Legislative Hotlist: March 14, 2023
It’s budget week! We are already on day two of session, so let’s dive in.
Budget Week: This week, the full House is debating the appropriations bill (see here for our run-down of this year’s appropriations for conservation). That doesn’t mean the Senate Finance committee isn’t hard at work hearing from agencies on their budget request. This week, the Department of Natural Resources, the Conservation Bank, and SC Parks, Recreation, and Tourism have their time before the committee.
DHEC Reform—House v. Senate: A Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee will have a hearing this week on S.399 to hear from the conservation community. Senator Peeler’s version of DHEC Reform is a big bill with far-reaching consequences. Most importantly, the current version of the bill being debated:
- Splits DHEC up into two separate agencies: the Department of Public and Behavioral Health and the Department of Environmental Services
- The Department of Environmental Services will largely function as a permitting agency directly accountable to the Governor as a cabinet agency.
- It reassigns certain responsibilities, moving the Water Resources Division at DNR to the new Department of Environmental Services.
Environmental permitting is a crucial piece of the overall puzzle to protect the air, land, and water we love in South Carolina. Permitting allows DHEC to prevent issues before they ever happen while also having some accountability over private companies as they conduct business. Therefore, CVSC believes these permitting decisions should be based on science and supported by robust opportunities for public engagement. To that end, the conservation community has flagged the following critical items that should be addressed if the bill moves forward (and it appears it will):
- Preserving the current automatic stay of permit decisions before and after any appeal to the Administrative Law Court;
- Establishing a formal internal agency review process before issuing draft agency decisions in place of the current Board review;
- Addressing the loss of jurisdiction for “classification of waters” and regulation over impoundments; and
- Enhancing public engagement and participation in the permitting process to enhance citizen access and inclusion in the environmental permitting process.
We’re also concerned about the proposed move of DNR’s Water Resources Division to the new permitting agency and are trying to learn more about how this could be done well. The Division is integrated into DNR functionality, and moving the division now could stall the ongoing State Water Planning process.
Now, as all of this is happening in the Senate, the Speaker of the House introduced his own version of DHEC Reform last week, H.4124. This bill takes a far different approach; it still splits DHEC into two agencies but directs the Department of Administration to study how best to conduct the split. In this version of the bill, we still lost the current automatic stay of permit decisions and the internal appeals process discussed above.
All told, reforming our state’s biggest agency is not a job to be done without thorough deliberation and consideration. We’ll engage with both chambers to make these bills the best they can be.
Trails Tax Credit: Recreational trail systems provide many benefits to their communities—they encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyles, create outdoor recreation opportunities, and preserve and create greenspaces. H.3121 is a bill introduced by Representative Max Hyde to promote new trails in South Carolina. Ask your Representative to support H.3121!
The bill would provide an income tax credit to a property owner who adds a voluntary, perpetual trail easement to their property and provides the qualifying criteria. This incentive will expand access to our State’s beautiful trail system so more people can enjoy the beauty of the outdoors!
Lobby Day: We invite you to join us for the SC Conservation Coalition’s 20th Annual Lobby Day and Oyster Roast on Wednesday, April 5th. Please find more information and register here for a day of advocating for conservation in the SC legislature, networking with fellow CVSC volunteers and partners, and celebrating our work in SC. The Lobby Day and Oyster Roast are both free to attend. If participating in Lobby Day, please plan to meet us at our registration table near the Visitor’s Entrance of the State House (Gervais St side) at 9:15am on Wednesday, April 5th. Lobbying will continue through the early afternoon. The Oyster Roast will kick off at 5:30pm that night and run until 8:00pm at the Market Building at 701 Whaley in Columbia. We hope to see you there!
20th Anniversary Event Cancelation: Unfortunately, due to unforeseen issues, we are postponing our 20th Anniversary events in Columbia (scheduled for 3/18/23) and Charleston (scheduled for 3/19/23) the event until this fall (date TBD).
We appreciate your understanding and look forward to celebrating our 20 years of bipartisan and pragmatic political action protecting the South Carolina we love later this year. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Meredith McNeely at [email protected] or 803.360.6070.
Triple Your Impact! Right now, we’re halfway through year one of the 2023-2024 legislative session, and our work at the State House is really ramping up. In the busy months ahead, your donation will help CVSC protect more green spaces with historic and cultural significance, expand electric transportation to improve air quality, and fight against environmental rollbacks.
For a limited time, every gift will be tripled to boost our efforts and make an immediate impact at the State House. A generous donor has pledged to triple every donation we receive in March, up to $5,000! This means your gift will go three times as far in the fight for South Carolina’s water, land, air, and energy! Make your donation here.
The Legislative Hotlist is a weekly update from our Government Relations Director, Meagan Diedolf. Sign up for emails to get the Hotlist delivered directly to your inbox!