Happy Sine Die! In legislative speak, that means the legislative session is (mostly) over until 2019.
I say mostly because the House and Senate made arrangements that will allow them to return later in May and June to discuss the budget, “VC Summer-related energy issues,” and legislation that had different versions pass the House and Senate and still need to be worked out.
Until they come back, Hal is working to get our 2017-2018 Conservation Scorecard finalized before the June 12 primary elections.
So while Hal is hard at work tallying votes and identifying the conservation leaders of 2017-2018, I wanted to shoot you a somewhat quick wrapup of the two year session.
I should note that there are tons of thank yous to go around to key legislative champions. But rather than try and do that today and miss someone, we’ll cover those highlights in our scorecard rollout next month.
That said, I’m calling this wrapup like I see it - the good, the bad, and the uncertain.
Conservation Bank - With a do-or-die year for the Conservation Bank, we saw a bipartisan coalition of legislators come together and permanently reauthorize the Conservation Bank! In addition, both the House and Senate budgets include recurring funds for the Conservation Bank and its mission. These victories ensure that the State will continue to prioritize and invest in protecting the landscapes that define our people and our quality of life. With final approval yesterday of the reauthorizing legislation, this critical bill will head to the Governor’s desk.
Shoreline, Waste, and Litter - We also saw collaboration and compromise work on numerous fronts to maintain or improve good conservation policies. Thanks for our coastal partners and champions, amendments to the historical 2016 shoreline management bill retained the critical “no seaward movement” of the development baseline while improving appeals and the baseline setting process for future revisions. The Solid Waste Management Act was improved with the support of a strong coalition of conservation advocates, waste industry, and state agencies. And anti-litter legislation moved through both chambers this week.
Plastic Bags - Conservation champions successfully fought back against attacks on home rule and efforts to strip communities of the ability to find local solutions to local plastic problems. With the Senate adjourning with no action taken on the plastic bag bill, the plastic bag ordinances established in SC’s coastal communities will remain in place, protecting both the environment and quality of life in these areas.
The 2017-2018 session saw continued efforts to roll back core environmental protections – particularly in the legal arena. Despite valiant efforts from House and Senate champions, both the Automatic Stay and state nuisance laws were weakened this session, giving polluters an easier path to cause major environmental harm with little consequence.
While these bills did pass, efforts by conservation champions limited their impacts as much as possible so that citizens continue to have access to both the permitting process and the courts as they fight to protect their health, quality of life, and property. Conservation Voters and our allies will stand vigilant in future sessions to ensure that the rights of citizens to a clean and healthy environment continue to be protected and that additional attacks on these rights are thwarted.
Dam Safety - Despite the floods of 2015 and 2016 and their immense impacts on lives and properties, the Legislature failed to enact reforms to our antiquated dam safety laws. The House acted early in the session, but intense debate in the Senate and a focus on other issues slowed progress of this bill. Rather than abandoning efforts, however, the Senate and House both committed to intense and thoughtful work over the “off-season” to craft legislation supported by a broad array of stakeholders as well as House and Senate members. Only time will tell if this process bears fruit and if meaningful legislation will be crafted for introduction and adoption in 2019.
Energy - The 2018 legislative year has been a roller coaster for clean energy and energy reform efforts. With quick and near unanimous support from the House, energy reform legislation was intensely debated in the Senate with Base Load Review Act and Consumer Advocate reform passing right before sine die. But the reform measures still have a long journey through conference committee. The House and Senate have made allowances that these and other energy reforms can continue to be discussed into the summer and fall, so the future of these bills is still uncertain.
In addition, free-market energy policies and policies to remove caps on solar net-metering also failed to progress completely through the legislative process before the gavels were struck at 5pm yesterday. Although these issues remain unsettled, they are not over. Free-market energy policies and increasing the solar net-metering cap will continue to be debated as part of the conference committee process between House and Senate versions of the budget. The Senate version includes a provision on free-market energy competition; the House version includes raising and studying the solar net-metering cap as well as improving energy planning.
So when the legislature returns in late May and late June, energy will still be a big part of the discussion. Stay tuned…
In the coming weeks, we’ll let you know how you can help get clean energy across the finish line. This week, you can help us encourage Senators to support solar in the final budget.
We’ll also be sharing how you can hold your legislator accountable at the polls in June and November with our State House endorsements rolling out in the coming weeks. Your trip to the ballot box will also be aided by our 2017-2018 Conservation Scorecard after its rollout later this month.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll join us in celebrating the great wins for conservation this session. We couldn’t have done it without you.