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Time for New Legislative Action

The Municipal Association’s board of directors approved the issues that the Association staff, along with local officials in cities and towns, will pursue during the 2021 legislative session, beginning next month. 

In the fall, the Association hosted 10 Regional Advocacy Meetings through a virtual platform to share information from the 2020 session and to gather information and ideas for the 2021 Advocacy Initiatives. Legislative committee members considered the recommendations, discussed additional issues and adopted these initiatives to work on for 2021. Kathy Pender, first vice president of the Association board and chairman of the legislative committee, presented these recommendations to the board.

Some are items that cities and towns have advocated for in the past, while others are new issues. All of these initiatives create additional tools for cities and towns to govern more effectively and efficiently. 

Broadband expansion
The Association will seek to amend the newly adopted broadband expansion law to allow cities and towns to not only lay fiber, but also light the fiber or partner with a third party to light it. Lighting fiber, or activating the cable to make internet access available, is critical to expanding broadband. To further make broadband accessible to everyone, cities and towns should be allowed to make this service available. 

Enclave annexation
Allowing cities and towns to close enclaves, also known as doughnut holes, in their municipal limits through a local annexation process is a long-standing issue. Cities and towns have long advocated for closing enclaves that prevent consistent and efficient service delivery.

Law enforcement reform
Supporting reform measures to aspects of law enforcement training and practices will be important in 2021. Both the House and Senate are currently studying and taking testimony from experts on changes to current law enforcement practices. 

Code enforcement
Requiring code enforcement liens to be billed and collected, similar to property taxes, is critical in the fight against blight. Cities and towns struggle with paying for the remediation of dilapidated buildings and properties. Recovering these costs through the property tax collection process would allow cities and towns to maintain property standards more effectively. 

Abandoned buildings tax credit
Extending the current abandoned buildings tax credit to 2022, which provides for additional local economic development incentives, will be valuable as the state’s economy recovers. These incentives have proven successful for cities, towns and developers in attracting new projects to communities. 

Local Government Fund
Because of the coronavirus, legislators did not pass a state budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The continuing budget resolution they passed did not include any additional funding in the Local Government Fund. Calling for the Local Government Fund to be funded in accordance with current law will be important for the fiscal year 2022 budget.
 
Firefighter Healthcare Benefit Plan
The Municipal Association supports the inclusion of money in the state budget to fund the Firefighter Healthcare Benefit Plan. Legislators passed a bill in 2020 that would offer monetary benefits to South Carolina firefighters diagnosed with cancer. For the bill to take effect, lawmakers must appropriate money in the budget. 

PTSD funding
Supporting money to be included in the state budget to fund the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder programs for first responders is an ongoing issue. For several years, the General Assembly has included $500,000 in the state budget for programs to support first responders who experience a traumatic event. The Association will seek to ensure funds continue to be included.

Zero millage
Cities and towns with no property tax millage should be allowed to impose a millage with certain limitations. There are some cities and towns that do not impose an operating millage who now need to do so. The restrictions in Act 388 prevent them from adding this millage. The Senate passed a zero millage bill in 2020, but the bill came to a stop on the House floor later in the session.

Municipal Capital Projects Penny
Creating a Municipal Capital Projects penny tax for municipal residents to approve for capital projects within the city limits is an initiative important to cities and towns within counties that do not have a capital projects tax.

Expansion of naloxone
The Municipal Association supports expanding the availability of naloxone, the medication used to revive individuals suffering from drug overdoses, to fire and emergency medical services first responders. 

Textiles Communities Revitalization Act
The Textiles Communities Revitalization Act needs to be amended to include as one site those parts of abandoned mill properties that are separated by way of an intervening connector, such as a railroad or waterway. 


Being an Advocate

To get these issues introduced and moved through the legislative process as bills, cities, towns and Association legislative staff must work together as a team to find legislators willing to sponsor and champion these bills through the process. Developing relationships with legislators before the session begins is critical – especially for those who have new legislators elected in November – in order to make the important ask for support. Whether that request is for money in the budget or for sponsorship of legislation, relationships are important. 

Advocates delivering their messages also need to know the subject matter and
stick to it. Be ready to get to the point in three minutes or less. Always present both sides of the subject, both supporting and opposing. Tell stories and back those stories up with data. 

The most important thing to remember is to be an honest broker of accurate information. Local officials should want their legislators to come to them first as a reliable source of information every time. Always remember to share information about bills and action with Association legislative staff. 

For more information on the 2021 Advocacy Initiatives, contact Casey Fields at 803.933.1256 or cfields@masc.sc.