Friday Report - March 8, 2024

Legislators met in a Joint Assembly this week and elected Hon. John W. Kittredge as the new Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Senate spent most of the week debating a Judicial Merit Selection Commission reform bill (S. 1046) that was previously set for special order.

Both chambers took up and adopted the conference report on the constitutional carry of concealable weapons bill (H. 3594), during which time several members reiterated their opposition to the bill. The House worked to clear a variety of bills from the uncontested calendar in preparation for next week’s debate on the FY 24-25 Appropriations Act (H. 5100). These and several other bills of interest to counties are discussed below.

Revenue, Finance and Economic Development

Redevelopment Authorities (RDAs): Tax Increment Financing for Affordable Housing — H. 4552. This bill adds 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 gave H. 4552 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate.

Proviso Codification — H.5203. This bill codifies 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 an 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 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 administrative law judge is employed. The House Ways and Means Committee gave H.5203 a favorable report, and the bill is pending second reading on the House calendar. 

Public Safety, Corrections and Judicial

Cell Phones in Prisons — H. 4002. As passed by the House, this bill provided that it is unlawful for an inmate under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections to possess a telecommunication device unless authorized by the director. The provisions of the bill also applied to county detention centers and jails, an SCAC policy position. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee amended the bill by removing the language applying the prohibition to county detention centers and jails over concerns regarding uniformity in procedures regulating contraband. The House amended the bill further by titling it the “Captain Robert Johnson Act” and sent the bill back to the Senate.  

Richland County Probate Judge Amy
McCulloch testifies before a
House Judiciary subcommittee. 

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 Judiciary Committee gave the bill a favorable report, as amended, and H. 4234 is pending second reading on the House calendar.

Probate Proceedings — H. 4559. This is one of several bills that would amend Section 62-3-108 to allow a probate action to be brought specifically for death-related claims from exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, regardless of when the decedent died, an SCAC policy position.  A House Judiciary subcommittee gave the bill a favorable report, and H. 4559 should be on the next full committee’s agenda. 

Probate Judge Qualifications — H. 5069. This bill would require probate judges in counties with a population greater than 90,000 residents to be at least 25 years old and a licensed attorney in good standing in this state. Probate judges currently serving in counties that do not meet these requirements are grandfathered. A House Judiciary subcommittee gave H. 5069 a favorable report, and the bill should be on the next full committee’s agenda. 

Open Carry Without Training Act — H. 3594. This bill enacts the "Open Carry Without Training Act" allowing individuals to carry a concealable weapon openly on their person and openly about their person in a vehicle without having a concealed weapon permit. A person is prohibited from carrying a firearm into a courthouse, jail, school, daycare, church, medical facility, or business that has a sign prohibiting firearms. An owner of a firearm is required to report the loss or theft of such weapon to their local law enforcement agency within 10 days. Clerks of courts are allowed to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the state if they possess a valid concealed weapon permit,a prior SCAC policy position. Public defenders and assistant public defenders are also permitted to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the state, except in local or state correctional facilities. The bill also enhances the penalties for people convicted of felonies found to be in possession of a firearm or ammunition. Under the bill, a person merely carrying a weapon is not sufficient to justify a search, detention, or arrest.

As previously reported, the Senate made several amendments to the bill before sending it back to the House. The House did not concur with the Senate amendments, the Senate insisted on their amendments and the bill went to conference committee.  

The conference committee met this week. After a lengthy discussion, the committee adopted the majority of the Senate version. The final version of H. 3594 includes language that: 

  • Allows a business owner not wishing to allow concealable weapons in their establishment to place a clearly marked sign prohibiting the carrying of a concealable weapon on the premises in compliance with Section 23-31-235. A person who violates a provision of this item, whether the violation is willful or not, only may be charged with a violation of Section 16-11-620 and must not be charged with or penalized for a violation of this provision;  
  • Clarifies that a person would still be prohibited from carrying a firearm into a hospital, unless permission is given by the appropriate entity; in a church, unless express permission is given by the appropriate church official or governing body; and in a courthouse, courtroom, or other publicly owned building; 
  • Requires the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to offer, or to contract with local law enforcement to offer, statewide concealed weapon permit training courses free of charge in every county at least twice per month; 
  • Lowers the age required to receive a concealed weapon permit from 21 to 18; 
  • Changes the penalty for violations of the act from a misdemeanor to a tiered system based on the number of offenses; 
  • Includes a timeframe for reporting the loss or theft of a fireman as being within 10 days of discovery; 
  • Requires SLED to conduct a regular statewide training and marketing campaign to inform South Carolinians that state law provides a process for gun owners to obtain a concealed weapon permit and allows law-abiding gun owners to carry their weapons without a permit; 
  • Provides that a person openly carrying a weapon does not give a law enforcement officer reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search, detain, or arrest the person. This provision does not prevent a law enforcement officer from searching, detaining, or arresting a person when they have a particular and objective basis for suspecting the person stopped of criminal activity. A person merely carrying a weapon in accordance with this article is not sufficient to justify a search, detention, or arrest; and 
  • Allows a person to apply for an expungement of one conviction for unlawful possession of a handgun if the conviction occurred prior to the enactment of this bill as long as the application is submitted within five years.

Both chambers adopted the conference report, and H. 3594 has been enrolled for ratification.  

Special Purpose Districts — H. 4563. This bill clarifies 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 Judiciary Committee gave the bill a favorable report and H. 4563 is now pending second reading on the House calendar. 

