March 22, 2024

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The House debated and passed H. 5164, which revises the Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program enacted in 2023. The Senate finished debate and gave third reading to the Judicial Merit Selection Reform bill, S. 1046. Members of both chambers also passed a Sine Die Resolution, S. 1192, and spent time in subcommittees and committees debating and moving several bills of interest to counties that are discussed below. 

Revenue, Finance and Economic Development

Titling Boats and Motors S. 1114. This legislation would remove the statutory requirement that outboard motors must be titled by the Department of Natural Resources and would exempt outboard motors from individual taxation. SCAC’s policy position is to oppose any legislation that would amend the current process of titling boats and motors separately by only requiring the titling of boats.  

This would potentially cost counties revenue as the motor of a boat is often as much, if not more, expensive than the boat itself and could be purchased aftermarket or transferred between watercrafts without the county’s awareness. Additionally, the bill would require that boats or watercraft shall be taxed in the county in which the boat or watercraft is principally located unless the boat or watercraft is principally located in a county different than the owner’s county of residence. If the boat or watercraft is located in a county different than the owner’s county of residence, then the property tax return must be made to the auditor of the county in which the boat or watercraft is principally located. 

S. 1114 is anticipated to be on the agenda of a Senate Finance subcommittee next week. Please reach out to members of the Senate Finance Committee and ask them to oppose this bill.  

Low Income Housing Property Tax Exemption Fix —S. 1017. This bill would address a potential loophole created by Act 145 in 2020 that provides a property tax exemption for “all property of nonprofit housing corporations or instrumentalities of these corporations when the property is devoted to providing housing to low or very low-income residents” as long as the corporation or its instrumentality satisfies the safe harbor provisions of Revenue Procedure 96-32. 

There is nothing in the statute that requires property owners to annually report that they continue to meet the qualifications in subsequent years after they acquire the property. Several counties are concerned that developers and owners of highly valuable property are taking advantage of this by getting a property tax exemption for property that should be taxed. 

S. 1017 provides that the nonprofit housing corporation only gets a complete property tax exemption if it has more than a 50% ownership interest in the property. If their interest is less than 50%, the exemption will be proportionate to the percentage of their interest. Upon initial application for the exemption, the corporation must certify to the Department of Revenue (DOR) the percentage of its owner interest in the property and thereafter must provide an annual certification to DOR of the percentage of its economic interest in the property to show that they continue to meet the qualifications for the exemption. This is an SCAC policy position. DOR must notify the county within 60 calendar days of any property that qualifies for the exemption. This bill would become effective for property tax years beginning after 2024. 

The Senate amended the bill to exempt projects that had applied for or were previously approved for an exemption prior to this legislation being enacted. However, these projects are required to submit to the required annual report certifications. The Senate then gave S. 1017 second reading and third readings, as amended, and sent the bill to the House.  

Fire District Millage Cap Exemption — H. 4294. This bill would allow a fire protection district in a rural county created pursuant to Chapter 19, Title 4, or Chapter 11, Title 6 to exceed the millage cap to support fire services, an SCAC policy position. A House Ways and Means subcommittee amended the bill to tie the population threshold for defining a rural county to the 2020 census and to cap the exemption at 102% above the Consumer Price Index. The House Ways and Means Committee adopted the subcommittee amendment and gave H. 4294 a favorable report as amended. The bill is pending second reading on the House calendar. 

Auditor’s Endorsement on Deeds —H. 3608. This bill would remove the requirement that county auditors endorse deeds for conveyance for real property but permits them to do so either before or after recording the deed, an SCAC policy position. All conveyances of real estate that were recorded by a clerk of court or register of deeds of any county that meet the requirements of Section 30-5-20 but are without the endorsement of the county auditor will be valid and binding. The Senate gave H. 3608 second and third readings this week, and the bill will be enrolled for ratification. 

SC Justice Act (Joint and Several Liability) —S. 533. This bill would modify the South Carolina Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, Chapter 38 of Title 15, to permit a court to consider the percentage of fault of any nonparty or party with a settlement agreement when determining the percentage of fault of the named parties. Section 15-38-65 specifies that Chapter 38 of Title 15 is not applicable to governmental entities. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee adopted an amendment to restore Section (F), which provides the section does not apply to a defendant whose conduct is determined to be willful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent, or intentional or conduct involving the use, sale, or possession of alcohol or the illegal or illicit use, sale, or possession of drugs. The subcommittee gave the bill a favorable report, as amended, and it will be on the next full committee agenda.  

