Legislation Approved By The House And Pending In The Senate

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The following legislation has been approved by the House and is pending either on the Senate calendar or in a Senate committee.

Term Limitations (H. 3281, House Judiciary Committee). This proposed constitutional amendment would limit legislators and the following statewide-elected constitutional officers---secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, superintendent of education, comptroller general, commissioner of agriculture, and adjutant general---to a lifetime of 12 years in office in their particular office (e.g., lifetime limit of 12 years in the House, 12 years in the Senate). These limits would be retroactive to the 1994 general election for representatives and statewide-elected constitutional officers and to the 1996 general election for senators (meaning, for example, that service in the House prior to the 1994 general election would not count toward this 12-year limit in office).

Status: Approved by the House on February 9, 1995; currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Establishment of Veterans' Cemeteries (H. 3421, Rep. Keegan). This bill authorizes the Division of Veterans' Affairs to establish veterans' cemeteries for burial of veterans and their immediate families, with the veteran to be buried there without charge and a family member buried there for a fee not exceeding the cost of burial. The bill requires a veteran to meet certain residency requirements in order to qualify for burial in these cemeteries.

Status: Approved by the House on May 18, 1995; currently pending in the Senate General Committee.

Requirements for Location of Agricultural Facilities and Waste Disposal Areas (H. 3446, Rep. Sharpe). This bill posts requirements for location of production and waste areas of livestock and poultry facilities, requiring such facilities to be certain distances from roads, wells and other features. The bill also revises provisions pertaining to when agricultural facilities may be deemed nuisances and provides that no permit required for establishing or operating a facility may be suspended, denied or revoked by enforcement of a local ordinance if all applicable state and federal permit requirements are met for operation of a facility in an unzoned area or area zoned for agricultural purposes.

Status: Approved by the House on May 3, 1995; currently pending on the Senate Calendar.

Property Tax Relief (H. 3651, Rep. H. Brown). This bill provides for implementation of residential property tax relief, with the House in March having approved of $184 million in such relief for the upcoming fiscal year, of which $129 million is included in the House-approved version of the budget and another $55 million is from set-asides from the Carnell-Felder act.

Under the House-passed version of H. 3651, the first phase of property tax relief must be used to phase out residential (i.e., owner-occupied residences) property taxes devoted to school operating costs. In fiscal years beginning after June of 1996, the General Assembly must appropriate one-half of estimated recurring revenue growth until residential property taxes (except for debt service and lease purchase payments) are completely phased out. Local governments must be reimbursed dollar for dollar for revenues lost because of this exemption. This tax exemption is contingent on full funding of the Education Finance Act and on a state appropriation each year reimbursing school districts by an amount equal to the school tax revenue loss resulting from the residential property tax exemption.

H. 3651 also imposes restrictions on the ability of local governments (counties, municipalities, special purpose districts, public service districts, and school districts) to raise taxes or fees. A three-fifths (3/5) vote of a local governing body is required to raise taxes or fees (excluding utilities) up to the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index (i.e., the inflation rate), and a vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the governing body is required to raise taxes or fees above the rate of inflation (although if the governing body has fewer than 6 members, only a 3/5 vote is required to raise taxes and fees above the inflation rate). Taxes may be raised without either the 3/5 or 2/3 supermajority requirement in the following cases: {1} in response to a natural or environmental disaster as declared by the governor; {2} to offset a prior year's deficit, or a deficit in providing a service or function which is funded through imposition of fees; {3} to raise revenue necessary to comply with judicial mandates requiring use of local funds; and {4} (for levying of school taxes)---to meet the minimum required Local Education Finance Act inflation factor and the per pupil maintenance of effort requirement. The bill also requires a two-thirds (2/3) vote (3/5 if governing body has fewer than 6 members) of the governing body to impose new taxes or fees for operating purposes. These restrictions, however, would not apply to millage levied to pay bonded indebtedness, lease-purchase agreements, or to maintain a reserve account, nor may the restrictions be construed to amend or repeal existing laws which limit the fiscal autonomy of special purpose districts, public service districts or school districts (to the extent those limitations are more restrictive than the provisions of H. 3651). Additionally, these tax restrictions would not apply to school districts in which increases in property taxes for a particular year must be approved in a district referendum. The bill also requires the approval of two-thirds of each branch of the General Assembly in order for legislators to impose a general tax increase or new general taxes.

