Some lawmakers seem to spend the whole six months between legislative sessions dreaming up ways to cause problems. That’s why the annual pre-filing season brings such ridiculous ideas as holding a public referendum on daylight savings time, making gold and silver coins legal tender and nullifying any new federal gun laws.
Fortunately, other legislators spend that time looking for solutions to problems we already have. Of which there are plenty.
In the spirit of optimism about the 2020 session that starts on Tuesday, I’ve rounded up nine smart proposals to solve problems that emerged, or became more apparent, since the Legislature adjourned in June:
•South Carolina’s new paper ballots probably won’t cause many delays on Election Day, but it’s going to take forever to feed the paper absentee ballots into scanners, possibly delaying election results until the next day. S.867 by Sen. Chip Campsen allows election officials to start scanning absentee ballots the day before the voting, so we’ll be more likely to have totals soon after the polls close.
•Legislators passed a one-year law in June to prohibit state agencies and local governments from permitting any facilities for use in oil exploration or drilling, in order to protect marine life and our coast. S.870 by Sen. Campsen and 30 co-sponsors would make that ban permanent.
•Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $27 million in spending last year that was hidden behind vague terms and known to only a handful of top lawmakers. Last month, Columbia’s State newspaper detailed the who, where and what behind 70 of those secret spending measures. S.949 by Sen. Dick Harpootlian would prohibit state agencies from distributing any money that isn’t itemized in the budget. S.890 by Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey would require the names of senators who requested any funding listed in the budget.
•This fall, Dominion Energy customers received what looked like solicitations from Dominion to purchase insurance for the gas lines inside their homes; they actually came from a company the utility had sold our addresses to. S.904 by Sen. Tom Young prohibits electric and gas companies from sharing customer data without customers’ express permission.
•Tiny plastic pellets started washing up on local beaches this summer. These “nurdles,” which like other plastics can be deadly to marine life, apparently were spilled by an exporter that the State Ports Authority had recruited to Charleston Harbor. Frontier Logistics helped pay for the cleanup, but the Department of Health and Environmental Control never penalized the company. S.941 by Sen. Sandy Senn requires DHEC to regulate pre-production plastic as a pollutant.
In South Carolina, we don’t have much choice about how much we pay for electricity, because we don’t have much choice about where we purchase our electricity.
•After the Legislature passed a 2019 bill to encourage the growth of the solar industry, the Public Service Commission hired a utility-friendly consultant to set the rules for power companies to purchase solar energy. Under pressure, it reversed course. Then it set ridiculously low solar rates. Under pressure, it reversed course. I’m not sure what’s going on, but we know the regulators have been lapdogs for the regulated since forever. S.947 by Sen. Harpootlian and H.4809 by Rep. Kirk Finlay would prohibit commissioners from taking jobs with regulated utilities until four years after they step down, up from the current one year. H.4776 by Rep. Eddie Tallon would expand it to three years.
•After Mr. Harpootlian failed to stop the S.C. Commerce Department from providing incentives for the Carolina Panthers football team to move to Rock Hill, he and other senators requested a Legislative Audit Council review of the agency’s incentives policies. Then he filed Freedom of Information requests about incentives Commerce gave to two questionable businesses. When the agency responded with ridiculously redacted documents, he sued. Then he pre-filed S.952, which requires state agencies to provide information it considers confidential to the LAC, and gives the LAC subpoena power.
We always knew the S.C. Commerce Department was secretive about the economic incentives it doles out to lure companies to our state, but we didn’t realize how much so until last week, when a state senator went to court to challenge that secrecy.
•Vaping is a less-obnoxious way for nicotine addicts to get their fix, but tobacco is harmful whatever the form. And this fall it became clear that vaping carries its own special risks, including sudden death. H.4715 by Rep. Wendell Gilliard adds an excise tax to vaping products and ban sales to minors. H.4710 by Rep. Beth Bernstein expands the language in our laws aimed at preventing underage smoking and limiting indoor smoking to make clear that they also apply to vaping.
•We knew that magistrates are appointed because of who they know rather than what they know, but in November our newspaper revealed just how little they have to know — and how little they actually do know. And how ethically challenged several are. S.903 by Sen. Davis, S.905 by Sen. Tom Young and S.913 by Sen. Tom Corbin all tackle parts of that problem, limiting how long a magistrate can serve in holdover status, prohibiting the appointment of legislators’ relatives and people who served in the Legislature in the previous two years, barring senators who are lawyers from appearing before magistrates in their home counties and requiring that magistrates be confirmed by representatives and senators, not just senators.
These bills might not completely solve the new problems, and some need tweaking, but they’re all solid efforts that would make good additions to state law.