Friday Report Issue 6-19 - February 15, 2019
Tort Claims Act Changes - S. 7 & S. 386
S. 7 raises the existing caps on damages found in the Tort Claims Act (TCA) from $300,000 to $1 million per individual, from $600,000 to $2 million per occurrence, and indexes both increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). If this bill were to pass, it would codify a 333 percent increase in the existing caps. The current fiscal impact statement on the bill predicts a $40 million dollar increase in premiums charged by the Insurance Reserve Fund. The actual fiscal impact will be much higher when all entities not insured by the IRF are taken into account. County budgets that are already pushed to the limits will be further strained by such a change.
S. 386, a companion bill to S. 7, was taken up, amended, and passed by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. S. 386 would allow multiple occurrences to arise out of a single event. This could lead to potential â€œstackingâ€ of the caps when an injured party argues that multiple occurrences caused the event that caused their injury. If this passes, county liability will essentially be unlimited, be impossible to insure against, and will place an unlimited financial burden on your taxpayers. S. 386 also allows for third party claimants to bring a bad faith claim against an insurer. S. 386 further amends the exceptions section by removing one exception and creating new standards for other exceptions.
S. 386 further expands the caps formerly limited to only 1983 civil rights actions to all tort claim actions where there are more than one claimant from a single occurrence. It increases these caps paid from the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA) from $1 million to $2 million, subject to a maximum of $20 million in one fiscal year. All of these payments will be made from the State's Catastrophic Fund, which this bill creates. The State's Catastrophic Fund allows the SFAA to collect assessments from all of the government entities covered under the liability limits. The SFAA is allowed to promulgate regulations in this section to impose the assessments and if a governmental entity fails to pay the assessment, then the State Treasurer is authorized to deduct the assessment from state funds that would otherwise be owed to the local government. By July 1, 2020, the State's Catastrophic Fund will collect enough assessments to fund the State's Catastrophic Fund at $3 million. Thereafter, $1 million will be collected every year for the Fund. Beginning June 30, 2039, and every year thereafter, any unspent money over $20 million in the State's Catastrophic Fund goes back to the governmental entities that funded the Fund through assessments. Starting in 2040, however, the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office will adjust the maximum amount of the Fund to inflation so that it will increase yearly. Entities covered by the TCA will have to pay assessments to meet this new total every year.
S. 7 is on the contested Senate Calendar and it is imperative that you contact your Senate delegation. Please let them know about the severe negative impact this bill would have on your county and ask that they help keep the bill on the contested calendar until a successful resolution can be reached.
S. 386 will be before the full Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. A copy of the Judiciary Committee Roster is available. Please contact your Senator and ask that they oppose S. 386.
The House begins work on the budget next week. Please ask your House members to support funding the Local Government Fund at a base level of $223.2 million, and increase that amount by at least the same percentage as this year's General Fund growth.
We will continue to push to get the Senate to pass H. 3137, which encompasses SCAC's policy regarding the Local Government Fund. Please contact your Senate member and ask that they support passing H. 3137.
Here are some provisos that are of interest:
Proviso 34.8 - EMS Funding. This existing proviso provides funding to counties for EMS that must be spent on upgrading and improving local EMS services. Counties are allowed to carryforward unspent funds for administrative and operational support and for temporary and contract employees to assist with duties related to improving and upgrading the EMS system. This proviso was amended by the House Ways & Means Committee to provide that 50 per cent of all carryforward funds be redirected to the EMS Association, a private entity, to promote and encourage education of emergency medical technicians and directors of emergency medical services; to collect, analyze, and distribute information about emergency medical services; to promote the improvement of patient care; to cooperate with other organizations; and to effect more efficient administration of emergency medical services in the State of South Carolina. This allocation to the EMS Association would come from the money that is currently allocated to counties.
Proviso 86.if - CTC: Increased Funding. The requirement of § 13 of Act 40 of 2017 for increased funding to the County Transportation Committees shall come from the proceeds of the increase in the Motor Fuel User Fee, and shall be used exclusively for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to the state highway system.
Proviso 101.rcvs - Voting Machines. Act 268 of 2018, the Capital Reserve Fund, appropriated $4 million to the State Election Commission to refurbish existing voting machines. This new proviso redirects that funding to the purchase of new voting machines, an SCAC policy position.
Proviso 108.1 - Volunteer Firefighter Health Insurance. This existing proviso was amended to allow active volunteer firefighters who are eligible for the income tax deduction pursuant to Section 12-6-1140, and their dependents, to participate in the State Health and Dental Plans, upon paying the full premium costs.
Proviso 117.cdbg - Disaster Recovery Funds. SCAC's policy position concerning disaster recovery funds supports communication and collaboration between the state and impacted local governments on how best to spend these funds after a natural disaster. To facilitate this collaboration, the Disaster Recovery Office was moved from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Administration. This new proviso finalizes that move and transfers any remaining disaster recovery funds from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Administration.
Other Legislative Action this Week
Tobacco Preemption - H. 3274. H. 3274 prohibits political subdivisions from enacting any laws, ordinances, or rules pertaining to the ingredients, flavors, or licensing of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, tobacco products, or alternative nicotine products after January 1, 2019. Any ordinances adopted prior to January 1, 2019, are exempt from the preemption. SCAC has a policy position opposing this type of preemption. After much debate, the bill passed the House and has been sent to the Senate. Please contact your Senate members and ask that they oppose H. 3274.
