Update 2/2/24: Several adjustments were made to this summary to reflect developments that occurred during the week.
Big news this week! On Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee considers a bill that would cause fewer businesses to have to pay excessive and disproportionate damages in civil cases, while still looking after injured South Carolinians. Meanwhile, a House committee tasked with reviewing how SC selects judges will meet twice (the first meeting is later today), where members are seeking public comment. Sound off! Tell your lawmakers to support judicial reform (learn more here) using SCPC’s quick and easy message tool.
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CIVIL LIABILITY REFORM
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 help reduce the number of businesses forced to pay disproportionate damage awards. Learn more about this issue here. Status: A Senate Judiciary subcommittee considers the bill on Wednesday at 11:30.
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 – will likely delay progress on existing bills. This issue should be discussed in a regular committee meeting where bills can be scheduled and debated. The above hearing on S.533 is a good example. Status: A Senate Judiciary subcommittee considers the bill on Wednesday at 11:30am.
HOUSE JUDICIAL SELECTION PROCESS REVIEW COMMITTEE
In its first hearing of 2024, the House judicial selection process review committee meets Tuesday upon House adjournment, and again on Wednesday at 4pm. The committee was established in late 2023 by House leadership after years of pressure from SCPC and allies to reform the process for selecting SC judges. The process, at present, is primarily controlled by lawyer-legislators. The committee is expected to produce a bill on the matter, but we should note that many bills addressing judicial reform already exist (see here).
The committee is accepting public testimony (written testimony can be submitted to [email protected]). In addition, please urge your legislators to pass judicial reform using our quick and easy lawmaker contact tool.
Update: After taking public comment, the committee this week announced it is concluding its review and and published a list of 16 recommendations relating to judicial reform. Several align with SCPC's longstanding recommendations, though certain crucial reforms are missing or not explicitly state. Next week, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee meets to discuss 16 separate related to judicial selections, a major step on the path of reform.
- 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: Passed the Senate and returned to the House with amendments.
Executive Office of Health and Policy (S.915) – This bill would consolidate several state health departments under a new Executive Office of Health and Policy. 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. Update: The Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee advanced the bill to the full committee.
Restrictions on minors using social media (H.4700) – This bill would regulate social media usage by minors. At least one potential area of concern: it would direct the S.C. Department of Education to develop online safety and awareness programs that must cover "the distribution of disinformation and misinformation on social media." Do we want government in the business of defining terms like "misinformation"? Update: Passed the House and assigned to the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. While the S.C. Ed. department must still create an online safety program under the House-passed version, the section specifically relating to disinformation and misinformation was removed from the bill.
- Extending the legislative session (S.806) – Under this proposal, the regular legislative session would automatically be extended if the House fails to give the state budget third reading by March 10 (currently the House has until March 31). Additionally, if the budget or Capital Reserve Fund resolution are not completed by the last day of regular session, the House speaker and Senate president can call back their respective bodies into session at any time until the first Thursday in June. Update: Passed the Senate and sent to House.
TAXES AND FEES
- Increased fees for new residents (S.208) – This bill would allow counties to impose additional driver’s license and motor vehicle licensing and registration fees on new residents (subject to a local referendum). We oppose this proposal and believe the state should not enact policies that will penalize future residents and deter economic growth. Status: On the Senate floor, though it is currently contested.
As of 3:00 Monday, Jan. 29, 15 of 18 House committee meetings are scheduled to be livestreamed, while only five of nine Senate committee meetings are scheduled to be livestreamed. Fortunately, all but one House 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 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:
Transportation and Regulatory subcommittee 1/30/24 1.5 hours after House adjournment – Hearing on provisos request (provisos are effectively mini-laws in the budget that direct how dollars should be spent.)
Criminal Justice subcommittee 1/31/24 at 9– Hearing from the Attorney General and provisos requests.
- Constitutional subcommittee 1/30/24 at 3 & 1/30/24 one and a half hours upon adjournment. – Hearing from the Comptroller General’s Office, the Office of the State Auditor, and the State Treasurer’s Office on Jan. 30; and the Adjutant General and the Patriot’s Point Development Authority on Jan. 31.