H. 3651 requires local governments to publish notice in a newspaper concerning a public hearing on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The notice must include detailed information concerning the budget (e.g., proposed or estimated change in operating budgets between the current fiscal year and the proposed budget; the proposed millage for the next fiscal year; and any new fees or taxes that would affect more than 5 percent of the total proposed budget).

This bill also establishes a Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Unfunded Mandates, consisting of 9 members (3 representatives, appointed by the Speaker; 3 senators, appointed by the President of the Senate; and 3 persons appointed by the governor) to investigate and review the role of unfunded mandates and their impact on counties. The committee must report to the General Assembly with specific recommendations on repeal or modification of all unfunded mandates existing as of July 1, 1995, with the report and recommendations made to the General Assembly prior to the beginning of the 1996 legislative session.

Also under these provisions, each county or the State, once every fourth year, must appraise and equalize properties under their jurisdictions. Upon completion of the reassessment program, the county or the State must notify each taxpayer of the change in value or classification if the change is $1,000 or more. In the fifth year, the county or the State must implement the program and assess property on the newly-appraised values.

Status: Approved by the House on March 28, 1995; recalled from the Senate Finance Committee on May 9; Senate voted on May 24 to place the bill under special order.

Law Abiding Citizens Self Defense Act of 1995 (H. 3730, Rep. J. Young). This bill allows South Carolina residents to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon if they are at least age 21, not disqualified by state law from possessing a weapon, and provide proof of training in firearm proficiency. The application fee for a 4-year permit is $50. These permits would be valid statewide but would be revoked if the holder becomes prohibited under state law from possessing a weapon; moves to another state; voluntarily surrenders the permit; or has been charged with an offense that upon conviction would prohibit possession of a firearm. A concealed weapon permit issued under these provisions does not allow a person to carry a weapon into certain areas and buildings (such as courthouses, secondary or elementary school facilities, or premises licensed for the consumption of alcohol), with violation of this restriction a misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by a fine of at least $1,000 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 1 year; additionally, the person's permit must be revoked for 5 years. This bill also makes it unlawful for a person to use a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by a fine of not less than $2,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 2 years, and provides for chemical testing of persons who use a firearm while suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substances. H. 3730 also applies the state's current DUI standards for purposes of making presumptions in a trial or proceeding arising out of acts alleged to have been committed by a person using a firearm while under the influence of these substances (for example, a blood alcohol content of .10 percent or above would be prima facie evidence that the person was under the influence when committing the firearm violation).

Status: Approved by the House on May 17, 1995; currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Workers Compensation Payments (H. 3837, House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee). This legislation is designed to allow an employer to start workers' compensation payments without waiving his defenses in denying a claim after a good faith investigation and to provide a manner for terminating or suspending benefit payments upon presentation of reason. Under these provisions, when an employee is out of work for 8 consecutive days due to a work-related injury, the employer may start temporary total disability payments for up to 120 days without waiver of any grounds for denial of claim resulting from a good faith investigation by the employer. The bill lists conditions under which the employer may terminate or suspend these temporary total disability payments; allows an employee to attempt a trial return to work for a period not exceeding 3 months (during which time temporary total disability compensation must be suspended), and imposes a 25 percent penalty (computed on amount of benefits withheld) on an insurance carrier or employer who does not comply with these provisions.

Status: Approved by the House on April 6, 1995; currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Presumption of Disability for Loss of Use of Back (H. 3838, House Judiciary Committee). Current law provides that for workers' compensation purposes, a person with 50 percent or more loss of use of one's back is deemed permanently and totally disabled, with the employer or carrier not allowed to argue whether the injury is a total disability. This automatic presumption often leads to claimants receiving more compensation than deserved, with benefits for permanent disability extending for 500 weeks, in comparison to only 300 weeks for under a 50 percent loss of use of back. If H. 3838 is adopted, however, the presumption of total and permanent disability due to a 50 percent or greater loss of use of back may be rebutted by a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Status: Adopted by the House on April 27, 1995; currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Judicial Reform (H. 3961 and H. 3962, Rep. Wilkins).

