Were Listening

Posted by: Katie Busbee on Thursday, August 17, 2017

Our Advocacy Team and Upstate Chamber Coalition, including our 10 partner Chambers are prepping for 2018. This month we’ve kicked off a series of “listening tours,” as the UCC Team travels to partner chambers and other business organizations to begin gathering feedback on what we should include on our 2018 Legislative Agenda. This process is vitally important in developing what the business community's priorities should be at the Statehouse and Washington in 2018. Here’s a little on the process of how we put our Legislative Agendas together:

  1. Through August and September we conduct listening tours for members/Investors from partner chambers to share their concerns, barriers they may face in businesses, and issues the business community should engage in.
  2. We take the feedback from these sessions and put together a legislative survey that’s sent out to members of all 11 chambers and is open for the month of October.
  3. Based off results from our survey, we put together our Legislative Agenda in November, which guides our policy efforts for the next year.

2017 was a great year for business at the Statehouse, and we were able to forge and pass solutions to a number of problems employers and employees face. 

The business community has flagged a number of issues that are important to them. Here’s some of what we’ve heard on tour so far:

STATE ISSUES

Pension Part 2: This year the General Assembly passed a bill that would raise employee and employer contributions to begin shoring up the state’s massive pension shortfalls (roughly estimated at $20 billion). The Statehouse’s bipartisan, joint committee will continue to meet through the fall and will consider moving new employees to a 401k, or some kind of $401k/pension hybrid system. The Chamber will continue to follow this issue as local governments are taking large hits to their budgets due to the increases, and employees are contributing significantly more of their income.

DACA Licensing: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA or the DREAM Act, was an executive order signed by President Obama that gives immigrant children, who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, access to certain rights like getting a driver’s license, getting a social security card, and the ability to attend college (however, it does not give them citizenship). Even though these children are able to attend college, South Carolina will not grant DREAMers occupational licenses, like for cosmetology and nursing, to more than 40 occupations.  Many of South Carolina’s neighboring states do allow DREAMers to be licensed. As the Upstate faces a critical workforce shortage, South Carolina must examine ways to expand our workforce from within. Upstate businesses have flagged licensing reform as an important issue for us in 2018.

Expungement & Re-entry: Expanded Expungement for low-level, non-violent, offenses is also a way for our state to reintroduce people into the workforce, or help them get better jobs. Many one-time, non-violent felons are given a life sentence of not being able to find gainful employment, many times for a mistake they made when they were young. The Coalition supports this legislation and other bills that give employers tax credits for hiring ex-felons, and legislation to implement programs in prisons that teach felons soft skills to help them gain employment once released.

Ethics Reform: With state and federal investigations currently looking into elected officials at the Statehouse, the business community continues to voice their support for efforts to make government more transparent and accountable.

Tax Reform: Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, Tommy Pope (R-York), said he’ll be reconvening his bipartisan tax reform committee. As we talk about changes to our pension system, business tax credits, and changing business license fees, these conversations need to be had in a greater conversation of overall tax reform.

FEDERAL ISSUES

Federal Nominations: President Trump continues to make nominations and appointments that will impact the business community. While the business community has been supportive of the President’s picks for the National Labor Relations Board, there is continued concern for his nomination of former Congressman Scott Garrett to chair the Ex-Im Bank. With Garrett’s confirmation hearing likely to be in September, the Coalition will continue to track any progression on his nomination.

H1B and L1 Visas: Visas for foreign workers are increasingly harder to get, especially for businesses here in South Carolina. We have many foreign firms in the Upstate that provide jobs for American workers and grow our economy that also need the ability to bring in foreign workers with specialized skills or who are fluent in a needed language. Restrictions to these visas drive production costs up and could drive companies out of the U.S.

Federal Tax Reform: The U.S. tax code hasn’t had any significant changes in the past 30 years, making it outdated, complicated, and costly for businesses to comply with. The President has submitted his tax plan to Congress, which includes reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% (one of the highest in the industrialized world) to 15%. Congress has said that tax reform is on their agenda for the fall, but with other debates like the budget and debt ceiling brewing, Congress must make tax reform a priority.

Listening Tour Schedule
If you have feedback you want to share with the coalition staff on any of these issues, or if there’s an you think the Coalition should get engaged with, there’s still time for you attend a session over the next few weeks, particularly in Greenville. Here are our upcoming stops:

  • Aug. 16, 12: 30 p.m.: Greenville Chamber Manufacturer’s Roundtable
  • Aug. 16, 4:00 p.m. Greenville Chamber Hispanic Business Council
  • Aug. 17, 3:30 p.m.: Greenville Chamber Education Commmittee
  • Aug. 28, Noon: Spartanburg Chamber Legislative Commmittee
  • Aug. 31, 8:30 a.m.: Greenville Chamber Small Business Policy Council (Greenville Local Policy Agenda)
  • Sept. 1, 8:30 am: Greer Chamber Public Policy Comm.

Your participation is vitally important in the process; we’re listening, and we want to hear from you! If you can’t attend a meeting in person, our phones and emails are always open to chat with you about an issue, so feel free to contact us.

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