The Weekly Rewind – Week of January 26th

HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
January 29, 2021

The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent the Senate H. 3707, a joint resolution that would make appropriations for the state’s public health response to the COVID-19 virus, including vaccinations.

The House appropriated a total of $208 million from the Contingency Reserve Fund. The House allocated $63 million to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and $45 million to the Medical University of South Carolina to allow DHEC and MUSC, in consultation, cooperation, and collaboration with the South Carolina Hospital Association, the South Carolina Primary Care Association and any other Federally Qualified Heath Centers, and other appropriate entities and associations, to: (1) expand statewide vaccination capacity; and (2) continue to administer the statewide COVID-19 testing plan. The use of these funds includes costs related to COVID-19 such as vaccination, continued testing and contact tracing, personal protective equipment and medical supplies, personnel costs, education and marketing campaigns, quarantine, transportation and storage, and mobile health units. Participation in contact-tracing programs shall be solely on a voluntary basis, and data collection must comply with confidentiality requirements and be limited to public health information. DHEC, in coordination with MUSC, the South Carolina Hospital Association, the South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare, and other relevant stakeholders, shall implement a plan to reach rural and underserved populations who are eligible to be vaccinated. $100 million of the Contingency Reserve Fund appropriation is deposited in a COVID-19 Vaccine Reserve account that is created to pay for administering COVID-19 vaccines, addressing costs associated with such issues as staffing, security, traffic control, storage, transportation, and mobile health units. Of these reserve account funds, up to $75 million is allocated to hospitals and up to $25 million is allocated to other COVID-19 vaccination providers that are enrolled and activated by DHEC. In approving expenses, DHEC must give priority to hospitals and other providers with a high demand for the vaccine and the ability to administer the vaccine in high quantities. No reserve account funds may be released to any hospital that is not offering vaccine appointments to the general public.

The legislation provides that all vaccines received by the state must be allocated to the four DHEC public health regions in a per capita manner with considerations taken into account for such factors as poverty level, infection rates, age, and high risk populations. MUSC shall coordinate with DHEC and partner with local healthcare providers to ensure that gaps in statewide vaccination delivery are covered, with priority given to rural and underserved areas. DHEC shall allocate vaccines so that they are distributed in a manner that ensures that each of its four public health regions shall receive a per capita allocation. Provisions are made for a COVID-19 Vaccine Regional Advisory Panel in each of the four public health regions to make recommendations to DHEC on vaccine deployment. Under the planning process, available vaccines must be administered to South Carolinians as rapidly as possible, to ensure that no doses are permitted to expire, and to position South Carolina favorably in the event that any future federal allocations to states may be based in part upon a state’s ability to expeditiously administer the vaccine. DHEC is charged with record-keeping responsibilities and daily reporting requirements to keep the public informed of vaccine availability, doses administered, and progress towards attaining the state’s vaccination goals.
The legislation includes temporary authority for a wide array of health care professionals to administer COVID-19 vaccines that includes retired physicians and nurses, students at medical schools and nursing schools, as well as licensed dentists and optometrists who have completed COVID-19 vaccine training. These temporary exemptions from professional scope of practice provisions are set to terminate when South Carolina is no longer under a declared public health emergency concerning COVID-19.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H. 3194, a bill addressing the future of Santee Cooper. The legislation makes provisions for continuing negotiations on a possible sale of this state-owned electric utility and makes provisions for governance reform at the South Carolina Public Service Authority.

Consideration of the Sale of All or Part of the Public Service Authority
The legislation authorizes the sale of the Public Service Authority and establishes a procedure for considering and approving proposals to sell all of Santee Cooper or certain PSA components. A special legislative committee, composed of three members from each house of the General Assembly, is created to consider offers for the sale of some or all of the assets of the Public Service Authority and to conduct further negotiations on the terms and conditions of any offers. The committee’s recommendation and report may be accepted and approved by each house in the same manner conference committee reports are accepted and approved. Upon approval by the General Assembly, the report must also be transmitted to the Governor for approval. No purchase offer may be accepted that is contingent upon the reenactment of the Base Load Review Act or the adoption of comparable provisions. The special legislative committee is set to expire after ten years.

