The State Capitol Report – 3/22/2019

The House of Representatives concurred in Senate amendments to H.3449 and enrolled the legislation for ratification.  The bill enacts the “SOUTH CAROLINA HEMP FARMING ACT” to promote the cultivation and processing of hemp, expand the state’s hemp industry, open new commercial markets for farmers and businesses through the sale of hemp products, and encourage research into hemp growth and hemp products at state institutions of higher education and in the private sector.  The legislation addresses the use of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, with federally defined THC level for hemp, for such uses as cloth, cordage, fiber, fuel, paint, paper, particleboard, plastics, cosmetics, personal care products, food, and any product containing one or more hemp‑derived cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol.  In light of the enactment of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, which classifies hemp as an agricultural commodity, this legislation replaces the state’s provisions for cultivating industrial hemp that were previously enacted and provides for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to submit a state plan to the USDA for approval.  The legislation eliminates various restrictions that were imposed on the cultivation of hemp, such as the limitations on the number of permits issued and the maximum acreage that could be cultivated.  While these maximum limits are no longer imposed, individuals may only cultivate, handle, or process hemp by obtaining a license issued by the Department of Agriculture under the state plan in a process that includes: providing a legal description and location of fields or greenhouses; providing written consent allowing representatives of the department, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and local law enforcement, to enter onto all premises where hemp is cultivated, processed, or stored for the purposes of conducting physical inspections, obtaining samples of hemp or hemp products, or otherwise ensuring compliance with the requirements of applicable laws and regulations; and submitting to a criminal records check.  No one who has been convicted of a felony, a drug‑related misdemeanor, or drug related violation in the ten years prior to the submission of the application is eligible to obtain a license.  The state plan must include laboratory testing for delta‑9 tetrahydrocannabinol to ensure that hemp crops do not contain the high THC levels found in controlled substances.  Criminal penalties continue to be provided to address the cultivation of industrial hemp as a means of disguising marijuana production or distribution operations.  A violation is a misdemeanor that carries a term of imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of up to three thousand dollars.  The South Carolina Department of Agriculture is authorized to issue licenses to all those who applied in 2019 and met the licensing criteria but were denied solely because the department had already issued the legally permitted number of licenses for the year.

The House approved S.160, a bill authorizing the Department of Revenue to implement INTERNET FILING AND INDEXING OF TAX LIENS for public inspection online, and enrolled the legislation for ratification.  Replacing the existing system of filing tax liens with county clerks of court, the legislation allows the Department of Revenue to implement a centralized system of filing and indexing liens which is accessible to the public over the Internet or through other means.  The legislation implements a recommendation from the House Legislative Oversight Committee’s study of the Department of Revenue.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3595 and enrolled the bill for ratification.  The legislation revises the INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIP FUND TAX CREDIT to provide that the maximum annual amount is two hundred fifty thousand dollars for a single taxpayer, not to exceed an aggregate credit of nine million dollars for all taxpayers.  The increased maximum credit amount is phased in under a three-year schedule beginning after 2018.  Any member of the South Carolina Research Authority board of trustees or the SC Launch!, Inc. board of directors is not eligible to claim the tax credit.    The South Carolina Research Authority is required to issue an annual report to the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, and the Governor detailing the amount contributed to the Industry Partnership Fund in the previous tax year that entitled the taxpayer to the credit, the taxpayers that received the credit, and the manner in which such contributions were expended or are expected to be expended.  The report also must be posted in a conspicuous place on the South Carolina Research Authority’s website.

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H.3046, a bill establishing CRIMINAL OFFENSES OF FURTHERING TERRORISM.  The legislation establishes the felony offense of furthering terrorism that applies to someone who makes significant plans or takes actions toward the commission of an act of violence with the intent to commit an act of terrorism.  A violator is subject to imprisonment for up to thirty years.  The legislation also establishes a felony offense that applies to someone who provides material or financial support of an act of terrorism or who conceals the actions or plans of another to carry out an act of terrorism.  A violator is subject to imprisonment for up to twenty years.  The legislation authorizes the seizure and forfeiture of real and personal property used in connection with these offenses.  The legislation revises the statutory definition of “terrorism” to make clear that it encompasses instances of domestic terror by specifically including criminal acts dangerous to human life that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce groups within the civilian population based on the group’s race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, or sexual orientation.

