid for a golf club membership. Update: The Senate Finance Committee passed the bill. It now moves to the Senate floor.

  • Skill based hiring (S.859) – This bill would require the Office of Human Resources to conduct periodic reviews of jobs in the executive branch. The goal is to eliminate the requirement of having a four-year degree for jobs where it is unnecessary.  Update: The Senate Finance Committee passed the bill. It now moves to the Senate floor. 

  • Low income housing property tax exemption (S.1017) – Relating to a property tax exemption for certain nonprofit housing corporations, so as to ensure the exemption only applies to the percentage of property equal to corporation’s ownership in the property. Update: The Senate Finance Committee passed the bill. It now moves to the Senate floor.

 

CAMPAIGN FINANCE
  • Dependent Care (4561) – This bill would allow for candidates or public officials to use campaign funds for personal expenses relating to dependent care or supervision. Status: A Judiciary subcommittee considers the bill on Thursday at 9am.

GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
  • Executive Office of Public Health (H.4927)This bill would consolidate several state health departments under a new Executive Office of Health. The office would consist of five sub-departments: the Department of Health Financing, the Department of Public Health, the Department on Aging, the Department of Intellectual and Related Disabilities, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Services. A similar bill was passed by the Senate last week. Update: Passed the House with amendments after a lengthy and heated debate.

GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY 

As of Tuesday morning, only eight of the 14 House committee meetings are scheduled to be livestreamed, while only eight of 16 Senate committee meetings are scheduled to be livestreamed. Unfortunately, just one of five budget subcommittee hearings are set to be livestreamed. To view the full committee calendar (showing which meetings are, and are not, being streamed), click here.

 

STATE BUDGET

The following Senate subcommittees meet this week to hear budget requests from state agencies and colleges. Last week, the House Ways and Means committee approved its draft of the next state budget, suggesting the full House will debate the spending bill sometime in mid-March. 

The following committees and subcommittees meet this week:

 

  • Higher Education subcommittee (Senate) 2/27/24 at 10am & 2/29/24 at 10am – Hearing from The Citadel and the Technical Colleges System on the 27th; and The Area Health Education Consortium and MUSC on the 29th. 

  • Finance K-12 Education Subcommittee (Senate) 2/28/24 at 9am & 2/29/24 at 10am – Hearing from Archives and History, the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum and the State Library on the 28th; and the Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities, the Governor’s School for Science and Math, and the Education Oversight Committee on the 29th.

  • Constitutional subcommittee (Senate) 2/29/24 upon adjournment of the Senate and 2/21/24 at 10am – Hearing from the South Carolina Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Office, and the State Ethics Commission.