State Tort Claims Act —S. 87. This bill would increase the liability limits under the South Carolina Torts Claims Act to $500,000 for a single person and $1 million total for a single occurrence, regardless of the number of agencies or subdivisions involved in the occurrence. Additionally, this bill allows a party who makes an offer of judgment that is not accepted, pursuant to §15-35-400, to recover any administrative, filing, or other court costs and 8%interest computed on the amount of the verdict or award from the date of the offer, regardless of the liability limits. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee adopted an amendment to provide that upon approval by the Governor, this act takes effect July 1, 2024, for causes of action with a date of loss arising on or after July 1, 2024. The subcommittee gave the bill a favorable report, as amended, and it will be on the next full committee agenda.  

Department of Defense Property Tax Exemption — H. 4912. This bill would allow certain civilian employees of the Department of Defense to continue to claim the 4% assessment ratio when the civilian received certain orders for a change of station. This exemption could also be applied to the property for the past three property tax years that the civilian was stationed away. The House Ways and Means Committee amended the bill to delete the requirement that an applicant for 4% must provide a copy of their most recently filed South Carolina individual income tax return or any other confidential tax records throughout the application process. The Ways and Means Committee gave H. 4912 a favorable report, as amended, and the bill is pending second reading on the House calendar. 

Proviso Codification — H. 5203. This bill would codify many of the provisos that routinely appear in the state budget bill each year. One proviso of interest is 57.1 which prohibits county salary supplements of Judicial Department personnel. Proviso 57.2 requires each county to provide office and all utilities for each circuit and family judge and the same for Supreme Court Justices and judges of the Court of Appeals, upon their request. Another proviso of interest, 58.2, requires each county to provide for each Administrative Law Court judge residing in their county, upon their request, an office, if space is available, to include all utilities and a private telephone. The request may only be made if the judge's residence is more than 50 miles from the headquarters of the agency where the judge is employed. The House gave H. 5203 a second reading and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

Abandoned Buildings Tax Credit —S. 1021. This bill would increase the tax credit for abandoned buildings from $500,000 to $700,000 in a tax year and extends the program through 2035. The Senate gave S. 1021 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the House. 

Perpetual Recreational Trail Easement —H. 3121. This bill would provide an income tax credit to a property owner who encumbers their property with a perpetual recreational trail easement held by a municipality or county within the state or by a Land Trust Alliance accredited land trust. The easement must be recorded with the register of deeds and must include an agreement with the municipality, county or land trust. Special purpose tax districts are also included in the list of entities that can hold the easement. A Senate Finance subcommittee adopted a technical amendment to the bill this week to update that the legislation applies to tax years beginning after 2023 and sunsets the provisions in 2029. The Senate gave the bill second and third readings, and the bill was returned to the House as amended. 

Continuing Resolution —H. 4720. This joint resolution would provide for the continuing authority to pay expenses of state government if the 2024-2025 fiscal year begins without a general appropriations act for that year in effect. The Senate gave H. 4720 second and third readings this week, and the resolution will be enrolled for ratification.  

Redevelopment Authorities (RDAs): Tax Increment Financing for Affordable Housing — H. 4552. This bill would add certain affordable housing projects to what qualifies as a redevelopment project for federal military installations. It includes an affordable housing project (defined referencing median income percentages according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) where all or a part of new property tax revenues generated in the tax increment financing district (TIF) are used to provide or support publicly and privately owned affordable housing in the district, or are used to provide infrastructure projects to support affordable housing. The bill also extends the bonding period for redevelopment projects from 15 years to 30 years and allows municipalities to spend TIF dollars outside of the RDA for items such as infrastructure support. The House passed H. 4552. A Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry subcommittee adopted an amendment that changed the effective date of the Act to July 1 rather than upon approval of the Governor. The subcommittee reported H.4552 out favorably, as amended. The bill will be on the next full committee’s agenda.  

Conformity — H. 4594. This legislation would update the conformity of state tax law to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) through the year 2023, including any expired provisions of the federal code that are extended, but not otherwise amended, by congressional enactment during 2024. The bill would also ensure that any extensions of the IRC sections shall also apply to South Carolina for income tax purposes. The House Ways and Means Committee gave H. 4954 a favorable report, and the bill is pending second reading on the House calendar.  

