Legislative Update

Posted by: Jason Zacher on Monday, December 8, 2014
OPENING STAT – 4. The number of women who have chaired a State House of Representatives committee in the body’s 240 years. Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman, was elected chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee. The 2015 Legislative Session kicked off this week with a flurry of leadership elections, pre-filed legislation, and new rules. It also wouldn’t be our General Assembly if it didn’t include a healthy dose of controversy and intrigue. The House met for its reorganizational session this week – a mini, two-day session where legislators elect leadership, adopt rules, pick seats, and get committee assignments. As expected the House elected Rep. Jay Lucas of Hartsville as Speaker of the House and Rep. Tommy Pope of York as Speaker Pro Tempore. The House Republicans re-elected Rep. Bruce Bannister of Greenville as House Majority Leader and Rep. Gary Simrill of Rock Hill as Assistant Majority Leader. The House Democrats do not hold elections for their leadership in even-numbered years. Speaker Lucas identified ethics and roads as the two biggest issues for the upcoming session, which was no surprise to most observers, but which gives the House clear marching orders. The big news for the Upstate came with the committee chairmen elections. Of the six major House committees that debate legislation, four of them will be chaired by representatives from the Upstate. As mentioned above, Rep. Rita Allison is the newly elected chairwoman of the Education and Public Works Committee and Rep. David Hiott of Pickens is the newly elected chairman of the Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Rep. Brian White of Pendleton remains Ways and Means Chairman, and in a surprising turn of events, Rep. Bill Sandifer of Seneca won a surprise contested election for the chairmanship of the Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee. The House also created two new committees through the House rules. The first is a Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee that will consider all executive branch regulations. Improving the regulatory environment has been a major item for the Upstate Chamber Coalition for a number of years. This committee has not met yet, but Four Upstate members are on the committee: Rep. Eric Bedingfield of Mauldin, Rep. Bill Chumley of Woodruff, Rep. Mike Forrester of Spartanburg, and Rep. Leola Robinson-Simpson of Greenville. The second committee is the Legislative Oversight Committee to oversee executive branch agencies. There are also four Upstate members on that committee: Rep. Gary Clary of Clemson, Rep. Phyllis Henderson of Greer, Rep. Joshua Putnam of Powdersville, and Rep. Tommy Stringer of Greer. Both of these committees should meet in the next two weeks to select their leadership. The other major rules changes of note:
  • The House term-limited the Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore to five terms which will total 10 years.
  • The House required the Speaker to consult with Majority Leader and Minority Leader before appointing representatives to conference committees. It also requires a member of the minority party be named to each conference committee, which was already the general practice.
  • The rules now bar House members from having their own political action committees.
The Senate will reorganize in January, though most Senate committees, seating, and leadership are determined by pre-determined by seniority. PREFILING – The Senate pre-filed 170 bills on Wednesday, including multiple pieces of legislation dealing with roads and ethics. Other legislation included increased penalties for domestic violence, preventing the state from forcing convicts to disclose criminal records for some jobs, and allowing schools more scheduling flexibility. Senator Larry Grooms of Berkeley County filed legislation that would increase the gas tax by two cents per year for 10 years and lower the state’s income tax brackets by the same amount. The House’s pre-filing days are later this month. We have been working with our Upstate delegation members to pre-file legislation to coincide with our 2015 Legislative Agenda. AIR QUALITY – The EPA released its proposed new Ground-Level Ozone Standards late in the day before Thanksgiving. The data released by the EPA indicates Spartanburg, Greenville, Pickens, and Anderson counties would not meet the new standards. At the same time, an interactive map indicates the EPA predicts we would meet the standards by 2025. (That same map shows Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, New York, etc., also meeting the requirements by 2025, so take that for what you may.) The Coalition will monitor this closely and we will begin meeting about this issue next week in Columbia. That roughly concludes a very busy week on the state policy front. We’re expecting a lot of action in Congress next week on funding the Federal Government for 2015 since current funding for the government ends on December 11. Nearly all observers expect legislation to go through quickly, but watch the headlines.

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