1.01: Overview of 2002 session
(Week of Jan. 8, 2002)
Talk with just about any state legislator and you'll
hear the same story about the top issue of the coming 2002 session
- - how to grapple with the state's poor budget situation. But as
lawmakers deal with a $300+ million shortfall, cuts, programs and
the like, the business of government will move forward.
There are hundreds of bills on committee agendas
- - including more than 100 new bills pre-filed in the House and
Senate as of Dec. 19, 2001 (See Tally Sheet below for highlights).
But a few key bills are expected to occupy the majority of the General
Assembly's time this year. Here's a Top Ten list:
1. State budget. Lawmakers in 2002 have
a tougher repeat budget performance of 2001. They again will have
to make do with lower-than-projected dollars to fund state government's
needs. In 2001, they faced a $500 million shortfall. This year,
they face a $300 million to $400 million additional shortfall, which
is going to force lawmakers to face tough choices on funding for
education, health care, prisons and more. Budgetary priorities will
dominate the latter half of the 2002 session.
2. Lottery regulations. While lawmakers
approved the Education Lottery Act (S. 496) in 2001, they left some
work - - dividing the money. The Act calls for the newly-established
Lottery Commission to submit regulations on implementation of the
lottery to the General Assembly for review by Jan. 15, 2002. Bottom
line: lawmakers will battle early over how to spend lottery funds.
These fights, such as how to allocate money for LIFE and HOPE scholarships,
may be more pronounced than previously expected as General Fund
revenues are limited because of the budget. In other words, lawmakers
may try to fund pet projects through lottery funds instead of general
revenues. Example: A proposal by Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler to use lottery
funds to pay for replacements for the state's aging school bus fleet.
3. Bond bill. In 2001, the House approved
H. 2688, a bill that calls for issuance of $395 million in state
bonds, most of which are set for education improvements. The bill,
which currently is in the Senate Finance Committee, likely will
be an early vehicle for spending projects that may be in question
in the regular budgeting process. Senators may attempt to boost
the amount borrowed to provide more funding for general fund priorities.
Bottom line: if you want to know where early budget battles are,
watch the bond bill debate in the Senate.
4. Anti-terrorism measures. House Speaker
David Wilkins and a bipartisan dozen House members pre-filed a comprehensive
anti-terrorism package (H. 4416) following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Look for this bill to move quickly. Features include tougher penalties
for anyone who supports terrorists, spreads computer viruses and
uses biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Other measures introduced
in separate bills include tougher penalties for bomb threats (H.
4395, 4396), tougher sentences for terrorists (H. 4397), stricter
requirements for air schools (S. 799) and stricter commercial drivers'
license requirements (S. 814). More similar bills likely will be
filed at the start of the session.
5. Commerce reform. Another incident-based
motivator for legislation that will cause a stir in the General
Assembly is the brouhaha over the way the State Commerce Department
spends its funds. Over the last couple of months, the department
has been in hot water for gifts bought for state officials and others
at the Heritage Golf Tournament. There's already one bill (S. 836
by Sen. Reese) that calls for the Department to treat all monies
garnered as public monies. More bills are expected pending the outcome
of an investigation of the department's spending.
6. Campaign/election reform. In 2001, the
House passed a variety of campaign finance and election measures
that now are in the Senate. The major bill is H. 3144, which amends
the State Ethics Act and calls for new limitations on ballot initiatives,
political party contributions and campaign reporting, as well as
increased penalties for various violations. Other bills to watch
are H. 3159, which rewrites rules disqualifying felons from voting;
H. 3404, which increases penalties for offenses against election
laws; H. 3259, which regulates push-polling; and H. 3789, an omnibus
election laws bill with multiple impacts.
7. Conservation Bank. The Senate in 2001
passed the South Carolina Conservation Bank, a measure to establish
a voluntary land bank to award grants or make loans to people who
want to conserve and preserve land. The measure, which is stalled
in the House, is slated for renewed debate on Jan. 8, 2002. Opponents
include some Upstate Republicans who don't believe in using public
monies for private land purchases and the S.C. Legislative Black
Caucus for reasons that are unclear. Proponents expect the measure
to pass after debate. Gov. Jim Hodges, who proposed a $5 million
set-aside for conservation land purchases in his first budget, also
is pushing the land bank. Some sources say a compromise might find
the Land Bank approved, but unfunded, this year because of budget
8. Merchant power. Merchant power plants
generate electricity to sell the power on the open market. These
facilities are a new breed of power plant because they seek to generate
power that, in all likelihood, will not be used by consumers of
the state where the plant is located. (South Carolina currently
meets its domestic needs for power.) Three merchant power plants
are now planned in the Upstate. The siting of those plants has generated
a lot of controversy in recent months among environmentalists and
residents (who are opposed) and some business interests (which are
in favor). A pre-filed bill by Rep. Harry Cato, chair of the Labor,
Commerce and Industry Committee, calls for a moratorium on merchant
power plants until mid-2003 pending a study by the Public Service
Commission about the plants' community and environmental effects.
Some Senate leaders also are opposed to the plants. With major House
and Senate leaders in opposition to merchant power, the General
Assembly may vote to impose a moratorium this year.
9. Property rights. Two major bills to make
it easier for private property owners to sue the government for
regulations that lower property values remain in committees. These
"takings" bills, which appear to be gaining steam, hold
that property owners should be compensated if regulations, such
as zoning or beachfront management laws, lower property values.
If passed, critics say local governments would face millions of
dollars of costs to reimburse property owners. A bill (S. 528) by
Judiciary Chairman Glenn McConnell is in his committee and is expected
to move to the floor quickly. A similar House bill by Judiciary
Chairman Jim Harrison is in his committee. A takings bill has a
chance for passage this year, according to the Associated Press.
10. Reapportionment. On Aug. 31, 2001, Gov.
Jim Hodges vetoed a measure passed by the House and Senate to redistrict
the state's House, Senate and congressional districts. The legislation,
required by law every 10 years, failed to get sufficient votes on
Sept. 4 to be overridden. Following the impasse, a suit was filed
Oct. 1 in federal court seeking a three-judge panel to review the
legislation. It is to be considered later this month. With the candidate
filing period for 2002 elections set for mid-March, the courts are
expected to move quickly to determine whether the legislation meets
constitutional muster and whether the plan can be used. If the panel
says no, last year's reapportionment battle may rise again.