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March 21st, 2023
By Megan Chase-Muller
With this year’s “crossover” date on April 10th looming – the deadline by which a bill needs to have passed out of its originating chamber before heading to the other – we’re running out of time to advance our legislative priorities. The House will be taking a well-deserved break this week, leaving bills in the House even less time to make that deadline.
Need to catch up on news from previous weeks? Remember that you can always access our Legislative Updates here.
Budget heads to the Senate
Through long days of debate last week, the House passed a $13.8 billion budget in the appropriations bill (H.4300) with funding intact for land and water protections. You can learn more about our budget priorities here. The appropriations bill now heads to the Senate, where the Finance Committee will take a few weeks to make revisions and send it through to a vote on the Senate floor.
Momentum on Energy Conversations
Last week’s Energy Market Reform Advisory Committee meeting highlighted pathways our State could take to better prepare for the growing demands for clean, affordable energy. If you’re like me and are interested in getting into the weeds with this conversation, I encourage you to watch the recording from that meeting. You can access that video here, scroll down to Tuesday, March 14.
The highly anticipated study from this Committee will be released to the public in the next few weeks. It will be used by legislators to make decisions about how the state’s electric utilities purchase, distribute, and plan for electric generation in regional markets. Between the work of this committee and the House Economic Development and Utility Modernization Ad Hoc Committee, there is clear momentum to advance reforms for SC’s energy sector.
Conversations about how and why the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) should be split into two agencies through the DHEC Reform Bill (S.399) took place in a Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee hearing last week.
During the hearing, the subcommittee heard from state agencies that would be impacted by this legislation, including DHEC, the SC Office of Resilience (SCOR), and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DHEC directors Dr. Edward Simmer and Myra Reece toed a fine line between remaining open to reform while speaking about the immediate needs of their agency, which has struggled to retain staff, keep up with permit requests, and implement federal regulatory changes.
Upstate Forever has been particularly concerned with the impacts to DNR’s ongoing work on the State Water Plan, and has advocated for leaving this important water management initiative with the agency that has demonstrated leadership in that process. DNR director Robert Boyles discussed what those impacts would look like for the State Water Planning process that is just a few years from being complete, in addition to the management of aquatic nuisance species and the flood mitigation program that already coordinates well with SCOR.
Following agency testimony, several members of the conservation community spoke in support of enhancing DHEC’s public notice and engagement process to avoid conflict and costly litigation. John Tynan of Conservation Voters SC, on behalf of the SC Conservation Coalition, also spoke on the importance of community representation in staff leadership and the need to retain mechanisms for interagency review of staff decisions and permits. Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler followed up with additional support for DNR’s Water Planning Program.
With a promising start to what will be a series of three hearings before the bill is voted on in committee, we hope the subcommittee will continue to be open to common-sense solutions to problems at our environmental permitting agency.
You can access the recording from the hearing here, scroll down to Thursday, March 16.
At this point in the Legislative Session, time is running out to engage with your legislators on issues that matter to you. There are several bills we have been advocating for that will require committee hearings before the week of April 10th to ensure they make the crossover deadline.
The Trails Tax Credit Bill (H.3121) would expand public access to green spaces by providing an income tax credit (10 cents per square foot) to property owners who agree to add a voluntary, perpetual trail easement. We would love to see more Upstate voices support this bill that would empower residents to build access to green spaces. Please ask your representative to cosponsor this bill and request a hearing in House Ways and Means.
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Wednesday, April 5th from 9:15 AM - 8:00 PM
Please join the SC Conservation Coalition on Wednesday, April 5th for our 20th annual Conservation Lobby Day at the Statehouse. You’ll get the chance to meet fellow advocates and legislators who value conservation and help us make a positive impact at the Statehouse. The day will end with an Oyster Roast at 701 Whaley Street!
Participation in this event is free, but we do request that you register online. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. Register and learn more 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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