Campaign Funds — H. 4561. This bill allows an elected official to use unspent campaign funds for dependent care of an immediate family member in certain circumstances. The House Judiciary Committee gave H. 4561 a favorable report, as amended, and the bill is pending second reading on the House calendar. 

Law Enforcement Training Council — H. 4813. This bill requires that 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 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 the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy will continue to cover the costs associated with performing the background checks. The House Judiciary Committee gave the bill a favorable report, and H. 4813 is pending second reading on the House calendar. 

Judicial Merit Selection Commission Reform — S. 1046. 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. The Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill to clarify the selection process and establish term limits for the members of the JMSC. The Senate debated the committee amendment without taking any action and will continue debating the bill next week.  

Tinted Windows on Law Enforcement Vehicles — H. 4933. This bill exempts all law enforcement vehicles from the restrictions on sunscreen devices (tinted windows) pursuant to Section 56-5-5015, not just those vehicles that transport canine passengers. The House gave H. 4933 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate.  

Coroners: First Responders Advisory Committee — H. 4681. This bill would increase the number of members who represent associations on the First Responders Advisory Committee from nine to 10 by adding a representative from the South Carolina Coroners’ Association. The Advisory Committee is responsible for researching, studying, and analyzing the needs of first responders, including personnel involved with fire, law enforcement, emergency medical, emergency planning, and 911 communications. A House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs subcommittee gave the bill a favorable report, and the bill will be on the next full committee’s agenda.

Land Use, Natural Resources and Transportation

Transportation Network Company Act — H. 3160. This bill would change “personal vehicle” and “prearranged ride” definitions to include charter limousines and for-hire vehicles as vehicles regulated by the Transportation Network Company (TNC) Act. It would allow such personal vehicles to be registered or licensed as charter limousines with the SC Public Service Commission or as limousines or other for-hire vehicles by the governing body of a county or city. Finally, transportation provided by a limousine or for-hire vehicle would be included in the list of transportation services categorized as prearranged rides by the TNC. The House gave H. 3160 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

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. A 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. H. 4609 received a favorable report, as amended, and the bill will be on the next full committee’s agenda.  

County Government and Intergovernmental Relations

Ambulance Assessment Fees — H. 4113. This bill allows the Department of Health and Human Services to charge every ambulance service a uniform ambulance assessment fee. County fire, police, and emergency medical services are exempt from the fee. This fee shall be updated at least annually, and there may be a penalty imposed of up to 5% for failure to pay. The bill establishes the Ambulance Fee Trust Fund in the State Treasurer’s Office. The House gave H. 4113 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

Vaccination Discrimination Prevention Act — S. 965. This bill declares that neither the state nor any political subdivision, including school districts, may require a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for any employee or student and provides procedures to follow if a federal requirement will result in the forfeiture of federal funds for not requiring vaccination. The Department of Public Health and the Medical University of South Carolina will partner with state and local government employers to provide COVID-19 testing in lieu of vaccination to meet a federal requirement when allowed. The bill also extends unemployment benefits to employees who are fired for failure to comply with a vaccine mandate when an employer has no alternatives but to terminate the employee or forfeit federal funds. An employer may submit an affidavit to the Department of Employment and Workforce stating the employer is subject to a federal vaccine mandate if an employee is terminated for failure to be vaccinated. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee gave the bill a favorable report, and the bill is pending second reading on the Senate calendar. 

Early Voting Centers — H. 4590. This bill extends the hours of operation of all early voting centers in the state to 7 p.m. for statewide general elections, any runoff election, or any other election that is not a statewide general or runoff election. The House gave H. 4590 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate.  

County Veterans Affairs Officers — H. 4640. This bill requires the General Assembly to appropriate the necessary funds for two full-time employees in each county veterans’ affairs office. Currently, Proviso 113.1 of the FY 23-24 Appropriations Act specifies that each county receives an effective annual amount equal to 100% of the amount allocated to it for the prior fiscal year plus an amount equivalent to base pay increases for state employees, less any adjustments made for budget reductions. According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), the total General Fund appropriation pursuant to this proviso in FY 23-24 is $303,576. Dividing this total by two employees for each of the 46 counties, or a total of 92 employees, this results in an average of $3,300 per employee currently. Depending on the amount of salary and fringe the General Assembly allocates per employee, this bill will result in an undetermined increase of General Fund revenue appropriated to the county veterans’ affairs offices beginning in FY 24-25. After testimony from SC DVA Secretary Todd McCaffrey, a House Medical, Military, Public, and Municipal Affairs subcommittee adjourned debate H. 4640 for more research and discussion. 

State Veterans' Cemeteries — H. 4653. This bill amends Section 25-11-80 to remove residency requirements for a veteran to qualify for a plot in a state veterans’ cemetery. The DVA will no longer be able to waive the residency requirement as it has been eliminated. This means that veterans or their immediate family members only need to qualify for burial at a state veterans’ cemetery with a veterans’ honorable discharge. A House Medical, Military, Public, and Municipal Affairs subcommittee gave H. 4653 a favorable report, and the bill will move forward to the full committee for consideration. 

Firefighter Cancer Healthcare — H. 4680. This bill revises the definition of the term “firefighter,” relating to the Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan, to include certain non-residents of the state and firefighters under the supervision of South Carolina State Fire, a division of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.The House gave H. 4680 second and third readings this week and sent the bill to the Senate. 

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