Alternate Public Service Authority Governance
The legislation makes provisions for governance reform at the Public Service Authority. The legislation provides for the directors of the Public Service Authority to be approved with the advice and consent of the entire General Assembly, rather than the Senate, alone. The legislation revises the composition of the PSA Board, requiring that two of the directors from the congressional districts must have substantial work experience within the operations of electric cooperatives or substantial experience on an electric cooperative board, including one of the two who must have substantial experience within the operations or board of a transmission or generation cooperative. The board shall also have one director recommended to the Governor by the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance to represent industrial customers of the authority, and one director recommended to the Governor by the governing authority of the authority’s largest wholesale customer; provided however, these two directors may not be an employee, counsel, or board member of a customer served by the authority. In making appointments to the Board of Directors, the Governor and the General Assembly in its advice and consent capacity must give due consideration to race, gender, and other demographic factors to assure nondiscrimination, inclusion, and representation to the greatest extent possible of all segments of the population of this state. The legislation provides for staggered five-year terms for board members. Members shall not serve more than two consecutive terms. The following shall be nonvoting ex officio members of the board of directors: (1) the Chair of the Board of Central Electric Cooperative; (2) the Secretary of Commerce or his designee; (3) a designee of the Chairs of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. The legislation establishes qualifications criteria for board members and includes provisions to preclude conflicts of interest. Directors shall owe a fiduciary duty of care to the state of South Carolina during their service. The legislation provides for the establishment of subcommittees of the board of directors to include Finance and Audit, Public Information, Water Services and Resource Management, Generation and Power Supply Planning, and Executive and Governance. The Public Service Authority shall explore joint cost-saving opportunities through joint agreements with a privately-owned electrical utility for the purpose of advancing system economy and reliability and generating cost savings to its customers. The legislation makes provisions for the PSA to update its reform plan submitted under to Act 95 of 2019. The Public Service Authority must submit an integrated resource plan for review by the Public Service Commission. A revised process is established for approving PSA rate increases, with appeals of board decisions on rate increases made to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Public Service Commission Office of Regulatory Staff is afforded authority to investigate the Public Service Authority. The Public Service Authority must apply to the Public Service Commission for approval of the proposed issuance of long-term revenue obligation securities representing new debt. All major utility facilities proposed by the Public Service Authority must be submitted to the Public Service Commission for approval.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3602, a Joint Resolution giving individuals, notwithstanding any professional scope of practice or unauthorized practice of law, the authority to administer premeasured doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. With conditions, the authorized individuals are unlicensed personnel with current certification by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners; students of an accredited medical school, physician assistant school or program, or a nursing school or program with appropriate instruction; Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses who have retired, become inactive, or whose licenses have lapsed within the last five years; Physicians and Physician Assistants who have retired, become inactive, or whose licenses have lapsed within the last five years; dentists licensed in good standing by the South Carolina State Board of Dentistry and optometrists who have successfully completed the following COVID-19 training programs. The joint resolution also outlines that South Carolina-licensed Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, Physician Assistants, and Registered Nurses in good standing may delegate COVID-19 vaccine dose administration to any individual authorized by South Carolina law to administer vaccines or identified in this provision as authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccines. This Resolution is no longer effective when South Carolina is no longer under a declared public health emergency concerning COVID-19.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H. 3608 , a joint resolution addressing a funding shortfall for the Public Charter School District as a result of the General Assembly enacting Act 135 of 2020 due to financial uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 virus. The legislation appropriates $9 million dollars from the 2018-2019 Contingency Reserve Fund to the Department of Education for distribution to the Public Charter School District, including the Charter Institute at Erskine, for per pupil funding for the 2020-2021 School Year. The legislation provides that, in the current fiscal year, a charter school sponsor may, but is not required, approve charter applications that meet statutory requirements.

The House passed, as amended, and sent to the Senate H. 3612, the “South Carolina Computer Science Education Initiative Act.” This bill would provide for the expansion and enhancement of computer science education in public high schools through the creation of a statewide computer science education plan. The bill recognizes the value in expanding “computer science learning experiences to all students because computer science supports literacy, math, problem-solving, and technological skills, and advances productivity in every discipline, industry, and profession.” An amendment was adopted that creates a specific career pathways system for information technology (aligning with state and regional workforce needs as determined by the Department of Commerce). In addition, elementary grades are to have the opportunity to learn coding and computer programming. The goals include increased access for computer science education opportunities in rural areas and methods to increase the number of computer science educators. At least every five years, a cyclical review will be conducted of grade appropriate standards for computer science, computational thinking, and computer coding for grades kindergarten through grade twelve. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, the bill would require that each public school offer at least one computer science course that meets certain criteria. Subsequently, the Department of Education shall develop guidelines for use by school districts and schools outlining the educational and degree requirements appropriate for computer science teachers. SDE shall promulgate regulations to create certification pathways for computer science teachers. The Department of Education is annually to issue a report to the General Assembly.

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H. 3609, a joint resolution restoring teacher step salary increases that were suspended by Act 135 of 2020, enacted by the General Assembly due to financial uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 virus. The legislation appropriates $50 million dollars from the 2018-2019 Contingency Reserve Fund to provide for teacher step increases for the 2020-2021 School Year.

The House approved and sent the Senate H. 3691, a bill to adopt revised Volume 1A and 14A, Code f Laws of South Carolina, 1976, to the extent of their contents, as the only general permanent statutory law of the State as of January 1, 2021.

The General Assembly ratified H.3481, (R. 1), a joint resolution suspending a transfer of funds to the South Carolina Retiree Health Insurance Trust Fund for Fiscal Year 2020-2021. The suspension allows the Public Employee Benefit Authority to retain these funds and continue to use them to address claims, which PEBA anticipates will be increasing following the delays in scheduling elective surgeries caused by COVID-19 shutdowns.