Sine Die Resolution — S. 1192. Under this resolution, the General Assembly will reconvene at times that are mutually agreed upon by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House to take up matters related to: 

  • the budget bill (H. 5100) and Capital Reserve Fund (H. 5101);  
  • any supplemental appropriations and continuing resolutions until a budget is passed;  
  • vetoes by the Governor;  
  • conference reports; and  
  • other matters such as the convening of a joint assembly to conduct elections for offices or vacancies in any office filled by an election of the General Assembly.  

The Senate and House passed S. 1192. 

Public Safety, Corrections and Judicial

Cell Phones in Prisons —H. 4002. As passed by the House, this bill provides that it is unlawful for an inmate under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections and county detention centers and jails to possess a telecommunication device unless authorized by the director. The Senate amended the bill to remove the language applying the prohibition to county detention centers and jails over concerns regarding uniformity in procedures regulating contraband. The Senate concurred in a House amendment naming this the “Captain Robert Johnson Act,” and H. 4002 will be enrolled for ratification. 

Cell Phones in County Detention Centers/Jails —S. 1095. This bill would make it unlawful for an inmate under the Department of Corrections to possess a telecommunications device unless authorized to do so by the director. The prohibition would also apply to county detention centers and jails, an SCAC policy position.The Senate Corrections and Penology Committee gave S. 1095 a favorable report, and the bill is pending second reading on the Senate calendar. 

SCAC Director of Governmental Affairs Kent Lesesne testifies before the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee.

Prosecutors Privacy — S. 841 and S. 1034. S. 841 would create the “Prosecutors Personal Privacy Protection Act” and would apply to active or former solicitors, deputy or assistant solicitors, the Attorney General (AG) along their deputies and assistants, and U.S. Attorneys and their assistants for the District of South Carolina. It would ensure to these individuals that their personal identifying information held or maintained by any state or local governing entity would be confidential and must not be disclosed to the public if they have filed a formal request with the entity. The South Carolina Commission on Prosecution Coordination is required to create the necessary request form within 30 days after this bill becomes law. Any government entity that redacts or withholds information under this article would be required to provide the request or a description of the redacted or withheld information. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee amended the bill to include the provisions of S. 1034, a cleanup bill to Act 56 of 2023 that created the Personal Privacy Act for current and former law enforcement officers and members of the judiciary. S. 1034 would limit the redaction request to online documents only and would require the requestor to specify the document(s) containing their personal identifying information, an SCAC policy position. The subcommittee also amended the bill to include public defenders. S. 841 as amended was given a favorable report. 

Probate Code Cleanup — H. 4234. This bill updates the probate laws in compliance with the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act that became effective in 2019. It makes changes to the procedures for guardianship and conservatorship proceedings to align with an SCAC policy position. The House gave H. 4234 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

Judicial Merit Selection Commission Reform —S. 1046. As passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, this bill terminates the current membership of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) and establishes new guidelines for the selection and appointment of nine non-legislator members to the JMSC. Under the bill, the General Assembly must hold a joint session to elect judges, and a candidate must receive a majority vote from each chamber. Finally, county legislative delegations must make recommendations for magistrate appointments to the Governor based on a weighted vote of the full legislative delegation of the county in which the magistrate appointee would serve. 

Last week, the Senate made several amendments to the bill to: 

  • Clarify the selection process and establish term limits for the members of the JMSC; 
  • Allow judicial candidates to seek more than one judicial vacancy; 
  • Require the General Assembly to conduct a subsequent vote if no candidate receives a majority of the vote of members in each chamber; and 
  • Prohibit members of the General Assembly from voting or asking for a vote for a candidate or future person, if they are a family member. 

This week, the Senate gave S.1046 third reading and sent the bill to the House where it was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. 

Telecommunicator CPR Training Law — H. 4867. This bill would require all 911 telecommunicators that provide dispatch for emergency medical conditions to be trained in high-quality telecommunicator CPR. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs subcommittee amended the bill to protect local governments from potential liability under 23-23-45(D), among other things. H.4867 received a favorable report, as amended, and the bill will be on the next full committee’s agenda.  