H. 3962 is a joint resolution which would amend the Constitution to require the General Assembly to establish a Judicial Merit Selection Commission, the purpose of which would be to consider the qualifications and fitness of candidates for judicial positions on courts of this State which are filled by election of the General Assembly. Under these provisions, no person may be elected to these judicial positions unless found qualified by the commission. Also, before a sitting legislator may apply with the commission for nomination to such judicial nomination, and before the commission may consider such application, the sitting legislator must first resign his office.

H. 3962 also increases the age and legal experience requirements a person must meet to qualify for a position on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals or Circuit Court, with the new age requirement being 32 (as currently opposed to 26) and the years one must be a licensed attorney at law doubling from 5 to 10 years. The joint resolution also carries a "grandfather clause," for justices and judges serving in office when these provisions become effective who do not meet these new age or legal experience requirements, allowing them to finish their current term and to be considered to have met the new age/legal experience requirements for purposes of future re-elections.

If adopted by the Senate, this proposed constitutional amendment would be submitted to the voters at the November 1996 election.

H. 3961 serves as the "implementing language" (i.e., statutory language) for H. 3962, the constitutional amendment establishing the Judicial Merit Selection Commission. Under the provisions of H. 3961, an 11- member Judicial Merit Selection Commission is established, with the commission required to assist legislators in selecting qualified justices and judges for vacancies in the Administrative Law Judge Division, Family Court, Circuit Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. Of the commission's 11 members, 4 are appointed by the Speaker of the House, 4 by the Senate President Pro Tempore, and 3 by the governor; 6 of the 11 appointees must be legislators. No member of this commission is eligible for nomination and appointment as judge or justice of the state court system or the Administrative Law Judge Division while serving on the commission and for 1 year after ceasing to be a commission member. The commission must determine when vacancies are to occur in these 5 court systems, whether the vacancy is because of term expiration, death of a judge, etc., and must investigate the qualifications of those seeking nomination to any of those courts. In examining qualifications of candidates for judicial offices, the commission must examine, among other things, a candidates's constitutional qualifications, experience and judicial temperament. In performing its duties, the commission may administer oaths and issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and production of records, and must, except in limited circumstances. schedule a public hearing concerning qualifications of candidates.

After reviewing qualifications of candidates, the commission must submit to the General Assembly the names of 3 candidates whom the commission considers best qualified for the judicial office under consideration; however, if fewer than 3 persons apply for the vacant judicial office or the commission determines there are fewer than 3 candidates qualified for a vacancy, then only the names of those considered qualified are to be submitted to the General Assembly. Nominations of the commission are binding on the General Assembly, which may not elect a person who is not nominated by the commission. The General Assembly may, though, reject all of the nominations submitted by the commission, in which case further nominations must be made. If the commission does not find an incumbent judge or justice qualified for his office, then his name may not be submitted to the General Assembly, and he ceases serving as a judge or justice upon expiration of his current term in office. If the commission submits to the General Assembly only the name of an incumbent judge or justice, then legislators must determine whether the judge or justice is to be retained in office, and if a majority of legislators is against retention of the incumbent, then he is deemed not re-elected and the commission then must proceed to submit additional nominees.

Sitting legislators seeking a judicial position on any of these 5 courts must first resign from the General Assembly before submitting an application with the commission for election to a judicial office, and the privilege of the floor may not be granted to a former legislator during the time his application is pending before the commission and while his nomination is pending in the General Assembly. The bill also contains a "no pledge" restriction, prohibiting anyone from seeking the pledge of a legislator's vote until the commission has furnished its list of nominees to the General Assembly and also prohibiting legislators from pledging their vote until the submission of such nominees by the commission. A judicial candidate violating this "no pledge" restriction is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days; additionally, "no pledge" violations may be considered by the commission when considering the applicant's qualifications.

The bill also increases from 26 to 32 the minimum age requirement to serve on Family Court and increases from 5 to 10 years the minimum legal experience (i.e., years one must have been a licensed attorney at law) one must have to serve on that court, with a "grandfather clause" for those Family Court judges serving in office at the time these provisions become effective who do not meet the new age/legal experience requirements.

Status: Both measures approved by the House on May 31, 1995; both currently are pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.