Weekly Rewind: Week of March 20th


(Published by the Office of Research of the House of Representatives)

HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
March 23, 2012

The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4967. The legislation provides for comprehensive RETIREMENT SYSTEMS REVISIONS as a means of securing long term financial health for South Carolina’s employee pension plans. The legislation revises eligibility criteria for the South Carolina Retirement System, which serves public school teachers and most state government employees, by requiring new employees to have at least thirty years of service in order to be eligible to retire at any age with full benefits. Current employees invested in the South Carolina Retirement System retain their twenty-eight year eligibility. The legislation increases the employee contribution rate by one percent for both the South Carolina Retirement System and the Police Officers Retirement System, corresponding to a one percent increase in the employer contribution rate recently approved by the Budget and Control Board. The employee contribution rate increase is to be phased in over the course of two years. The legislation eliminates the current provisions for awarding cost of living adjustments to retirees that tie COLAs to inflation, and, instead establishes benefit adjustment provisions that award an increase in retiree benefits, of up to 2.5%, in a year when criteria are met that show a satisfactory rate of return on pension system investments. Anti-spiking measures are included to disallow eleventh hour raises and steps taken at the end of service that can distort pension benefits. The legislation revises the method of calculating average final compensation for determining pension benefits by requiring a computation that uses the employee’s five highest years of compensation, rather than the current three highest years. The legislation eliminates the addition of unused sick leave in the calculation of creditable service and provides that unused annual leave may not be added to the average final compensation. The legislation revises South Carolina Retirement System provisions so that overtime not mandated by the employer will no longer be considered earnable compensation, but these overtime revisions do not apply to the Police Officers Retirement System. The legislation discontinues the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive (TERI) Program by closing the program to new employees. The legislation revises the General Assembly Retirement System by increasing the employee contribution rate by one percent and discontinuing provisions that allow legislators to begin drawing retirement benefits while continuing to serve in the General Assembly. The legislation provides that interest will not accrue on inactive pension accounts. The legislation provides for revisions that make the purchase of service credit actuarially neutral.

The House gave second reading approval to H.4654, a bill relating to the APPLICATION OF THE POLLUTION CONTROL ACT which regulates the discharge of sewage, industrial waste, and other pollutants through permitting programs at the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The legislation responds to a recent South Carolina Supreme Court ruling as it relates to who has standing to file a lawsuit under South Carolina’s Pollution Control Act and whether the act addresses waters, such as Carolina Bays and other isolated wetlands, for which DHEC has no permitting program. The legislation specifies that no private cause of action is created by or exists under the Pollution Control Act. The legislation provides that Pollution Control Act permit requirements do not apply to: (1) discharges in a quantity below applicable threshold permitting requirements established by the department; (2) discharges for which the department has no regulatory permitting program; or (3) discharges exempted by the department from permitting requirements. The legislation specifies that these limitations on permitting requirements must not be construed to impair or affect common law rights, repeal prohibitions or requirements of other statutory law or common law, or diminish the department’s authority to abate public nuisances or hazards to public health or the environment, to abate pollution as defined in the Pollution Control Act, or to respond to accidental discharges or spills. The legislation specifies that it must be given retroactive effect and extinguishes any right, claim, or cause of action by any person except the State, State agency, State department, or State instrumentality in any action or claim arising under or related to the Pollution Control Act.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3793, which addresses SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA AND OTHER SYNTHETIC DRUGS, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation adds numerous materials, chemical compounds, mixtures and preparations, including those commonly known as bath salts, spice, and K2, to the list of Schedule I controlled substances, which are unlawful for members of the general public to purchase, sell, distribute, manufacture, or possess. The legislation also enhances the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s authority to make changes to the schedules of controlled substances while the General Assembly is not in session and when changes occur in federal law regarding controlled substances.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3333 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation makes revisions regarding SMALL BUSINESS HEALTH INSURANCE COOPERATIVES to encourage the use of provisions that allow small businesses to pool their resources as a means of negotiating favorable health insurance coverage for their employees. Notably, the legislation revises excess stop loss coverage requirements for these multiple employer self insured health plans or multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWA). This legislation also makes revisions to insurers’ securitization requirements and requirements for financial statements filed with the Department of Insurance.

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3631, and enrolled the bill for ratification. Relating to the requirements for conducting PRESCRIBED FIRES, this legislation further specifies supervision requirements for a prescribed fire manager, and it references specific regulatory and statutory provisions applicable to conducting a prescribed fire. This legislation also provides that a property owner or lessee or his agent or employee conducting a prescribed fire pursuant to these statutory provisions is not liable for damage, injury or loss caused by the resulting smoke of a prescribed fire unless gross negligence or recklessness is proven.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.3130, legislation PROHIBITING MINORS FROM SEXTING. This legislation provides that it is unlawful for a child who is less than seventeen years of age to use a telecommunications device to knowingly transmit or distribute to another person a photograph or text message with a photograph attachment depicting a person who is less than eighteen years of age in a state of sexual activity or a state of sexually explicit nudity. A child adjudicated delinquent for this offense may only be sentenced to a maximum $100 fine. A child who violates these provisions shall not be taken into custody, arrested, placed in jail or in any other secure facility, committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice, or found to be in contempt of court for a violation or for failure to pay a fine. A child less than seventeen years of age who violates these provisions, or who receives or possesses a photograph transmitted by a telecommunications device or text message with a photograph attachment depicting a person who is less than eighteen years of age in a state of sexual activity or sexually explicit nudity shall not be prosecuted under the state’s child pornography criminal provisions unless, upon motion by the solicitor, the family court determines that it is in the interest of justice for the child to be prosecuted. A child less than seventeen years of age does not knowingly transmit or distribute the material by reporting the matter to a law enforcement agency, teacher, principal, or parent or by affording a law enforcement agency, teacher, principal, or parent access to the image.