Special Purpose Districts —H. 4563. This bill would clarify that a special purpose district has the authority to own, acquire, purchase, hold, use, lease, convey, sell, transfer, or otherwise dispose of property for the purpose of their duties. The House gave H. 4563 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

Law Enforcement Training Council — H. 4813. This bill would require that in order for state and county law enforcement officers to receive certificates of compliance from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council, they must first undergo a state criminal records check, along with a fingerprint check from both the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the FBI. Although the bill indicates that the person seeking certification is responsible for the costs of the records check, SCAC has been assured that the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy will continue to cover the costs associated with performing the background checks. The House gave H. 4813 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

Law Enforcement Access to Electronic Records —S. 954. This bill would allow law enforcement officers, a Circuit Solicitor, or the AG to require the disclosure of stored communications, as well as related transaction records and subscriber information, to the extent provided by federal law. The AG, a Circuit Solicitor, or SLED is authorized to issue subpoenas to compel disclosure of these communications upon showing that the requested material is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation. The Senate gave the bill third reading, and the bill will now go to the House.  

South Carolina Street Gang and Criminal Enterprise Prevention and Anti-Racketeering Act — S.154. The bill provides enhanced penalties and eliminates the patterns, profits, proceeds, instrumentalities, and property facilitating criminal gang activity, including criminal gang recruitment. S. 154 revises definitions along with offenses and penalties. Additionally, the bill establishes anti-racketeering provisions to compliment the street gang and criminal enterprise prevention article and creates offenses and penalties for violations. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee amended the bill and gave it a favorable report. SCAC will report on the amendment once we receive it. 

Juveniles/Jail — S. 266. This bill is an attempt to decrease juvenile detention for status offenses such as school truancy. It would provide that before the SC Department of Juvenile Justice would accept a juvenile referral for a status offense or before a petition for a status offense may be filed in family court, there must be documented evidence that the parent or guardian of the juvenile has made reasonable efforts to resolve the issues through family counseling, therapy, or other means. The bill would also require any status offense records to be expunged automatically when the juvenile turns 18 as long as they have had no other criminal convictions and have completed any sentence or requirements imposed for a status offense. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee amended the bill and gave the bill a favorable report. SCAC will report on the amendment once we receive it. 

Xylazine — S. 849. This bill would add xylazine to the list of Schedule III controlled substances and includes exceptions for the distribution or possession of xylazine by a licensed vet, the possession of xylazine with a prescription from a licensed vet, or for the possession of xylazine in an injectable form for use in a nonhuman species. The bill also makes it unlawful for any person to produce, manufacture, distribute, or possess with intent to produce, manufacture, or distribute xylazine for a use other than a nonhuman use and provides for penalties. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee gave the bill a favorable report.  

Land Use, Natural Resources and Transportation

Golf Cart Ordinances for Nighttime Operation — H. 4609. As introduced, this bill would allow municipalities within a county with a population between 150,000 and 250,000 to enact an ordinance allowing golf carts to operate in designated areas within their jurisdiction at night. Previously, only municipalities on barrier islands were authorized to enact such ordinances. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs subcommittee amended the bill to allow all counties and municipalities across the state to issue ordinances to allow for the operation of golf carts at night in designated areas prescribed in their ordinance. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs full committee gave H. 4609 a favorable report, as amended, and the bill will go to the full House.

County Government and Intergovernmental Relations

Unclaimed Veteran’s Remains — H. 4376. This bill would require coroners to release the human remains identified and determined to be those of an unclaimed veteran to a funeral home, funeral establishment, or mortuary for disposition. The Senate gave H. 4376 second and third readings this week and the bill will be enrolled for ratification. 

Novel Vaccine Mandate —S. 975. This bill, the Medical Freedom Act, would prohibit businesses, non-profit organizations, colleges, schools, and employers from mandating novel vaccines or gene therapy as a precondition for employment, entry into buildings and grounds, attendance, participation, or purchase or receipt of any products and services offered. Additionally, employers are prohibited from taking any adverse pre-employment or employment action against an individual who declines to receive a novel vaccine or gene therapy. An aggrieved employee has the right to apply for and receive unemployment benefits, as well as back pay, front pay, lost wages, consequential damages, emotional damages, court and litigation costs, and attorney fees. An employer who violates these provisions is guilty of a misdemeanor crime. 

Under the bill, county sheriffs and constables and city and town police officers and health officers may, instead of being required to, aid and assist the Department of Public Health to enforce and carry out any restrictive measures and quarantine regulations that may be prescribed during a state of public health emergency. The bill also identifies which products are indemnified as a covered countermeasure, for which the manufacturers and distributors are shielded from direct civil or criminal liability to consumers for personal injuries and damages resulting from the use of the product as determined by state or federal law. 

