Update 2/8/24: Several adjustments were made to this summary to reflect developments that occurred during the week.
Important updates on judicial reform
South Carolina’s judicial elections, originally planned for this week, are seemingly on hold after S.C. Senator Wes Climer and fellow senators look prepared to block nearly all elections for state judge until the General Assembly takes up and passes reform. Specifically, Climer and 24 Senate co-sponsors are backing a resolution that is limited to electing a successor to retiring S.C. Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty on Wednesday, and taking no action on other judicial seats.
This is huge – and we commend these senators for taking a stand and fighting for this cause. Of course, now come important questions: What does “reform” look like? And what will the General Assembly deliver, if at all?
As you may know, SCPC recommends seven steps to meaningfully improve our judicial system. These include overhauling the Judicial Merit Selection Commission or “JMSC,” which screens and nominates judicial candidates prior to their election by the General Assembly (the 10-member JMSC is appointed by just three legislators), as well as raising or removing a cap that often results in qualified candidates not having a chance to seek election.
Here’s the good news: a Senate subcommittee meets this afternoon to consider 16 bills dealing with judicial reform. While we are still reviewing the details of every bill, at least one proposal – S.178 – truly stands out. This bill would shrink the JMSC and allow the governor to appoint its members, prohibit legislators or their immediate family from serving on the JMSC, and repeal the cap described above.
These changes would provide for more balance and accountability throughout the selection process, mitigate conflicts of interest, and foster more competition in judicial races.
We will be monitoring today’s subcommittee hearing and posting real-time updates on X (formerly known as Twitter). Follow us at @scpolicycouncil! Below you can find the rest of the Statehouse Update with the status of other major bills.
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REFORMING JUDICIAL SELECTIONS
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee meets on Tuesday at 3pm 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 JMSC from 10 to seven commissioners and allow the governor to appoint its members. 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 ambitious reform on the table; however, in our view, it has a very low chance of passing in the near future.
- S.248 – This bill is enabling legislation for the gubernatorial appointment process outlined in S.249.
- 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: The committee discussed many bills but did not action on them. Members said they want to narrow down the list of bills and take out those which are duplicative or require amending the state Constitution. Importantly, S.178 (backed by SCPC) is a unique proposal that would not require amending the S.C. Constitution. We believe the bill must be advanced.
- Regulating lender practices (S.910) – This bill would ban, restrict or regulate a host of activities by anyone providing installment or deferred presentment loans, while exempting big banks and credit unions. The measures include heavy restrictions on marketing and mailed loan offers, limitations on when and how often loans can be renewed, and a requirement focused on borrowers and their ability to repay.
These measures, though perhaps well-meaning, would limit consumers' access to credit, stifle competition in the financial industry, and create an environment that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for lenders to operate. Read our analysis of the bill here.
Update: The full Senate LCI Committee adopted a minor amendment and advanced the bill to the Senate floor. However, new reports suggest it might be dead for the year.
- 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 Senate bill was advanced through subcommittee last week. Update: Passed subcommittee and is now with the full House Judiciary Committee, which meets next Tuesday.
TAXES AND SPENDING
- Recycling tax deductions (H.4087) – This bill would lower the standards required for a recycling facility to claim a tax deduction. In general, South Carolina should prioritize broad tax cuts, not targeted breaks for specific industries or groups. Update: The Senate Finance subcommittee carried over the bill after amending it.
- Continuing budget resolution (H.4720) – This resolution states that if the 2024-25 fiscal year begins with no general appropriations act in effect for that year, then state spending will continue at levels appropriated in the FY 2023-24 budget. Update: The subcommittee advanced the resolution to the full Senate Finance Committee.
- Constitutional Carry (H.3594) – This bill would allow adults (18+) who are lawfully permitted to own a handgun to carry that handgun, either openly or concealed, without the need for a concealed weapons permit. It would also impose stronger penalties for felons caught unlawfully possessing firearms. Update: The House rejected the Senate’s amendments, likely setting up a conference committee to reach a compromise on the bill.
- Teacher work experience (S.305) – This bill would allow individuals who have at least five years of qualifying work experience to count that experience when obtaining a teaching certificate, which would entitle them to better pay. Update: Passed the Senate. Now in the House Education and Public Works Committee.
As of Monday afternoon, seven of 12 House committee meetings are scheduled to be livestreamed, while only five of 13 Senate committee meetings are scheduled to be livestreamed. Unfortunately, only one of four budget subcommittee hearings are scheduled to be livestreamed. To view the full committee calendar (showing which meetings are, and are not, being streamed), click here.
The legislative budget process starts with state agencies presenting their spending requests for the upcoming fiscal year to various House and Senate budget subcommittees. Lawmakers will use the information gathered at these meetings to write the first draft of the budget. The following subcommittees meet this week:
- Constitutional subcommittee (House) 2/6/24 immediately upon House adjournment. – Hearing from the Adjutant General, the Patriot’s Point Development Authority, and on proviso requests (provisos are effectively mini-laws in the budget that direct how dollars should be spent.)
- Criminal Justice subcommittee (Senate) 2/7/24 at 8:45am – Hearing from the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole, the Commission on Indigent Defense, the Commission on Prosecution Coordination, and the Department of Revenue.
- K-12 Education (Senate) 2/7/24 at 10am – Hearing from the Wil Lou Gray School, the State Museum and the Arts Commission.
- Higher Education (Senate) 2/8/24 at 10am – Hearing from Lander University and Clemson University.