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Our Greenville and Spartanburg offices have closed while Upstate Forever staff work from home to help protect the health of each other, our families, and our communities. But while we are not together in the office, we remain together in our continued efforts to protect our region's critical lands, waters, and unique character.
March 22nd, 2020
By Shelley Robbins
Last week I opened the Legislative Update with " what a difference a week makes." Now things are changing hour to hour. There is a lot of uncertainty related to the impact COVID-19 will have on South Carolina, but one thing has been made clear: your legislators and your conservation organizations have demonstrated an impressive ability to pivot, adapt and respond.
The week began Tuesday with the Senate taking up two key issues: funding for DHEC's response to COVID-19 and how to address the fact that the House and Senate needed to cease meeting for awhile without a final budget. The Senate quickly approved $45 million for SC DHEC for the following uses as reported by the Post & Courier:
The House convened on Thursday (they were otherwise on furlough) to pass the same measure which was then signed by the Governor. This $45 million comes from the state's Contingency Reserve Fund, which was created in 2013. Each year's surplus of revenues over expenses since 2013 has been wisely deposited in this fund, which had accumulated about $350 million in January of 2020. Thus this emergency response funding did not come out of general revenues.
With respect to the budget, much is now uncertain. Projected revenues, upon which the House-approved budget was based, are now inaccurate and must be revised. But how can the Senate revise the House budget without an updated projection (in process) and if they are not allowed to assemble for health reasons? After much debate, a clever backstop was put in place to make sure things continue in 2020-2021 if a new budget is not passed: agencies are guaranteed to be funded at their 2019-2020 levels if a worst case scenario plays out that does not allow the two chambers to reconvene in a timely manner.
The chambers will also work on a "continuing resolution" to allow them to work during the summer if they need to (and if they work during the summer, we will continue these updates). Continuing resolutions require that specific issues be identified, and we assume the two top priorities will be the budget and Santee Cooper. We will work to get our most pressing conservation issues included as we monitor how COVID-19 impacts projected revenues.
Going forward, Senate President Harvey Peeler has stated that the Senate will take things week by week and will reconvene at the call of the chair. The House will remain on furlough for two weeks and then will reassess. All committee meetings last week and for the next week have been cancelled. Here is a great summary of the House and Senate actions this week from The Statehouse Report.
Instead of a virtual lobby day, discussed last week, the South Carolina Conservation Coalition will take the opportunity during this lull in Statehouse activity to create webinars and other social media content that will offer a deep dive on the issues we are working on. Topics may include the legislative process, offshore drilling, the State Water Plan, Santee Cooper, and plastics. Webinars will be announced here and on social media and will be recorded so they can be watched at your convenience. What would YOU like to learn more about? Shoot me an e-mail!
*Update: First webinar scheduled for Thursday, March 26!*
The South Carolina Conservation Coalition 2020 Webinar Series will kick off this Thursday, March 26 at 2:30 pm with Stopping Offshore Drilling. You can learn more and register for this webinar by clicking here.
The Black Market Wildlife Trading Bill (H. 4831, aka The Turtle Bill) passed the House, sailed through committee in the Senate and now waits on the Senate floor. Read about the details and background on the bill here. Our Department of Natural Resources needs to have the tools necessary to keep our native amphibians and reptiles from winding up as part of black market overseas trading.
Senator Sheheen's Thirty-By-Thirty Conservation Act (S. 1024) and his Organic Waste Reduction Study joint resolution (S. 1022) were both scheduled for subcommittee meetings last week, but those meetings were cancelled. Read more about both here.
A pair of House and Senate bills (H. 4718 and S. 1111) require SC DHEC to set limits on the family of perfluoroalkyl substances (known as PFAs) in our water. Read more about this issue here. They haven't moved yet. Establishing a state limit without waiting for a sluggish federal response will help impacted communities get access to resources they need, such as clean drinking water, faster. Upstate co-sponsors to date include Senators Shane Martin, Floyd Nicholson, Scott Talley, and Rex Rice and Representatives Leola Robinson, Jason Elliott, and Gary Clary.
H. 4776 which increases the time a PSC commissioner must wait after leaving office to represent a client before the PSC, passed the House and awaits a Senate Judiciary hearing. Upstate co-sponsors include Representatives Eddie Tallon, Rita Allison, Max Hyde, John McCravy, and Gary Clary.
Senator Sheheen's S. 1023, a joint resolution directing DHEC to study microplastics pollution, passed out of a Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee but awaits a full committee hearing.
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Until next week!
Energy and State Policy Director