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee adopted the subcommittee amendment which would add state and political subdivision employers to the list of groups that are prohibited from mandating novel vaccines or gene therapy. After a lengthy and contentious debate, S. 975 received a favorable report, as amended, and will be placed on the Senate calendar. 

Firefighter Cancer Healthcare —S. 728. As initially drafted, the bill (companion bill: H. 4680) would revise the definition of the term “firefighter,” relating to the Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan, to provide the term includes certain non-residents of the state. The Senate adopted the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee’s amendment that would remove the residency requirement, add South Carolina State Fire for the purpose of fire protection, add a retroactivity provision to apply as of July 1, 2021, and add that the diagnosis must occur within 10 years of employment separation. The Senate gave S. 728 second reading, as amended, and the bill is pending third reading on the Senate calendar.

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Newly-Introduced Legislation

View/Download Full Text for Newly-Introduced Legislation

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Note: If you would like to offer comments to the SCAC staff, please call us toll-free at 1-800-922-6081, fax to (803) 252-0379, or send an email.

House Bills

H. 5303 (Reps. T. Moore and Long) — Adds Section 7-13-1180 to provide that all elections shall be followed by a hand-count audit in at least 10% of precincts for a statewide primary or general election. 

H. 5304 (Reps. Pope and Guffey) — Adds Section 27-30-180 to provide that any provision of a governing document that restricts a constitutional right of a lot owner or a person residing in a residential planned community is void. 

H. 5305 (Reps. Mitchell, Yow, Wooten and Caskey) — Amends Section 23-1-212, relating to enforcement of state criminal laws by federal law enforcement officers, to add special agents of the Department of Defense to the definition of "federal law enforcement officer." 

H. 5310 (Reps. Murphy, G.M. Smith, Bannister, Brewer, Caskey, Gatch, Guest, J.E. Johnson, Mitchell, W. Newton, Robbins, Rose, Rutherford, Sandifer, Stavrinakis, West and Whitmire) — Amends Section 12-37-220, relating to property tax exemptions, to exempt a portion of the value of aircraft of an airline company. 

H. 5315 (Rep. West) — Amends Section 57-5-880, relating to transportation improvement projects, to provide that an entity undertaking a federal highway project shall bear the costs related to relocating broadband service lines and to provide the requirements for broadband service providers to be eligible for relocation payments. 

H. 5316 (Reps. W. Newton and Bernstein) — Amends Section 27-6-20, relating to nonvested property interest or power of appointment, to increase the time an interest can vest from 90 years to 360 years. 

Senate Bills

S. 1171 (Sen. Davis) — Amends Section 6-10-30, relating to energy standard adoption and compliance, to require new and renovated commercial construction to comply with the 2021 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code. 

S. 1172 (Sen. Martin) — Amends Section 12-56-20, relating to the Debt Setoff Collection Act, to include certain costs collected by the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services in the definition of "delinquent debt.” 

S. 1176 (Sen. K. Johnson) — Amends Section 4(a) of Act 355 of 2004, relating to the Clarendon County School District Property Relief Act, to allow for the reimposition of the tax. 

S. 1177 (Sen. Tedder) — Repeals Section 16-7-110 relating to wearing masks and the like and repeals Section 16-7-130, relating to exceptions to Sections 16-7-110 and 16-7-120. 

S. 1189 (Sen. Massey) — Amends Section 7-13-360, relating to place on the ballot for write-in names, to delete the prohibition on allowing write-in voting for President and Vice President. 

S. 1192 (Sens. Alexander, Malloy, Massey, Hutto, Martin and Peeler) — Provides that, pursuant to Section 9, Article III of the Constitution, when the respective houses of the General Assembly adjourn on Thursday, May 9, 2024, no later than 5 p.m., each house shall stand in recess subject to the call of the President of the Senate for the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the House of Representatives at times they consider appropriate for their respective bodies to meet for the consideration of certain specified matters. Further, the legislation provides that when the respective houses of the General Assembly adjourn not later than Sunday, Nov. 10, 2024, the General Assembly shall stand adjourned Sine Die. 

S. 1198 (Sen. Hutto) — Adds Section 56-3-705 to provide for the licensing and registration of untitled utility trailers by the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

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