Weekly Rewind: Weeky of March 26th


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

HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
March 30, 2012

The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4894, a bill providing TAX DEDUCTIONS AND TAX CREDITS FOR K-12 SCHOOL CHOICE INITIATIVES. The legislation authorizes a yearly income tax deduction for parents or legal guardians who teach their children or wards at home in an amount of up to two thousand dollars per home school student for instruction related expenditures. The legislation authorizes a yearly income tax deduction for parents or legal guardians of up to one thousand dollars paid on behalf of their child or ward to attend a public school outside the student’s resident school district. The legislation authorizes a yearly income tax deduction for parents or legal guardians of up to four thousand dollars for tuition they pay for a child or ward to attend a private school within this state.

H.4894 also provides tax credits for contributions made to a nonprofit scholarship funding organization that awards scholarship grants towards tuition at private schools to expand K-12 educational opportunities for children of families that have limited financial resources or exceptional needs. Grants may be awarded by the nonprofit scholarship funding organization in an amount not exceeding five thousand dollars per year or seventy five percent of the cost of tuition, whichever is less, for children who are eligible for the federal free or reduced school lunch program or whose families meet the requirements for federal Medicaid benefits to attend a private school in this state. Additionally, grants may be awarded by a scholarship funding organization in an amount not exceeding ten thousand dollars or seventy five percent of the cost of tuition, whichever is less, for students with significant cognitive, mental, physical, or emotional disabilities to attend a private school in this state. Maximum limits are placed upon yearly totals of scholarship contribution tax credits. The tax credit allowed for contributions to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations may be used against income taxes, insurance premium taxes, or bank license fees so long as the tax credit does not offset more than sixty percent of the taxpayer’s liability for a particular year. In order to participate in the scholarship grant program, an independent school in the state, including those religious in nature, must meet eligibility criteria, such as: complying with the state’s compulsory attendance requirements; not discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin; being a member in good standing of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools or the South Carolina Independent Schools Association; and, having an educational curriculum that includes courses set forth in the state’s diploma requirements and where the students attending are administered national achievement and/or state standardized tests at progressive grade levels to determine student progress. The Education Oversight Committee is charged with determining independent school eligibility. Each year the EOC must post on its website a list with addresses and telephone numbers of nonprofit scholarship funding organizations in good standing which provide grants, and a list of approved independent schools which it has determined to be in compliance that accept grants for eligible students. Each year the EOC must also publish on its website student test scores, by category, on national achievement and/or state standardized tests for all grades tested administered by an eligible independent school receiving or entitled to receive scholarship grants. The legislation also provides that the state’s public schools may offer the same tests as those the independent schools use for scholarship grant program eligibility purposes.

H.4894 requires the Education Oversight Committee to make a periodic report to the Governor and the General Assembly on the effectiveness these provisions. Current Members of the General Assembly are not eligible to take these tax deductions.

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H.4043, a bill that provides for the DISQUALIFICATION FROM UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION FOR FAILING TO PASS A PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER’S DRUG SCREENING. The legislation expands the criteria under which an individual is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits for failure to seek work so that they include situations where an individual tests positive for illicit drugs in a screening required by a prospective employer as a condition of employment, refuses to take the drug test, or provides an adulterated specimen. The legislation disallows the use of blood, hair, or urine specimens collected for these screenings to be used to detect something other than illicit drug use, such as pregnancy or disease, by providing that it is unlawful for any biologic material obtained to be used for any other purpose than the specific testing required by these provisions. Misuse of this biologic material is a misdemeanor punished by a fine of ten thousand dollars for a first offense and fifty thousand dollars for a second or subsequent offense. An employer complying with legal requirements is not liable for any acts or omissions arising out of disclosure of test results to the Department of Employment and Workforce. Additionally, the legislation removes the word “criminal” from two of the provisions for disallowing jobless benefits for workers fired for cause, thereby lowering the burden of proof from a criminal burden to preponderance of the evidence burden. Also, the legislation revises provisions for disallowing jobless benefits for workers fired for insubordination so that the employee insubordination need not be limited to behavior specifically described in a written job description.

