By Jason Zacher
The General Assembly adjourned on May 10 (for now). The initial reports from Columbia were that “nothing” was accomplished by the General Assembly this year. However, over the two-year session, the Upstate business community’s two biggest priorities–infrastructure funding and workforce expansion–were passed by the General Assembly.
(And, surprisingly, both were vetoed by the governor.)
Here are a few of the business community’s notable accomplishments:
First, the General Assembly passed the Manufacturing Liability Protection Act, a bill that has been on the Coalition’s agenda for the past two years. This bill will help protect manufacturers’ existing operations from nuisance lawsuits, which can be timely and costly to settle. As the Upstate has experienced rapid growth, many of our industrial facilities that were once built miles from cities and towns are now being surrounded by residential neighbors. Homeowners would still retain the ability to file a nuisance lawsuit if there is a change in the manufacturer’s production and methods beyond their state and federal permits.
The second major bill was the “Automatic Stay” legislation. The law puts a 90-day clock on the amount of time a judge can issue a stay on a project while environmental permits are being appealed to the Administrative Law Court. Before this law was passed, there were no time limits and permits could be held up indefinitely – which was a common legal tactic by environmentalists to stall new development. We believe that these stays were unfairly penalizing the business community and adding thousands or millions to a project’s cost – and when applied to the DOT, costing taxpayers millions. If there are legitimate environmental concerns, the cases will be heard and the stays can be extended. This will help eliminate frivolous lawsuits with the sole purpose of delaying development.
In a shocking move, legislation that will allow voters to choose whether the state Superintendent of Education is elected or appointed by the Governor was approved with three minutes left in the session. This bill had been stranded in the Senate since 2017, but rocketed out of the Senate in less than a week at the end of the 2018 session. While this was not specifically on the Upstate Chamber Coalition’s agenda for this year (to be honest, we’d lost hope), it has been on our legislative agenda for nearly a decade. This will now be on the ballot in November. We urge support and believe that putting education, workforce development, and business recruitment under the Governor’s Office will better align resources to the benefit of all three.
As I write this, a few other bills are still in limbo, but passed both chambers:
S. 1043, a bill reauthorizing the Abandoned Buildings tax credit, made it to the conference committee. This legislation extends a tax credit frequently used in both cities and rural areas and has been key to many areas in economic development. The Senate tacked on the language for S. 404, which was a major priority for us this year. S. 404 allows economic developers to give the highly demanded job development tax credits to professional services and office jobs. Currently, economic development incentives are used for manufacturing, but these would allow Upstate economic developers to attract more office and headquarter-type jobs to the area. Both of these bills are UCC priorities.
H. 3209, the non-violent expungement legislation that has floundered in the Senate for a year, gained new life and passed unexpectedly in the final week. The House voted to concur with the Senate’s amendments at 4:56 on the final day – only four minutes before the end of session. This bill is not everything we wanted in non-violent expungement legislation, but it will go a long way to clearing the records of tens of thousands of people. We were very disappointed that Gov. McMaster decided to veto the one major jobs bill that passed this session. Passing H. 3209 would help South Carolina reach the national labor force participation rate, resulting in more than 20,000 additional potential employees in Greenville County, and more than 200,000 more throughout the state. Everybody wants to expand labor force participation rates. Everybody knows a good job is the best way to reduce recidivism. Everybody wants to improve per-capita incomes in South Carolina. H. 3209 does all three, but as I write this, the legislation hangs by a thread. We hope the General Assembly will override the veto at the end of June.
When we add these bills to the infrastructure funding passed last year and the first steps on pension reform, it was a very good session for business. Thank you to the South Carolina General Assembly for taking seriously the business of creating jobs and supporting small business.
Check upstatechamber.org in mid-July to see our final legislative scorecard and full legislative wrap-up.