June 12, 2015
At the time this newsletter was prepared for distribution, the General Assembly had recently concluded work on the regular legislative session, but lawmakers had not approved a state government budget or addressed other matters in an extended session. This includes the various funding proposals for repairs to our roads and bridges. While much remains unresolved, 2015 has yielded some noteworthy legislative accomplishments.
The General Assembly approved the comprehensive Domestic Violence Reform Act (S.3) which includes recommendations of special committees appointed in both the House of Representatives and Senate to focus on the issue. The legislation revises criminal penalties for domestic violence so that they emphasize not only the number of previous incidents but also better address the severity of violence as well as take into account whether certain aggravating circumstances are involved. Penalties are increased for Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature and all three degrees of Domestic Violence so that these crimes carry higher possible maximum terms of imprisonment. The legislation establishes firearms restrictions in conjunction with domestic violence offenses that include an automatic lifetime prohibition on possessing firearms and ammunition for those convicted of the felony Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature.
The General Assembly approved legislation to enhance South Carolina’s ability to combat human trafficking. The legislation (S.196) includes human trafficking offenses within the jurisdiction of the state grand jury and establishes new requirements for posting National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information that apply to a list of establishments such as adult businesses, massage parlors, hospital emergency rooms, agricultural labor contractors, hotels, motels, airports, train stations, bus stations, rest areas, and truck stops. Lawmakers also adopted Uniform Law Commission recommendations (S.183) for enhancing the prosecution of human traffickers, punishing businesses that aid human trafficking operations, and improving protection and restitution for victims.
Lawmakers approved provisions (S.47) for equipping law enforcement officers with body-worn cameras that make audio and video recordings. The legislation requires state and local law enforcement agencies to implement the use of body worn cameras according to guidelines established by the Law Enforcement Training Council that address such issues as which law enforcement officers must wear cameras, when they must be worn and activated, how recordings should be retained and released, and how consent should be obtained from victims and witnesses for recording their interviews. A Body Worn Cameras Fund is established within the Department of Public Safety to assist agencies with implementation by addressing costs associated with such matters as the initial purchase of cameras, equipment maintenance and replacement, and data storage for recordings.
The “Mental Health Court Program Act” (S.426) was approved to provide circuit solicitors with authority to establish programs that divert qualifying mentally ill offenders away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate treatment programs, thereby reserving prison space for violent criminals and others for whom incarceration is the only reasonable alternative.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.11) enhancing public notice requirements for government meetings under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The legislation establishes requirements for public bodies to post an agenda in advance of a meeting and imposes restrictions on adding items to an agenda without providing the public at least twenty four hours’ notice so that interested citizens will have the opportunity to attend.
Lawmakers approved legislation (H.3890) revising the process for forgiving school days missed because of snow, extreme weather conditions, or other disruptions that provides new authority for local school district boards of trustees and the State Board of Education to grant waivers from school make-up requirements without obtaining an approval from the General Assembly.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3663) removing the members of S.C. State’s Board of Trustees and establishing an interim governing authority for South Carolina State University in order to address the school’s financial crisis and academic accreditation issues and ensure the continuing viability of the institution. The Interim Board serves up to June 30, 2018, or until the General Assembly holds elections for a new South Carolina State University Board of Trustees.
Lawmakers approved legislation (S.179) prohibiting crystalline alcohol along with powdered alcohol which makes the possession, use, sale, or purchase of these substances misdemeanor criminal offenses.
The “Take Palmetto Pride in Where You Live Act” (H.3035) was approved to establish a twelve-member commission within the Department of Natural Resources to serve as the lead agency for coordinating the state’s litter prevention initiatives, litter law enforcement, and clean-up operations by facilitating communication and cooperation among state agencies, local governments, businesses, and the nonprofit sector.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.407) allowing business owners the option of individually exempting themselves from unemployment compensation coverage.
Lawmakers approved a bill (S.389) revising provisions governing South Carolina Business Development Corporations which provide loans for small businesses. The area of operations for a South Carolina Business Development Corporation is expanded so that it can transact business not only in this state, but also in the larger surrounding areas that comprise Federal Reserve Districts Five and Six, spanning primarily the Southeastern United States.
Some of the major legislation that the House of Representatives has approved is not in a position to pass this year. This includes the “South Carolina Infrastructure Finance Reform and Tax Relief Act” (H.3579) which the House approved and sent to the Senate in April. This comprehensive legislation includes restructuring initiatives, along with funding mechanisms coupled with tax relief, as means of ensuring that the state can construct and maintain the system of roads needed for public safety and economic development. The Senate has not approved the comprehensive ethics reform legislation (H.3722) that the House passed earlier this year. Further work on such important issues will have to wait until the January 2016 commencement of the second year of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly.
It is an honor to represent this great area of the state in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Please be sure to share your ideas on how our state government can better serve all South Carolinian’s. RAYEFELDER@SCHOUSE.Gov