The House adopted the conference committee report on H.3241, a bill that revises the governance and operation of the state’s CHARTER SCHOOLS, which are public schools organized in a manner that frees them from many state regulations to pursue innovative educational missions. Notably, the legislation:

• Authorizes the formation of single gender charter schools.

• Provides that charter school students are eligible to compete for and, if selected, participate in extracurricular activities not offered by the charter school at their resident public school. However, charter school students are eligible to compete for participation in activities governed by the South Carolina High School League at their resident public school if the charter school they attend is not a member of the High School League. A charter school is eligible for federally sponsored, state sponsored or district sponsored interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, grants, and recognition programs for students, educators, administrators, staff, and schools to the same extent as all other public schools.

• Affords the state’s public and independent institutions of higher learning the option of sponsoring a charter school.

• Establishes in the State Treasurer’s Office a Charter School Facility Revolving Loan Program for the construction, purchase, renovation, and maintenance of public charter school facilities.

• Revises membership requirements for the boards of directors that govern charter schools. The legislation establishes two-year terms for electing board members and provides that half of a board’s membership must be made up of individuals with K-12 education or business backgrounds, and at least half of the members must be elected by the employees and parents/guardians of students enrolled in the charter school, with parents/guardians having one vote for each child enrolled. Boards must have at least seven members all of whom must be South Carolina residents.

• Establishes new voting requirements that apply when there is a proposal to convert a traditional public school into a charter school and outstanding general obligation bond debt has been approved to construct or improve the facility within the previous ten years.

• Affords a converted charter school the right to occupy the facility and use the equipment, for the duration of its contract with a sponsor, in the same manner as before the school converted with no additional fees or charges.

• Provides that students who reside within the former attendance area of a traditional public school that is converted into a charter school must be given enrollment priority at the charter school.

• Allows a charter school to give enrollment priority to a sibling of a pupil who, within the last six years, attended the school for at least one academic year.

• Prohibits school districts from taking unlawful reprisals, such as pay reduction, dismissal, demotion, or suspension, against employees because of their involvement with an application to establish a charter school.

• Provides that the South Carolina Public Charter School District or public or independent institution of higher learning sponsor shall receive and distribute state funds to the charter school as provided by the General Assembly. The legislation includes other requirements for the timely distribution of funds to charter schools.

• Requires a county’s local legislative delegation to be notified of charter school applications.

• Reduces from eleven to nine the membership of the board of trustees that governs the South Carolina Public Charter School District by eliminating two of the Governor’s appointments.

• Establishes a mechanism that allows a local school district to create a school of choice that operates under exemptions from various state laws and regulations similar to the exemptions enjoyed by charter schools. Exemptions do not apply to: federal and state prohibitions on unlawful discrimination; pertinent health, safety, civil rights, and disability rights requirements; minimum student attendance requirements; state assessment requirements; and teacher certification requirements in the core academic areas, however, up to twenty five percent of the teaching staff of the school may be employed if the individual possesses a baccalaureate or graduate degree in the subject he is hired to teach.

The House approved S.833, which authorizes DISCOUNTED TUITION RATES ON HIGHER EDUCATION DISTANCE LEARNING COURSES FOR ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY PERSONNEL, and enrolled the bill for ratification. This legislation provides that active duty military personnel may be charged less than the undergraduate tuition rate for South Carolina residents for courses that are presented on a distance basis, regardless of residency. Active duty guardsmen and active duty reservists are included among the active duty military personnel eligible to receive special tuition rates.

