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State House Update: Senate Budget Week & Crossover

This past week, we had a lot of conversations with legislators that will hopefully lead to action in the coming weeks. That being said, our priorities didn’t move much — which is good for the bad bills and bad for the good bills. Here’s what happened.

Highlights from last week: 

  • The Senate Finance Committee restored the deed stamp funding source and fully funded 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 avoided votes in the Senate on Nuisance and in the House on Auto Stay. This is the final week before a bill must “crossover” to the other chamber to pass into law this Year. With that deadline approaching on April 10th, we hope to continue to hold the line on these anti-conservation bills.

This week, the Senate will be focusing on the Budget. We hope Senators will support the Committee’s budget recommendations. Please visit our Legislative Action Center for opportunities to contact your legislators. Here’s the rundown on legislation:

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.

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).

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.

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. 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 is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. (They may get back to this bill after the Budget discussions this week.)
  • Please ask your Senators to oppose both of these bills.

Please visit our Legislative Action Center for opportunities to contact your legislators.

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