The House returned S.710, which allows for VETERAN STATUS DESIGNATION ON THE FRONT OF DRIVER’S LICENSES AND SPECIAL IDENTIFICATION CARDS, to the Senate with amendments. Upon an individual’s request, proof of eligibility and payment of a one dollar fee, this legislation allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to include a veteran status designation on the front of a driver’s license or special identification card.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4699, legislation which provides for ADDITIONAL CIRCUIT COURT JUDGES AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES. This legislation increases the number of at-large circuit court judges from thirteen to sixteen. The legislation also adds three additional family court judges who shall be at large and must be elected without regard to their county or circuit of residence.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4787, the “PORTABLE ELECTRONICS INSURANCE ACT”. The legislation provides for the licensure and regulation of vendors of insurance covering the repair or replacement of portable electronic devices. The legislation provides requirements relating to the sale of portable electronics insurance under a limited lines license, establishes disclosure requirements for vendors of such insurance to prospective consumers, provides licensure fees and surcharges, and establishes penalties for violations.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4680, a bill relating to REDUCTION OF A SENTENCE WHEN A DEFENDANT PROVIDES SUBSTANTIAL ASSISTANCE TO THE STATE in investigating or prosecuting another person or in averting danger for a Department of Corrections employee. The legislation eliminates the requirement that the assistance be provided after sentencing and clarifies that a defendant’s sentence may be reduced below the minimum term of imprisonment provided by law under certain circumstances. Reduction of the sentence below the minimum term of imprisonment is in the court’s discretion. A motion made pursuant to these provisions must be filed by the Attorney General or the circuit solicitor in the county where the defendant’s case arose. The state must provide notice of these sentence reductions to the victim of the original offense.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4603. Current law prohibits an offender from participating more than once in a SOLICITOR’S PRETRIAL INTERVENTION PROGRAM. This legislation provides that a solicitor, in his discretion, may consent to allow an offender to participate in a pretrial intervention program more than once. However, a person may not be considered for intervention if he has previously been accepted into a pretrial intervention program for a criminal domestic violence offense.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4763, a bill revising PRENEED FUNERAL CONTRACT provisions. This bill establishes a biennial term for preneed funeral contract licensure and provides for a $250 initial licensure fee and a $200 fee for each license renewal application. The Department of Consumer Affairs is directed to use half of the renewal fee for administration and deposit the other $100 dollars of each license renewal fee into the Preneed Loss Reimbursement Fund, which is used to make reimbursements in cases of fraud where payments have been made in advance for contractual funeral services that were never provided. The legislation eliminates the provision that sets the maximum amount of the Preneed Loss Reimbursement Fund at five hundred thousand dollars with a five percent adjustment compounded annually.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4008, pertaining to HOSPITALS. This legislation provides that there is no monetary liability, and no cause of action for damages arising against, a hospital and certain entities and individuals linked to the hospital for undertaking or performing certain acts without malice. In addition, the act must have taken place after a reasonable effort to obtain the facts and a belief that the act was warranted by the facts. The act or proceeding must relate to: sentinel event investigations or root cause analyses prescribed by the Joint Commission or an appropriately accredited organization; investigation of medical staff member competence or conduct, disciplinary actions/proceedings or fair hearings; quality assurance reviews; medical staff credentialing process; reports to insurance carrier; quality of care reviews/investigations, or certain quality of care reports/statements. The legislation also includes provisions about the confidentiality of various proceedings, data, documents and records and information.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4513, relating to the ADULT PROTECTION COORDINATING COUNCIL under the auspices of the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This legislation revises the membership on the council and makes technical corrections. Duties of the council are subject to the appropriation of funding and allocation of personnel to carry out the functions of the council, and staffing for the council must be provided by DHHS. This legislation also revises the duties of the council. Among other things, it adds the requirement that the council annually prepare and distribute to the membership and the members of the General Assembly a report of the council’s activities and accomplishments for the calendar year.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4726, legislation relating to the powers of public service district and special purpose district commissions, including the power to assess the cost of the ESTABLISHMENT AND CONSTRUCTION OF A SEWER LATERAL COLLECTION LINE. This legislation provides that if a residential subdivision received conceptual approval from the Department of Health and Environmental Control for septic tank use and subsequently five or more lots in the subdivision were denied permits by the department, an assessment may be levied on the abutting parcels in the subdivision for the actual costs of the sewer lateral collection lines, transmission lines, and associated infrastructure. It further provides that a letter or certificate of the department establishes these conditions authorizing the assessment.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.5026, a bill relating to hearings and proceedings before the ADMINISTRATIVE LAW COURT, which eliminates an obsolete reference exempting appeals from the Department of Employment and Workforce to the court.

The House refused to concur in Senate amendments to H.3527, legislation that provides it is UNLAWFUL FOR AN INMATE TO BE A MEMBER OF ANY INTERNET-BASED SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE.

The House refused to concur in Senate amendments to H.3241, a bill making REVISIONS TO CHARTER SCHOOLS provisions.