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H.3145, a bill addressing ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES OVERSIGHT AND TRANSPARENCY.  The legislation vests the Office of Regulatory Staff with authority and jurisdiction to make inspections, audits and examinations of electric cooperatives.  The legislation provides that no distribution electric cooperative shall, as to rates or services, make or grant any unreasonable preference or advantage to any person, corporation, municipality or consolidated political subdivision to its unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.  No distribution electric cooperative shall establish or maintain any unreasonable difference as to rates or service as between localities or as between classes of service.  The legislation revises provisions relating to annual meetings of members of an electric cooperative, so as to revise the notice requirements for certain meetings.  The legislation revises provisions relating to a quorum at meetings of electric cooperatives, so as to allow persons casting early voting ballots for the election of trustees to be counted for purposes of determining a quorum at the meeting for the election, and to prohibit voting by proxy.  For meetings that include the election of cooperative trustees, polling locations must be open for a minimum of four hours.  Requirements are included for making early voting accommodations when trustee races are contested.  Unless otherwise provided in the bylaws, each trustee’s principal residence, as determined by South Carolina voter registration law, must be served by the cooperative.  A vacancy in the office of trustee occurring for any reason other than expiration of a term may be filled only for the remainder of the unexpired term by a vote of the membership at the next annual meeting.  The legislation requires annual public disclosure of compensation and benefits paid to or provided for members of the board of trustees.  The legislation includes notice requirements for all non‑emergency meetings of the board of trustees or the membership of the cooperative.  The legislation makes transparency provisions for meetings that include requirements for certain votes of trustees to be taken in open session, requirements for votes taken in executive session to be ratified in open session, require for providing minutes of all meetings to cooperative members.  Provisions are included to prohibit certain conflicts of interest and the misuse of a position on a board of trustees for financial gain or to secure certain other advantages.  The legislation establishes provisions governing the conduct of elections by a cooperative, that prohibit advocacy or campaigning within a certain distance of the polling place.  Incumbent trustees seeking reelection shall not directly or indirectly influence the nomination or credentials process.  The legislation includes financial disclosure requirements and ethics provisions for electric cooperative trade associations.  The Office of Regulatory Staff is authorized to make inspections, audits, and examinations of these trade associations and the Public Service Commission is vested with the authority and jurisdiction to resolve any disputed issues arising from the inspections, audits or examinations.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3357, a bill allowing for a HEARING IMPAIRMENT NOTATION ON A MOTOR VEHICLE REGISTRATION as a means of providing law enforcement officers with information that could prevent misunderstandings during traffic stops and other interactions.  The legislation establishes a procedure that allows drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing to apply to the Department of Motor Vehicles to have a notation added to their private passenger‑carrying motor vehicle registration.  This special motor vehicle registration notation would only appear when a law enforcement check is run on the vehicle’s license plate through the department’s online interface with law enforcement to alert the officer that the driver may be deaf or hard of hearing.   

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3592, a bill addressing LOCAL GOVERNMENT REGULATION OF RENTED AND LEASED GOLF CARTS AND MOPEDS.  The legislation provides authorization for counties and municipalities to adopt ordinances that regulate those offering golf carts and mopeds for rental or lease for a period of less than nine months that operate upon the public streets and highways within their jurisdictions.  These ordinances are limited to the use of safety devices and the geographic area, distance, identification of the vehicles, and specified public roadways on which these rented or leased vehicles may operate.  The ordinances may not conflict with or exceed existing limitations of state law.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3755, a bill that establishes new provisions and notification requirements that allow insurers to issue a RENEWAL OF AN AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE POLICY WITH A REDUCTION IN COVERAGE.  Current provisions do not allow for a reduction in coverage through the renewal of an existing policy.  A reduction in coverage requires a notice of nonrenewal to be issued, which has proven to be a source of confusion for insurance customers.

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H.3243, a bill REVISING FILING AND RECORDING FEES CHARGED BY THE REGISTER OF DEEDS AND CLERKS OF COURT to make provisions for charging certain flat fees, rather than fees determined by the number of pages in a document.  The legislation updates 30‑year-old fee schedules set for filing and registering a list of legal documents, including deeds and mortgages.   Fees for filing a power of attorney are waived for military personnel deployed to combat zones.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3725, a bill that establishes the ADVISORY COUNCIL ON PEDIATRIC ACUTE-ONSET NEUROPSYCHIATRIC SYNDROME (PANS) AND ITS SUBSET, PEDIATRIC AUTOIMMUNE NEUROPSYCHIATRIC DISORDER ASSOCIATED WITH STREPTOCOCCAL INFECTIONS (PANDAS) to advise the Department of Health and Environmental Control on research, diagnosis, treatment, and education relating to the syndrome and disorder.  The legislation provides for the membership of the council and requires it to meet at least four times a year.  Members may not receive compensation, but will be entitled to mileage, subsistence, and per diem.  The council must make an annual report of its recommendations to the General Assembly by July 1.  The advisory council must be dissolved after two years.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3821, a bill revising the medical acts that ADVANCE PRACTICE REGISTERED NURSES are authorized to perform.   The legislation allows an APRN to execute a do not resuscitate order.  An APRN’s authority to prescribe Schedule II narcotic substances is expanded to include patients residing in long‑term care facilities.  The legislation allows an APRN to certify the manner and cause of death and provides that this duty and other authorized duties relating to pronouncing death and signing death certificates are to be conducted according to statutory provisions governing vital statistics obtained by the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the provisions of the “Safe Cremation Act”.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3621, a bill dealing with ATHLETIC TRAINERS.  This legislation makes revisions to the Athletic Trainers’ Act that include revising the definition of athletic trainer by specifying that an athletic trainer is an allied health professional, and specifying additional settings where an athletic trainer may be employed.  The legislation also codifies the authority of the Department of Health and Environmental Control to suspend or revoke an athletic trainer’s certification and impose civil monetary penalties for violations of the “Athletic Trainers’ Act of South Carolina”.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3845.  This joint resolution authorizes the transfer of certain Education Improvement Act carry-forward funds to the South Carolina Public Charter School District to provide FUNDS FOR THREE‑ AND FOUR‑YEAR‑OLD CHILDREN WITH A DISABILITY who are eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3986, a bill redesignating the South Carolina ABLE Savings Program which was enacted to allow the establishment of savings accounts empowering individuals with a disability and their families to save private funds which can be used to provide for disability related expenses that supplement benefits provided through private insurance.  Since an existing organization is named SC ABLE, the program is renamed the PALMETTO ABLE SAVINGS PROGRAM.

The House committed H.3355, a bill addressing DRIVING WHILE USING AN ELECTRONIC DEVICE, to the Judiciary Committee.

If you have a comment or opinion concerning the matters discussed in this report, or if I may be of assistance to you at any time, please feel free to call your legislative office in Columbia (803-212-6875); my Richland Legislative Delegation Office (803-576-1908); or write P.O. Box 292434, Columbia, SC 29229.  Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the House of Representatives.