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March 7th, 2023
There are at least five bills filed in the House aimed at protecting farms and timberlands under threat from development. We're doing a deep dive into these conversations and other issues that place burdens on farmers. Read below for a look at how legislators are trying to prevent additional loss of working lands in South Carolina.
Missed last week's update? Click here for a recap on committee actions and a breakdown of the House budget.
The Senate Medical Affairs Committee made a surprising move last Thursday when it sent the DHEC Reform bill (S. 399) back to a subcommittee to make improvements and receive additional testimony. Referencing an article published last week by The State Newspaper, Senator Scott remarked about the importance of upholding water quality as a priority in the agency reorganization process, and we couldn’t agree more. You can read more about this bill here.
The Heirs’ Property Commission Bill (S.436) is headed to the House Floor after passing the Senate last week. We have been highlighting this bill as an essential tool to address legal and economic issues associated with Heirs’ Property in a statewide, collaborative manner. You can read more about this issue in our latest interview with the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation here.
A bill was introduced Tuesday that would protect rare and endangered species by prohibiting the public release of location records of rare, threatened, endangered, or imperiled plant and animal species by SC DNR, which maintains that inventory for the state. This bill (H. 4047) would help protect species like the federally-endangered Bunched Arrowhead plant here in the Upstate. You can find DNR’s list of tracked species by county here.
A bill we discussed last week (S.523) that would place additional oversight on Central Electric Cooperative gained support with a House companion bill (H.4048) introduced last Tuesday. This bill would require Central Electric to submit independent contract proposals and plans for generation procurement to the Public Service Commission, Joint Bond Review Committee, and the State Public Utilities Regulatory Committee.
The Working Lands Preservation Act (H.3951) is headed to the House Floor after a favorable report in the House Agriculture Committee. During the hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Patrick Haddon (Greenville), spoke on the alarming rate of farmland loss throughout the state. The American Farmland Trust reports that between 2001-2016, nearly 280,000 acres of agricultural land were developed in South Carolina.
Upstate Forever’s Land Protection Specialist, Caitlyn Smith, did an in-depth analysis of what that loss means for the Upstate. She notes that farmland is disappearing rapidly in the Upstate as well, bringing unique challenges to a region that produces more agricultural goods like cattle and chicken than anywhere else in the state. Greenville and Spartanburg County rank in the top four counties in the state for land conversion threat. To make matters worse, South Carolina also ranks near the bottom in policies and programs that protect agricultural land from development.
Our state’s leaders are now confronted with the critical need for additional tools and policies to balance the demand for development with the need to protect the state’s working lands, which have a $51.8 billion annual economic impact.
Adjacent to the Conservation Bank, and funded by state appropriations, the Working Lands Preservation Act (H.3951) would provide funding devoted to helping landowners preserve working lands through voluntary conservation easements. With over 11,000 acres of active farms protected through easements with Upstate Forever’s Land Trust, this is a process we are very familiar with.
While property owners and land trusts already have this option with the Conservation Bank, this bill adds dedicated funding to ensure working lands preservation does not have to compete with applications from other types of green space and heritage sites.
I should note that the bill did not receive unanimous support in the committee hearing, so now would be a great time to reach out to your representative to voice your support for this bill.
Need help crafting your message or finding your legislator? Click here for resources on contacting elected officials.
You can learn more about Upstate Forever's Farmland Protection program here.
Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved and learn more about upcoming legislative issues. We’ll continue to keep you informed on their progress and ways to get involved throughout the legislative session!
Until next week...
State Policy Director
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