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Legislative Update: Headwinds ahead

Posted: March 15, 2017 - 2:54am

Dear Friends:

The legislative move to increase SC's gas tax ran into strong headwinds this past week at the Statehouse.

Governor Nixes Gas Tax Hike Proposal

Gov. Henry McMaster dismissed the idea of raising South Carolina's gas tax saying, "Less than half of the gas tax money to date goes to fixing roads and bridges." McMaster added, "Raising taxes is rarely the answer and it is not the answer in this case."

McMaster would not commit to vetoing any legislation should it hit his desk, but reiterated his stance that people in South Carolina are already taxed enough.

Meanwhile, a Senate subcommittee approved their bill that would increase the state's gas tax by 12 cents per-gallon to help fix roads and bridges across the state. The Senate bill asked for 2 cents more a gallon than a similar bill that won by a veto-proof margin in the House. The gas tax action is now in the Senate.

Poll Shows Low Support for Gas Tax

Results of a new statewide poll measuring support for a gas tax increase shows only 21 percent support. Twelve-hundred likely 2018 voters participated in the survey by The Trafalgar Group. "The gas tax hike itself remains very unpopular, especially when considered alone. The gas tax increase isn't tied to partisanship as many political observers anticipated. In fact, the support for the tax increase is directly tied to income. The strongest opponents to the gas tax increase are those households making under 50k a year," said TFG Senior Strategist Robert Cahaly.

The same poll also asked questions about support for President Trump and Gov. McMaster. (View all poll results at http://bit.ly/2mXUUbi)

State Budget Debate

This week, my House colleagues and I will review the state budget in several days of floor debate. Funding the needs of an entire state is a daunting task; we will vote more than 200 times on every section of the General Fund budget. This year's budget totals nearly $27 billion.

Statehouse News Brief

It is my goal in this weekly legislative update to provide a news summary of significant developments in the General Assembly.

Saving Our Rivers

I joined Rep. James Smith in sponsoring legislation (H.3890) that takes steps to guard the unlimited water withdrawal from S.C. rivers. This has become a critical concern in Aiken County with the unlimited withdrawal of water from the Edisto River by the mega-farms that have been created in the last few years. The bill is identical to legislation we filed last session that calls for the permitting of new agriculture water withdrawals and for expansion of existing registrations.

Gun Rights

A House panel advanced a bill that allows for South Carolinians to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. The proposed law (H.3930) advanced with no opposition. The measure is similar to a bill introduced during the 2016 legislative year and is commonly referred to as "Constitutional Carry," because it allows for firearms owners to carry a weapon concealed without a permit.

Legislation (H.3240) that would call for SC to recognize all valid Right-to-Carry permits issued by other states is ready to be debated by the full House after the budget is considered this coming week. I am a sponsor of this bill.

In the Senate, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation (S.527) that would extend the amount of time for the FBI to investigate potential issues with a criminal background check from three days to five.

The FBI said its system was not able to block the sale to Charleston shooter Dylann Roof - who due to a prior arrest should not have been allowed to buy the gun - because of an improperly filed police report.

Retired judges are seeking an exemption that would allow them to carry weapons anywhere in the state saying they often get threats on their lives from individuals they sentenced.

Real I.D. Wins House Approval

The House gave final approval and sent to the Senate legislation (H.3358) that would make the state compliant with the federal Real ID Act. South Carolina is in jeopardy of losing its compliance waiver from the feds. If that happens a state driver's license would not be acceptable identification to fly on commercial airlines or enter federal properties.

Environmental Lawsuits

Legislation that could make it harder for private citizens or conservation groups to file lawsuits that block development received a key vote in the Senate after nearly five hours of debate. Senators voted 26-6 for legislation that would limit the time lawsuits could be filed against companies after they receive necessary environmental permits from environmental regulators. Similar legislation (H.3565) is ready to be debated by the full House.

Anti-Semitism Legislation

Last year, our nation saw a drastic increase in anti-Semitic behavior among college students at colleges and universities. There was a 30 percent rise in anti-Semitism during 2016. We took bipartisan action to give our state-owned institutions of higher learning the tools they need to combat bigotry and hate while protecting freedom of speech. This legislation (H.3643), sponsored by 115 Representatives, sends a strong message that SC opposes bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.

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Banning Plastic Bags

A bill that would have prevented cities and counties from banning plastic bags and other containers died this year during House debate. The goal of the legislation (H.3529) is to stop a hodgepodge of local restrictions that would be highly confusing and difficult for consumers and businesses alike. The bill will be back next January.

Fight over Piping

There was a huge lobbying effort from both sides over legislation (H.3652) that opens up the procurement process for selecting the type of pipe to be used in water and sewer projects. Many cities have historically specified steel piping. This legislation requires all qualified piping material be considered while leaving the final decision to local engineers. We believe this open competition will likely drive down the cost of infrastructure projects in SC.

Birth Control

A House panel on Wednesday advanced a bill (H.3809) that offers expanded birth control options for women. A subcommittee voted in favor of a proposal that requires insurers cover a women's ability to get a year's worth of birth control at one time. The panel also approved language that would allow women to get birth control refills for up to three years before they need to go back to the doctor for a new prescription.

Moped Restrictions Approved

Every session the House passes legislation on mopeds only to have it die in the Senate. This year's bill (H.3247) establishes new requirements for registering and licensing mopeds as well as placing new safety requirements on mopeds. It would require moped operators and passengers to wear reflective vests at night. The legislation replaces the multiple, sometimes conflicting, definitions for mopeds currently found in statutes with a single new definition for mopeds.

 

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