Each year, the Upstate Chamber Coalition crafts a Legislative Agenda that reflects the ideas and concerns of the Upstate business community.
Our state's economic heart lies in the Upstate. Our 13 Upstate Chambers of Commerce are united as the voice of business in the Upstate, and we are devoted to improving our region's business climate.
In this two-year session, more than 3,700 bills and resolutions were introduced and less than three hundred acts were sent to the Governor. This year, we were excited to see our representatives and senators respond to the needs of business. We had a very successful year and thank our legislators for their hard work on a number of critical issues.
As I write this column, a few of our major items are awaiting action by the Governor, but here is a rundown of the major successes we achieved:
ROADS: The General Assembly passed S. 1258 by strong, bi-partisan votes. This bill re-allocates DMV fees and car sales tax revenues to be bonded through the State Infrastructure Bank, with an estimate of $2.3 billion to go towards work on our interstates. Interstates 85 and 26 will see extensive work, but the plan also fixes nearly 400 bridges on other primary roads.
This is important to business because of the tens of thousands of Upstate jobs that rely on manufacturing. Manufacturing today relies on on-time delivery of supplies and getting those goods to market. We have the best natural geography for this –the intersection of two interstates and a day’s drive of more than 100 million customers. However, if we allow our infrastructure to crumble, that will turn into a competitive disadvantage and dramatically slow our economic growth.
ETHICS: Ethics Reform has consumed the public debate for five years, since Governor Haley appointed a blue ribbon commission to study the issue. The House has done its work and sent more than a dozen ethics reform bills to the Senate. As I write this, two are nearing the finish line, but the Senate is standing in the way of bills that will implement an independent commission overseeing ethics investigations (instead of the House and Senate policing their own) and more income disclosure for public officials. A conference committee came to an agreement on the investigations bill on the final day of session, but the Senate rejected the language by a 37-1 vote.
Poll after poll has shown that the public is losing trust in their government. Ethics reform is a small step toward restoring that at the state level. It is in the business community’s interest to have transparency and trust in the democratic process.
SESSION SHORTENING: The Governor signed legislation that will shorten our legislative session from the first Thursday in June to the second Thursday in May. The House has passed legislation to this effect in every session since 1994. This is the first year the Senate has approved such legislation. We have one of the longest legislative sessions in the nation, and we have long supported shortening the session as a way to encourage more people to run for office.
PATENT TROLLING: In a bit of a surprise move, “patent trolling” legislation was passed in the final week. A patent troll is a person or company that attempts to enforce patent rights against accused infringers beyond the patent's actual value or contribution. Patent trolls do not have products or services based upon the patents in question. The statute prohibits bad faith assertions of patent infringement and allows for enforcement by the Attorney General. A number of states have implemented these protections in the absence of federal action. This is great news for small entrepreneurs who are innovating and – in most cases – accidentally infringing on a patent that is not being used.
Our goal is to promote policies that will help business and kill policies that would be bad for business. The second part of that is sometimes more important than the first. I’ll wrap up with a few items we worked to kill this year:
- False Claims Act – This legislation would be a disaster for any business with public contracts. The False Claims Act would allow whistleblowers – who have had their claims found to be without merit by the Attorney General – to file private suits that have the full power of the state behind them. There is a federal False Claims Act, and the Department of Justice says that only 20 percent of those claims have merit. This act would be a big giveaway to the plaintiff’s bar, and it’s dead for another year.
- Magistrate Court Jurisdiction – South Carolina Magistrate Court is generally not friendly to business, so a move to increase its jurisdictional limit from $7,500 to $25,000. Magistrates are not required to have law degrees, and the increase would mean more cases going to trial instead of reaching settlement. We are sympathetic to the argument that this would allow more small business to access the Magistrate Court, but attorneys advised us that this legislation would actually send more cases to Circuit Court and result in higher legal fees for business.
Our work in Columbia is one of the most valuable parts of your Chamber investment. We are your eyes and ears at the Statehouse and we thank you for assisting us in advocating for many of these issues this year. There is a lot of unfinished business as we head into the elections this year. We look forward to working with you this fall to create another robust agenda in 2017 so we can repeat this year’s success.