January 2002

Phone: 843.670.3996


2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

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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 shortfalls.

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.

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



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