The 120th General Assembly of South Carolina began its work this past Tuesday with a long to-do list already waiting. An unprecedented hacking of the state Department of Revenue requires urgent attention to cybersecurity. Ethics issues that have entangled prominent state leaders have renewed calls for a revamping of the S.C. Ethics Commission and legislative ethics committees. Education leaders have proposed a dramatic rewrite of the school funding formulas. The governor and Republicans continue to push for deeper tax cuts, particularly for manufacturers.
And looming over it all are two lawsuits in front of the S.C. Supreme Court that threaten to unmake the state budget, one that seeks to do away with the state’s many tax exemptions and another long-running suit that argues the state does not devote enough money to school funding. Either could throw funding deliberations for a loop when or if they’re settled.
But in this busy swirl of statewide problems are also many local issues that have the attention of Grand Strand folks or that at least deserve our attention.
Election rules: Legislators have already begun work on one of the most vexing issues to plague our area last year. Dozens of local candidates saw their names stricken from ballots after an obscure paperwork rule protected incumbents and sowed confusion for challengers. Numerous bills have been filed to correct this oversight, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be fixed as soon as possible. The longer the delay, the more suspicious we become of incumbents’ motives.
Coastal development: The state’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, which has been at work for more than two years now on proposed rules for managing South Carolina’s coastline, should be delivering its final report anytime now. The last time such a committee met, in 1987, it led to sweeping changes in development rules and the Beachfront Management Act of 1988. Policies on renourishment, setback lines and retreat from the beach were all up for discussion. We’re eagerly awaiting a glimpse of the final recommendations. Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said the panel is set to approve a final draft on Wednesday.
Voting machines: Also expected this year is a long-awaited report on the state’s voting machines, compiled by the Legislative Audit Council. The state’s current system has never inspired great confidence, particularly after problems in Horry County, and hopefully the report will either renew that confidence or prompt lawmakers to replace the machines with ones that will.
Gambling: Video poker purveyors thinly disguised as sweepstakes parlors continue to rush into the gray area created by inaction in the legislature and confusion among the courts. The lack of clear policy and dissenting messages coming from law enforcement, politicians and judges across the state are not only easing the way for a return to video gambling, but tying up solicitors and law enforcement in fights over a rule that’s simply unclear. It’s time the legislature settles the issue once and for all.
Trash management: Hard on the heels of a court ruling that Horry County can set strict limits on where trash collected in the county can be taken, bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to outlaw such a practice. Supporters and foes of flow control have been arguing for years. It’s tempting to hope that the issue can be settled this year once and for all, but that simply doesn’t seem realistic.
The local trash business has also been struggling to comply with a half-finished legislative edict on e-waste that has caused Horry County’s bill for disposing of electronics to spike from $30,000 a year to $300,000 a year. Because the part of the law that was supposed to pay for the new regulations never went into effect, it’s left municipalities across the state holding the bag. Legislators who created this problem should now take the time to rectify it.
Road building: Along with a new congressional district comes a new seat on the state DOT Highway Commission. The battle to fill the seat has become a contentious one in local circles, with North Myrtle Beach’s Rick Elliott facing off against Myrtle Beach’s Mike Wooten, but Cleary said Friday that the local delegation, which votes on the seat, should make a decision early this coming week. Whoever is elected will have a powerful voice in determining where the state spends its limited money for maintaining our crumbling road system.
Other local issues: Plenty of other issues continue to simmer in the legislature and could or should go from idea to reality this year. Among them:
A long-pushed for plan to better regulate homeowners associations, which now operate with virtually no oversight.
The revamping of a 2011 bill that ended unemployment compensation for seasonal employees. The law, though passed, has been held up by federal concerns and must be reworked before going into effect. It’s fate is now unclear.
A bigger focus on renewable energy. News that the federal government is considering leasing waters off the coast of North Myrtle Beach for wind turbines and that the wind energy tax credit was extended could be a shot in the arm for wind energy in our area. But a more concrete commitment by the state of requiring or buying renewable energy may also be needed to make it financially feasible for companies.
And finally, we continue to hope for a municipal oversight bill that would allow the state to temporarily take control of towns like Atlantic Beach, that have shown themselves incapable of managing their own finances, and put them back on solid footing.