Legislative Updates 2024: Session Wrap-Up

May 16th, 2024
By Megan Chase-Muller

We made it!

At 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 9th, lawmakers, advocates, and onlookers heard the final gavel of the 2024 legislative session. For many, that sound provided relief. For some, disappointment over the bills that missed passage in the eleventh hour. For those of us in the conservation trenches, it’s safe to say there was a complex mix of reactions that mirrored the successes and challenges we saw this session. We put countless hours of advocacy into energy, water, and land protection issues. We unravel the complexities of the past few months below, along with reasons to celebrate, and we preview what’s next in our last legislative update of the year!

Even though we’re wrapping up our weekly updates, you can always look back at our previous updates to get caught up or familiarize yourself with the progression of each issue. You can find those here.


2024 Conservation Priorities

Bills signed by the Governor:

  • The Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act (H.3951) passed in February and was celebrated by SC’s conservation and agricultural communities with a ceremonial bill signing by the Governor in April. This bill has been a top priority for Upstate Forever since it was introduced by Greenville Representative — and farmer — Patrick Haddon in 2023.

    It called attention to the critical need to preserve our agricultural heritage and to make land preservation more accessible for our state’s farmers. The funding program created by this bill, housed under the SC Conservation Bank, would leverage state dollars to provide modest financial compensation to qualifying landowners in exchange for a conservation easement that protects working farmland forever.
  • The Endangered Species Data Protection Act (H.4047), introduced by Representative Russell Ott (Calhoun), also passed in February. This bill shields locational data on rare, threatened, endangered, or imperiled plant and animal species, preventing public release of those location records by SC DNR, except for scientific, conservation, or educational purposes.

    These types of protections have been implemented in 23 states and could benefit plants experiencing pressure from poachers, like the Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula — named the state’s official carnivorous plant in 2023) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
  • The Trails Tax Credit Bill (H.3121) has been one of our priorities for several years since it was introduced and championed by Spartanburg Representative Max Hyde. The bill creates an income tax credit (10 cents per square foot of trail easement) for property owners who voluntarily agree to encumber their property with a perpetual trail easement that connects existing public trail networks or other points of interest. By passing this legislation, lawmakers recognized the community value of this generosity, sending a signal to companies looking to locate here that South Carolina prioritizes quality of life for its residents.

Unfinished bills to revisit in 2025

We advocated for several bills that ran out of time or needed additional consensus-building work to address concerns. Throughout the summer and fall, we’ll continue to work on these bills with all stakeholders who would like to roll up their sleeves and find solutions to pass these bills in 2025.

  • The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resiliency (C-PACE) Bill (S.542/H.3937) passed the Senate but was held up in the House LCI Committee. This bill would have authorized local governments to establish C-PACE programs, which help provide access to low-cost, long-term financing for energy and water efficiency, resilience, solar, EV charging, and battery storage for commercial, agricultural, industrial, and multifamily residential properties.

    More than 38 states have passed C-PACE enabling legislation, so we will continue to advocate that South Carolina follow suit. You can read more about how these programs work here.
  • The Alternative Fuel Tax Credit (H.3824) passed the House in 2023, but was ultimately held up in the Senate Finance Committee. This bill would have granted an income tax credit to municipalities, state agencies, individuals, or businesses that install an EV charging station at fuel distribution or dispensing facilities.
  • The Solar Property Tax Exemption (H.3948) had a similar fate to the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit bill by passing the House and never making it out of Senate Finance. This bill would have made more solar energy equipment eligible for property tax exemptions by lifting the 20-kilowatt capacity cap for renewable energy resource properties, and adding that energy storage now qualifies for this exemption for “customer generators.” This exemption would not have extended to solar farms.
  • The NPDES Sign Bill (H.4958/S.999) was a bill that was introduced after a robust discussion during our Conservation Coalition Senate Briefing about the state of SC’s waterways and ways to improve polluter accountability. This bill would have required certain permitted pollutant discharges under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), administered by DHEC, to have a sign next to the outfall that identifies the permittee, permit number, permittee contact information, and DHEC’s number to report issues.

    The idea was that this would improve awareness for the public and accountability for the permittee, resulting in less pollution over time for our waterways. Several concerns about impacts to permittees were brought up during subcommittee hearings, halting the bill for consideration this year.
  • A bill that would have increased the tax credit for conservation easements (H.5062) was introduced in February by Representative Patrick Haddon, and will need additional support to pass in 2025. South Carolina currently offers income tax credits for individuals who place their property under a conservation easement, proportional to the acreage conserved. While this is an important incentive to encourage participation in land conservation, the credit hasn’t been updated in over 15 years.

    This bill would have increased the tax credit from up to $250/acre to $1000/acre, and raised the total credit an individual may use in any given tax year from $52,500 to $105,000. Thanks again to Representative Haddon for continuing to champion legislation that removes financial barriers to land conservation!

Energy bill epilogue

As we inched closer to Sine Die last Thursday, the focus for many in the lobby was on the SC Energy Security Act (H.5118), a bill that continued to change every week since it was introduced and that elicited strong responses from Senators during the last few weeks of session. We have tried to keep you up-to-date on the amendments, debates, and opportunities to engage as this bill has consumed the 2024 legislative session, and we are grateful to everyone who reached out to their lawmaker about the issues presented in this bill.

Ultimately, the Senate amended H.5118 into a series of non-binding declarations of support to increase energy generation in all forms — natural gas and battery storage included — to meet the growing needs of the state. While Senators publicly asserted they would not consider any other version of this bill, not even in a conference committee, they succumbed to pressure from the House and decided to keep the bill alive in a conference committee. Made up of three members from the House — Representatives Jay West, Bill Sandifer, and Russell Ott — and three members of the Senate — Senators Shane Massey, Brad Hutto, and Luke Rankin — this committee could decide to meet in June to work out the differences in the House and Senate versions of this bill.

´╗┐What this means for us: the work is not done.


What happens next?

As we discussed last week, appointed members of the House and Senate will meet again in June to work out differences in bills that were assigned conference committees, like the SC Energy Security Act, as well as the state budget, which was amended again by the House last week. We’ll likely see even more changes after the SC Board of Economic Advisors meets on May 20 and provides updated revenues to lawmakers. Once the state budget is finalized in June, we’ll provide you with an update on how our conservation priorities fared in the budget.

Until then, thank you again for following along with the chaos, joy, and hard work that goes into the legislative session. We could not do this without your input, personal stories, advocacy, and engagement with lawmakers on conservation issues.


Please be in touch throughout the summer and fall as we look ahead to the next legislative session!

Megan Chase-Muller
State Policy Director
mchase@upstateforever.org

 

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