Summary of latest legislative actions

In the Senate
Senators spent long hours in the Chamber last week finalizing their version of the State’s $6 billion budget and debating S.36 (McConnell), sales tax exemptions for on-line retailer Amazon. Early Friday morning, Senators adopted a compromise amendment to S.36 requiring Amazon to notify customers that sales tax is owed on purchases. The amended bill was returned to the House for consideration. With only three legislative days until the statutory adjournment date of June 2, the Senate will be buckling down this week to address the Sine Die resolution, redistricting and tort reform.
In the House
During the next-to-last week of the general legislative session, the House concentrated on redistricting and clearing the Calendar. Last Wednesday, Representative Brian White (District 6 – Anderson County), submitted his resignation as Chairman of the House Rules Committee, effective June 29, when he will assume the Chairmanship of the powerful House budget writing committee, Ways and Means.
The following Republican Caucus legislative priority bills passed the House last week and are now pending in the Senate:
•    H.3658 (Clemmons), enacting the South Carolina Employer Free Speech Act, which clarifies employer rights with regard to labor union notices;
•    H.4198 (Bingham), revising employer contributions to the unemployment insurance trust fund;
•    S.20 (Grooms), relating to illegal immigration provisions; and
•    S.420 (McConnell), relating to the General Assembly review of regulations.
The House approved last week S.494 (Cleary), relating to the Medical University of South Carolina oral surgery program.
The Utilization of Unused Prescriptions Drugs Act, H.3863 (Barfield), was recalled from the Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and is now pending on the House Calendar.
Status of General Appropriations Bill
Late last Tuesday evening, after five weeks of debate, the Senate finally passed its version of the $6 billion 2011-2012 General Appropriations Bill, H.3700. The bill remained largely unchanged from the Senate Finance Committee version except for two major items that were a result of $210 million revenue increase projected by the Board of Economic Advisers.
Of those revenues, the Senate allocated $100 million for the Department of Employment Workforce, which would lower the State unemployment taxes on all classes by 18%, and $105 million for the Education Finance Act to raise the per pupil spending to $1959.
None of the additional revenues were considered for healthcare. In fact, several Senators took the floor and proceeded to rip apart the Medicaid program, criticizing both the growth rate and costs. Part of this oratory included an amendment to eliminate $100 million from the proposed HHS budget. This $100 million cut would have been in addition to the Senate approved version containing $200 million in cuts to Medicaid with $125 million already coming from provider rate cuts. By a vote of 23-20 the amendment was barely defeated. Link to vote
The appropriations bill is back before the House of Representatives and is expected to be taken up tomorrow, Wednesday, June 1. There are several scenarios that could take place: the House could agree with Senate changes then send the bill to the Governor (unlikely), or amend the bill further and return it to the Senate. If the Senate does not agree (likely), the bill will go to a six member conference committee to iron out the differences.
Stroke System of Care Bill
By a vote of 102-0 last Wednesday, the House approved Senator Jackson’s legislation to enact the Stroke Prevention Act of 2011, S.588. Because the bill had been amended by the 3M Subcommittee, legislative procedure required the bill go back to the Senate for approval. The Senate voted overwhelming (30-0) to approve S.588 with an additional amendment to allow DHEC to promulgate regulations.
The bill was sent back to the House on Thursday, where it is currently pending on the calendar. The voting record on this measure has been strong in both bodies and we do not anticipate any problems. After the House gives its approval, the next stop in the legislative process is the desk of Governor Haley.
Business Tort reform
Debate on the South Carolina Fairness in Civil Justice Act of 2011, H.3375 (Harrell), continued to be waylaid by budget negotiations last week. One of the primary goals of this business backed tort reform measure is to establish $350,000 limit on punitive damages. The Senate is expected to spend much of this last week of session working on a compromise which is being led by Senators Larry Martin (R-Pickens) and Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg).
On Thursday House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison updated the body on the ongoing redistricting process. The Judiciary Election Laws Subcommittee completed its work, and reported favorably with amendments on H.3991 (Harrell), relating to House districts, and H.3992 (Harrell), relating to Congressional districts. The full Judiciary Committee will begin debating the two bills on Monday, June 6 and the House is expected to debate both bills when it reconvenes the week of June 13, assuming passage of the Sine Die Resolution. The proposed plans can be accessed at
Statewide Appointments
The statewide appointment of Abraham J. Turner as Director of Employment and Workforce was transmitted to the Senate by Governor Haley.
The following appointments were confirmed by the Senate:
SC State Board of Pharmacy - Rebecca E. Long
SC State Board of Pharmacy - Leo Richardson
SC State Commission on Higher Education - Jennifer B. Settlemyer

06-01-2011 04:16 (EDT)