May 17th, 2017
By Shelley Robbins
The South Carolina Legislature wrapped up Year 1 of the 2 year 2016-2018 Session on May 11. Here’s a recap of the bills we worked on at Upstate Forever as a member of the Steering Committee for the Conservation Voters of South Carolina’s Conservation Coalition:
Late in the session, the full House Judiciary Committee voted 14-5 to adjourn debate for the year on S. 105, the bill that would have crippled the auto-stay provision. Your phone calls made the difference. This component of the permitting process is so important to what we do and Upstate Forever pledges to always use it judiciously. This summer, we will work with Upstate legislators to identify the main flaws in the permitting and appeals process with the goal of crafting legislation that resolves issues strategically, rather than whacking the provision with a hammer.
Your calls and e-mails slowed this bill down but ultimately it did pass the House this week. You helped us encourage legislators to adopt some improvements in committee, and now we’ll work on it more over the summer before it heads to committee in the Senate in January. This bill weakens many provisions that were previously negotiated between communities and the agriculture industry through the Right to Farm Act of 2009. Of particular concern, it removes DHEC’s ability to customize setbacks based on area circumstances. Here in the Upstate, we have a lot of steep slopes and situations that make a “one size fits all” mandate very impractical and not neighborly. Upstate Forever is a strong supporter of farms and we want farms and neighbors to be able to coexist without conflict – something we think is entirely possible. Thank you for slowing this down and for providing your legislators with input. It will head to the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Senator Danny Verdin of Laurens County, in January.
The Renewable Energy Property Tax Equality and Solar Jobs Bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate but did not make it out of the House this year. A House Ways and Means subcommittee debated for four hours and ultimately voted to adjourn debate on the bill. We contacted some folks in specific House districts asking you to call or e-mail your representative and you did! Thank you so much. The bill is stuck in a sub-committee selected by and including Anderson County’s Representative Brian White, so if you see him over the summer, please tell him that solar means jobs in SC and counties have the ability to make sure solar farm siting does not displace working farms or negatively impact neighbors.
This incredible and cost-effective tool for conservation sunsets next year, so reauthorization before that time is crucial. What happened this year is the 2017-2018 budget for the program has been separated from reauthorization. The House and Senate each proposed different funding levels, so that issue will be resolved in Conference Committee this year for projects that will be considered by the bank starting July 1. Reauthorization of the bank itself will be taken up next year, just barely avoiding sunset. To learn more about the Conservation Bank, visit the Palmetto Land + Water Legacy Alliance's website.
Shelley Robbins is the Energy and State Policy Manager at Upstate Forever and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org