State House Update: The Final Countdown
We made it to crossover (a bill had to “crossover” to the other chamber by April 10th to pass into law this Year)! And when the legislature returns from their spring furlough on April 18th, we will only have 12 days of left at the State House for 2017.
Highlights from last week:
- The Senate kept the Finance Committee’s budget recommendation restoring the deed stamp funding source and fully funding the Conservation Bank at $16M with an additional $10M, for a total of $26M. They also fully funded the request from the dam safety program at DHEC.
- We again avoided votes in the Senate on Nuisance and in the House on Auto Stay. We also avoided a House subcommittee on the Auto Stay bill (S.105) because of scheduling conflicts — giving us better chances of avoiding additional movement this Year on this bad bill.
What happens next?
The legislators will return from break on April 18th. The last few weeks of session will be a sprint to pass bills that made crossover before “sine die” (the last day of the legislative Year) on May 11th.
Here’s a wrap up of bills that could still “move” this Year before May 11th. We’ll need to ramp up on action alerts when they return the week of April 18th, so stay tuned for updates.
Saving the Automatic Stay: If passed, S.105 and H.3565 will weaken citizens’ ability to successfully challenge the government when a citizen believes a permit is incorrectly issued (before it’s finalized). These bills neuter what is known as the Automatic Stay – a pause button that prevents harm from occurring while the permit challenge is considered. The “stay” allows the court to assess the facts and law in order to determine whether the permit was properly granted. The “stay” avoids irreparable harm to an affected party or place before that harm occurs.
This tool may be used by a wide range of entities – conservation groups, wastewater utilities, hospitals, restaurants, and any other entity that must obtain, or may be affected by, a DHEC permit for operation.
The stakes are high in permit challenges, for both an applicant and a challenger. Allowing a permitted activity to begin with a faulty permit or requiring citizens to post high bonds would significantly harm citizens’ ability to successfully challenge the government and unnecessarily increase costs of a project.
Read more about the automatic stay here.
- House Status: S.105 is the only Auto Stay bill this Year to make crossover, which means it has a chance of passing since it already passed out of the Senate. It’s subcommittee hearing was cancelled last week. We will let you know if and when that’s rescheduled. Please keep up the pressure and contact your Representative and ask them to oppose this bill.
Reauthorizing the Conservation Bank: The Conservation Bank was created 14 Years ago to safeguard our drinking water, preserve our history and culture, and protect our precious natural resources. It’s the only statewide source of public funding available for willing landowners and their land trust partners to voluntarily conserve important SC lands, and it will shut down if not reauthorized by June of 2018.
Rep. Pitts and White introduced H.4014 to reauthorize and restructure the Conservation Bank. The bill will change the funding source for the Bank, move the Bank under DNR, require more public access at Bank-funded properties, establish limits on the amount of funds that can be used on conservation easements, and eliminate the sunset and death clause. Supporters of the Bank are currently working with the House Ways and Means Subcommittee to address questions and concerns by suggesting a few improvements and adjustments to the Bill.
We also hope to see movement soon in the Senate on Senator Campsen’s reauthorization bill. S.219 reauthorizes the Conservation Bank for 10 Years and maintains reduced funding for the Bank even in lean budget Years (previously, the Bank was cut to $0 in lean budget Years).
Neither of the Conservation Bank bills made crossover, but we can see movement on these bills in 2018 before the bank expires.
Solar Market Growth: Landmark clean energy legislation passed in 2014 (Act 236) and has made South Carolina one of the fastest growing solar markets in the nation. In order to maintain expansion of renewables in South Carolina, we support adoption of clear guidance for reasonable property tax treatment of renewable energy equipment installed in our state.
S.44 establishes a clear and consistent path for property tax treatment of solar panel and other renewable energy installations, providing an 80% reduction of Fair Market Value for purposes of property tax assessment. As amended, the bill also exempts all residential solar panels from property tax. Together, these changes will help solar continue to grow in South Carolina.
- After passing out of the Senate, S.44 made crossover and is awaiting a House subcommittee hearing in Ways and Means. While this bill made the crossover deadline, the end of the legislative Year is May 11th. If we want a bill this Year, we need to get this moving in the House with a subcommittee hearing. Please encourage your Representative to push for a hearing and passage of the bill.
Immunity for Industry from Nuisance Suits: S.323 and H.3653 remove the rights of neighboring landowners to take action to ensure the safe and healthy enjoyment of their property. The bills provide industry a blanket immunity from noise and odor impacts to nearby properties (these, among others, are called nuisance complaints). If these bills pass, citizens will not be able to take action to protect their property from nuisance issues. Supporters of the bill argue that the bill is intended to prevent an existing industry from being sued if a nearby property is sold and a new resident moves nearby. But existing nuisance laws and court precedent have already established a process for addressing disputes that arise between industries and their neighbors. The current system is not broken and is not being abused and should be maintained.
- H.3653 passed out of the House 78-27 (making crossover). It now heads to the Senate for review in committee. Please join me in thanking Reps. Gary Clary (R-Clemson) and James Smith (D-Columbia) for their support on the House floor.
- S.323 did not make crossover, so H.3653 may now get more attention from Senators who support the bills.
- Please ask your Senators to oppose both of these bills.
Please visit our Legislative Action Center for opportunities to contact your legislators.