Voter Registration Deadlines - H. 3031. H. 3031 reduces the timeframe in which the registration books are to be closed before an election from 30 days before the election to 20 days before the election. Registration applications must be received or postmarked no later than 25 days before an election. This is an SCAC policy position. If the postmark date is missing, the county board of registration must accept the application if it is received by mail no later than five days after the registration books are closed before an election. H. 3031 is pending third reading on the contested House calendar.
Mental Health Transport - S. 303. This bill requires that anyone who is believed to have a mental illness and requires immediate care be transported to a treatment facility only by a state or local law enforcement officer that is part of a therapeutic transport unit and has undergone mental health and crisis intervention training. It also allows the treating physician of the patient to notify family or friends of the patient that they can transport the person as long as they sign a statement that they assume the responsibility and liability for the transport. The bill was carried over to hear additional testimony. This bill as written would be another unfunded mandate on counties, requiring them to create a therapeutic transport unit if they do not currently have one, as well as paying for the necessary training for mental health and crisis intervention.
Penalty for Failing to Register Motor Vehicles - H. 3619. This bill, an SCAC policy position, increases the penalty for failing to register a motor vehicle from $100 to $500. The current registration fee creates a disincentive to register because of a new $250 registration fee to register a vehicle when you move into the state. Increasing the penalty will remove that disincentive to register and help defray costs incurred by the county in enforcing this requirement. H. 3619 received a favorable report from a House Judiciary subcommittee and will be before the full committee on Tuesday. Please contact your House member and ask that they cosponsor the bill and support its passage through the Judiciary Committee and the full House.
School District Consolidation - S. 203. This bill would require school districts within a county that do not meet certain benchmarks, such as accreditation and low risk assessment, to consolidate. A Senate Education subcommittee carried over the bill to gather additional information.
Veterans' Affairs Officers - H. 3438. Current law requires a county veterans' affairs officer (VAO) to be a veteran but also provides an exception for a nonveteran candidate to fill this position if a nonveteran is more qualified than a veteran candidate. This bill, among other things, would remove the exception for qualified nonveteran candidates. The S.C. Association of County Veterans' Affairs Officers (SCACVAO) opposes removing this exception. Several counties have VAOs and staff who are fully qualified with years of experience in veterans' benefits but who are not veterans and, therefore, could not serve in this position. This position is often difficult enough to fill as it is and SCACVAO is concerned this bill would make it harder to find qualified candidates. The House 3M Committee adjourned debate on H. 3438 to work on an amendment but will consider the bill again next week.
Property Tax Penalties Moratorium for Government Shutdown Employees - H. 3630. This resolution delays the penalty schedule for late payment of 2018 property taxes for federal employees and federal contractors that have not received a paycheck because of the federal government shutdown. The penalty schedule and the commencement of a tax execution are delayed for three months, however, the taxes are still due on January 15, 2019. The county treasurer has sole discretion to determine whether someone complies with the requirements of this legislation. The Senate adopted an amendment stating that the burden of proof of eligibility is on the taxpayer and gave the resolution a second reading. The House concurred with the Senate amendment and H. 3630 has been enrolled for ratification.
Coroner Continuing Education - H. 3726. This bill requires coroners and medical examiners to complete continuing education on identifying deaths caused by opiates. A House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs subcommittee gave the bill a favorable report, and the bill is on the next full committee agenda.
2019 SCAC Mid-Year Conference & Institute of Government — February 20 and 21
The SCAC Mid-Year Conference will be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Columbia on Wednesday, February 20. The conference agenda is available on the SCAC website. The program will include a legislative panel and other timely topics. Following lunch, buses will provide transportation to the State House for visits with legislators. The legislative reception will be Wednesday evening from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Institute of Government classes are being offered on Thursday, February 21, and include: Building an Effective County Team, Public Speaking, Economic Development, and the Property Taxation Process.
The Council Chairperson's Workshop will be offered free-of-charge on Thursday, February 21, from 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. This workshop is open to all council chairmen and vice chairmen. Registration is required.
Now is the time to start lining up appointments to see your Senators and Representatives or arranging a joint meal, function, or meeting.
View/Download Full Text for Newly-Introduced Legislation
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. You can also go to www.scstatehouse.gov and click on "Legislation," then "Introduced Legislation."
S. 497 - Provides that if a county imposes a stormwater fee, the fee may not exceed 15 percent of the amount of ad valorem taxes levied on the property.
S. 499 - Provides that a person who unlawfully injures a health care professional during the course of his duties commits assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
S. 512 - Provides that a prisoner must be given two days of credit for every one day served in custody prior to trial and sentencing.
S. 521 - Provides that an employer may pay up to $2,500 for medical treatment for an employee injured on the job without reporting the injury under certain circumstances.
S. 522 - Allows and employer to pay all or a portion of required employee contributions to the SCRS during a fiscal year.
S. 525 - Repeals the abolition of the environmental impact fee as it relates to the Superb Financial Responsibility Fund.
H. 3916 - Increases the fine for not registering a motor vehicle from $100 to $500.
H. 3940 - Extends college tuition waivers to the children of active duty service members who have served in wartime.
H. 3945 - Allows a municipality to adopt an ordinance allowing for the operation of golf carts during non-daylight hours.
H. 3951 - Provides for additional qualifications for sheriffs and candidates to serve as sheriff.
H. 3952 - Provides that a local governmental body may regulate an entity offering golf carts for rent or lease under certain circumstances.
H. 3967 - Outlines methods of restraint for inmates who are pregnant or in postpartum recuperation.
H. 3968 - Enacts the â€œAsset Forfeiture and Private Property Protection Act.â€
H. 3984 - Allows an employer to pay all or a portion of required employee contributions to the SCRS during a fiscal year.