The House approved S.1227, legislation PROHIBITING CAMPING ON THE STATE HOUSE GROUNDS, and enrolled the bill for ratification. This legislation prohibits a person or group from using the State House grounds or the buildings located on the grounds for camping, sleeping, or conducting various campsite activities such erecting tents, building fires for cooking, and engaging in unauthorized digging. This prohibition applies regardless of the participant’s intent or the nature of other activities in which the participant may be engaged.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.3665, a bill revising FIREARMS PROVISIONS. The legislation replaces the current prohibition on carrying a pistol or firearm into a business which sells alcoholic liquor, beer, or wine for on-premises consumption with new provisions that afford concealed weapons permit holders some legal authority to carry their firearms into bars, restaurants, and other establishments that serve beer, wine, or alcoholic liquor. The legislation provides that it is unlawful to: (1) carry a firearm into a business which sells alcoholic liquor, beer, or wine for on-premises consumption and refuse to leave or remove the firearm when requested to do so by the business; (2) consume alcohol while carrying a firearm in any such business; or (3) carry a firearm into any such business in violation of the establishment’s posted policy of not allowing concealable weapons on the premises. The legislation also reduces penalties for a violation by lowering the term of imprisonment for this misdemeanor offense from three years to two years and eliminating the automatic revocation of violator’s concealed weapon permit. Violators are also subject to pertinent penalties for certain trespassing provisions as well as pertinent penalties for violating posted policies disallowing concealable weapons. Additionally, the legislation repeals a statute commonly referred to as a handgun or pistol “melting point law” which designates as contraband a pistol or other handgun which has a die cast, metal alloy frame or receiver which melts at a temperature of less than eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4915, a bill REPEALING THE STATUTORY PROHIBITION AGAINST THE TESTIMONY OF A DEFENDANT BEING USED AGAINST HIM IN ANOTHER CRIMINAL CASE.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4919 a bill establishing CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH THE STATE MAY SEEK A MANDATORY SENTENCE OF LIFE IMPRISONMENT FOR MURDER. The legislation authorizes the State to seek a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in instances when the defendant is convicted of murdering a child eleven years of age or younger, convicted of committing a pattern of multiple murders, or convicted of murder and also found guilty of one or more of the following accompanying crimes: criminal sexual conduct in any degree, kidnapping; burglary in any degree, or robbery while armed with a deadly weapon. These sentencing provisions do not apply if the defendant is less than seventeen years of age. The State shall give written notice to the defendant ten days prior to trial of its intention to seek a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment under these provisions.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4761, a bill revising FARM TRUCK AND COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLE PROVISIONS. The legislation revises definitions and other provisions so that farm trucks and certain smaller, lighter vehicles and trailers will not be subject to the more stringent requirements that new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations impose upon commercial trucks. The legislation specifies that the Transport Police Division of the Department of Public Safety has exclusive authority in this State for enforcement of the commercial motor vehicle carrier laws, which include Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Hazardous Material Regulations, and size and weight laws and regulations.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4641, a bill relating to IN-STATE TUITION RATE ELIGIBILITY FOR VETERANS AND THEIR DEPENDENTS. This legislation provides that a veteran who has been honorably discharged, and their dependents, who are not otherwise eligible for in-state tuition rates, are entitled to receive in-state tuition rates at state institutions provided that within two years of the date of discharge, they enroll at a state institution and have evidenced an intent to establish domicile in South Carolina. These individuals are eligible for in-state tuition rates as long as they remain continuously enrolled at a state institution or transfer to an eligible institution during the term or semester, excluding summer terms, immediately following their enrollment at the previous institution, subject to certain provisions concerning such transfers.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4572, relating to SURETY FOR BAIL BONDS. Current law provides a procedure through which a surety may be relieved of liability for a bail bond upon filing of an affidavit stating certain information when the defendant is incarcerated by the surety or a law enforcement agency as a result of a bench warrant. This legislation provides that once the affidavit has been filed, the surety is relived of all liability on the bail bond by the court unless otherwise directed by the circuit court.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4494, relating to OUT-OF-STATE PURCHASES OF RIFLES OR SHOTGUNS. This legislation revises provisions authorizing purchases of rifles or shotguns in contiguous states under certain conditions by expanding the provisions so that they apply not only to contiguous states, but all other states.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4939, relating to RETAIL DEALERS UNDER THE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL ACT. This bill revises provisions relating to discounts on alcoholic liquors or nonalcoholic items, so as to allow a retail dealer to offer discounts at the register through the use of premiums, coupons, or stamps, so long as the cost related to the discount is the sole responsibility of the retail dealer. This legislation also provides that a retail dealer may not sell barter, exchange, give, or offer for sale, barter, or permit the sale, barter, exchange or gift of alcoholic liquors without regard to the size of the container to another dealer, except as provided in Section 61-6-950 or between locations owned by the same retail dealer. This legislation further provides that certain violations of restrictions on retail dealers must result in a mandatory suspension of license or permit for a period of at least 30 days.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4904, a joint resolution authorizing TEMPORARY COST SAVING PROVISIONS FOR K-12 EDUCATION. The legislation provides that the State Department of Education is not required to provide printed copies of 2012 district and school report cards, providing instead that free printed copies of report cards are to be made available to parents upon request. Districts or schools are to notify parents about the report cards through e-mail links, newsletters, or other regular communication channels. The savings generated from waiving the report card printing requirements are to be distributed to school districts based on weighted pupil units. The legislation suspends the requirement of informing the community of the school’s and district’s 2012 report card results through a paid advertisement, and instead requires results to be provided to the editor of a newspaper of general circulation in the school’s or district’s area. The legislation authorizes high schools to offer state funded WorkKeys to tenth grade students using funds appropriated for the assessment of PSAT or PLAN in the 2012 2013 general appropriations act, or for these purposes in prior years. The legislation provides for fiscal year 2012 2013 a one year grace period for certain recipients of a South Carolina Teacher Loan.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4905, a joint resolution establishing DEADLINES FOR SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO NOTIFY TEACHERS OF EMPLOYMENT DECISIONS for the 2012 2013 school year.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4786, a bill relating to SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS EMPLOYED BY TEMPORARY STAFFING AGENCIES. The legislation revises provisions governing the payment of unemployment benefits so that they apply to substitute teachers employed by private temporary employment agencies that have contractual relationships with school districts in the same way that they apply to substitute teachers who are directly employed by school districts.

