The 2012 Session of the South Carolina General Assembly is now in the books and committee work and establishing priorities for the 2013 session has begun. The following is a partial list of bills that were were signed into law and represent those for which I received the greatest number of inquiries.
Small Business Tax Reform
Reduces the business income entrepreneurs are required to pay on their personal tax forms from five percent to three percent so they can invest in, and grow, their businesses. This directly helps thousands of South Carolina families who either own small business or are self-employed. The rate reduction is phased in over three years for a total impact of $60 million.
Strengthening Right to Work Laws
Requires employers to inform workers of our state's Right to Work protections and clarifies language that the Right to Work must not be denied because of membership or non-membership in a labor organization. The legislation also increases labor organization transparency, increases civil penalties for violations and requires written authorization from the employee before union dues can be deducted from a worker's paycheck.
This legislation was the biggest achievement of the 2012 Legislative Session and I will shamelessly point out that I am its primary author and was chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee that wrote the bill. I am proud of the work that we did on a very difficult issue which took over a year to complete. The legislation's cornerstone is that it dramatically reduces the unfunded liability of the state retirement system, resulting in a 100 percent funded ratio by the year 2043. (By the way, this is the exact opposite direction from the federal government's liability trend.) Lawsuit Abuse Reform
The Republican Caucus made Tort Reform a top priority of its agenda. These reforms will further protect our state's businesses from the threat of unjustified, debilitating lawsuits while preserving access to our legal system.
Requires voters to show government-issued picture identification (a driver's license, passport or military ID) to prove their identity when they vote. The fee for a state picture ID card is waived until the state can issue free voter registration cards with a photograph on them.
Higher Education Efficiency Act
Improves how our state's colleges and universities operate in order to streamline operations and make them more efficient and accountable. (However, much more work remains to be done in this area.)
'Born Alive' Legislation and Abortion Opt-Out
Ensures that babies born alive after an attempted abortion procedure must be saved and that S.C. doctors will not be mandated to perform abortions if required to by the national health care initiative.
Charter School Reform
Approves new funding for the state's public charter schools, helping push money to these innovative public schools as they provide choices for our state's parents. Charter schools are public schools and the charter schools affected by this bill are part of the state-sponsored charter school district.
Governor/Lt. Governor to Run on Same Ticket
Amends the state constitution to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket.
2012/2013 State Appropriations Bill
The final state budget totaled $6.7 Billion for 2012/2013, which falls within the state spending limit proposed by the House in H. 3378 (which died in the Senate this year). Highlights of the budget include:
- Nearly $700 million in tax relief to individuals and businesses.
- $300 million for deepening the Port of Charleston channel. This is sufficient to fully fund the entire project should federal funds not materialize.
- Provides $77 million in unemployment tax relief for businesses.
- Funds the base student cost at $2,012 per student and guarantees a two percent state-funded pay raise for all teachers.
- Fully funds state scholarships.
- Increases funding for the Department of Commerce's Closing Fund.
- Fully funds the Medicaid budget.
- Three percent employee pay raise with an additional two percent for law enforcement officers making less than $50,000/year.
- Adds $30 million to the local government fund.
As for the impending 2013 General Assembly, each year I participate in two events that determine the agenda for the next legislative session.
As a Member of the Ways and Means Committee and Chairman of the Legislative, Executive and Local Government Subcommittee I participate in a two-day workshop on expected revenue and impending changes that will affect our fiscal receipts and expenditures.
The Subcommittee Chairmen meet with staff and experts and spend exhaustive time going through spreadsheets detailing last year's budget and the approaching year's anticipated needs. From this fall meeting we develop a framework for the annual budget - a document that will not be completed until June of next year.
The other agenda setting meeting is held by the Republican Caucus and is a process that I began while serving as majority leader. Each year the Republican members of the House gather to discuss initiatives and legislative priorities in their respective communities and fields of interest. From these meetings a House Republican Caucus agenda is formed and its passage becomes a priority. This year's meeting was held in Charleston and was invaluable to the process - and the three day event with a couple hundred visitors also helped the local economy.
But personally, the most influential contributor to my legislative agenda is the feedback I receive from our local friends, neighbors, businesses and organizations. Each year I gather invaluable information about problems with existing law and inquiries into the process for passing new law. Over the past week alone I have spoken to two business groups, a men's coffee club, an editorial board and innumerable constituents. Each of these provides feedback and information that can only be obtained through personal experiences.
Thank you for the opportunity to represent you and I hope you and your family have a nice week.
(Representative Jim Merrill is the former Majority Leader of the S.C. House of Representatives and represents District 99, which serves parts of Hanahan, Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, Cainhoy and North Charleston.)