The first year of the 2015-2016 General Assembly brought along with it a significant amount of anticipation both from inside (legislators, staff, and lobbyists) and outside (constituents and the media) of the Statehouse. Many issues would move into the spotlight only to be voted down, filibustered, or left untouched. For most observers, this session was an exercise in futility as bills would appear to gain momentum only to be derailed along the way.
This session began with talk of ethics reform following the resignation of former Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell. While the House formed a special study committee and spent weeks on the floor debating numerous bills, the issue ultimately died in the Senate over concerns of an independent group conducting investigations into allegations against legislators. The bill was debated in the early weeks of session, but once it became clear that the road to passage in the Senate was steep, attention moved to the next topic at hand.
Both the House and Senate spent a great deal of time in committee and on the floor debating and considering various plans to improve South Carolina’s infrastructure. The House passed legislation that would have placed an excise tax on gasoline, increased the automobile sales tax, and decreased individual income taxes in an attempt to offset any gas tax increase. As was expected, the bill was completely rewritten in the Senate Finance Committee; however, the bill appeared to lack support from the full Senate. A group of Senate GOP members held a press conference to unveil a plan they believed could gain support, but not all members of the caucus were in attendance. The bill eventually failed due to a filibuster by Senator Tom Davis. Senator Davis contended any tax increase was not needed due to surplus funds (the number eventually came in around $400 million in surplus funds for this fiscal year) that could be used instead. Senator Davis was able to hold the floor and continue his filibuster for the better part of three weeks, and kept the bill from receiving a vote prior to the Senate adjourning for the year. Since the interstates and highways in our state only continue to crumble, many expect this issue to again be at the center of debate next year.
The HBASC spent a significant amount of time and energy advocating for reform to the business license fee process faced by many industries across the state. We began the session with a strong coalition of like-minded associations who knew the burden this placed on business of all shapes and sizes. Whether the business in question was a general contractor working in residential construction, a small business owner running a family-owned retail store, or a car dealer with multiple car lots located around a city, many groups understood the importance of reforming this system to ease compliance and reign in cities that used this tax to bolster their budget. The HBASC worked to commission a study that would illustrate this burden to the General Assembly. The study was rolled out at a press conference in May that was attended by a large gathering of HBA members as well as representatives from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, and SC Association of Realtors. A subcommittee hearing was scheduled for the same day as the press conference, but the meeting was delayed to allow for work on a rumored compromise that has yet to materialize. The HBASC and our coalition attempted to work with the municipalities this session, but we met stall tactics at every step. We are already gearing up for another push next year and are determined to make progress on this issue.
In addition to these major issues, a handful of issues important to the HBASC remain in limbo. The HBASC continues to develop and advocate for a South Carolinaspecific building code. We will continue to work for reform in the areas of patent trolling, automatic stays on construction projects, and increased educational opportunities for those seeking a career in residential construction.
Next year will prove to be an interesting session due to a number of factors. On top of the lingering issues mentioned previously (and many others), the General Assembly will again be required to craft the annual state budget bill. Keep in mind, all of this will take place with every member of the House and Senate up for reelection. Most legislators are expected to avoid significant opposition, but with all 170 legislators appearing on a ballot in some form or fashion, tensions are expected to be high. Add in any lingering emotions from the Confederate flag debate, political posturing for congressional races or the gubernatorial election in 2018, and any other unforeseen topics, and 2016 could be the most unpredictable session in recent memory. SCBJ