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H.4092, which relates to SMOKING PROHIBITIONS AND PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING. This legislation amends the Clean Indoor Air Act. Under this legislation smoking is prohibited in buildings, or portions of buildings, and the outside areas immediately contiguous to these buildings owned, leased, operated, or maintained by a public institution of higher learning that the governing board of the institution has designated as nonsmoking.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4739, a bill revising LIFEGUARD REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLIC SWIMMING POOLS. The legislation replaces current requirements for lifeguards at state and local government pools that strictly tie lifeguard staffing requirements to pool size with new requirements that allow for more flexibility in that they also take into account the number of patrons using the pool.

The House amended, approved, and sent to the Senate H.4888, legislation which makes REVISIONS RELATING TO THE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES. This legislation makes a variety of technical changes pertaining to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Among other things, this legislation updates numerous statutes to reflect that the Department of Motor Vehicles is no longer under the Department of Public Safety; and it repeals Title 56, Article 60, Chapter 3 relating to Shriners License Plates as there is another Shriners License Plate provided for in a different section.

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4703, a concurrent resolution affirming the AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA IN DETERMINING APPROPRIATE ACTIVITIES AND USES OF RESOURCES IN STATE CONTROLLED WATERS, regardless of any Coastal and Marine Spatial Plans created pursuant to the National Oceans Policy, and recognizing the critical role states and all ocean user groups must play in the creation of any Coastal and Marine Spatial Plans pursuant to the National Oceans Policy in federally controlled waters.

The House approved and sent to the Senate 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 House approved S.1301, a bill relating to the EXPANSION OF THE ELECTED GOVERNING BODY OF CERTAIN PUBLIC SERVICE DISTRICTS. This bill establishes the manner and procedures by which an elected governing body of a public service district located wholly in one county which provides water, sewer, or fire service within its service area may be enlarged by additional members in order to ensure a representative governing body above a size of three.