The first year of South Carolina's 123rd General Assembly brought legislative action on many issues important to cities and towns, with some important bills being carried over to the second half of the two-year cycle in 2020.
The Municipal Association's Advocacy Initiatives saw early advancement beginning in January. The initiatives include
- providing flexibility to cities and towns in the ways they can use local hospitality and accommodations tax revenue to control flooding and drainage in tourism-focused areas. S217, a bill that allows cities to use local hospitality and accommodations taxes for flooding and drainage projects in tourism-related areas passed the Senate and sits in the House Ways and Means Committee;
- an effort to create a more predictable formula for the funding that municipalities receive from the Local Government Fund. H3137, a bill that adjusts the Local Government Fund up or down with the state budget, passed and was signed into law; and
- $3.2 million in recurring funds to the Criminal Justice Academy to reduce its funding dependence on fees and fines, develop mobile training opportunities and reduce wait times for new law enforcement officers.
Municipal elected officials worked to stop legislative efforts to restrict their ability to regulate harmful materials within their jurisdictions. At a time when cities and towns on the coast and elsewhere have been passing bans on single-use plastic bags, S394, a bill prohibiting any such bans, advanced to the full Senate for debate in April. Elected officials from cities and towns that have passed these bans came to Columbia to testify against S394.
H3274, meanwhile, would keep cities and towns from passing ordinances to regulate various tobacco and alternative nicotine products, like cigarettes or electronic cigarettes, or other vaping products. Specifically, municipalities would not be able to regulate ingredients, flavors or licensing. That bill was amended in the subcommittee to clarify that the bill is not intended to interfere with local ordinances that prohibit smoking or vaping in public spaces, but efforts were rejected to amend the bill to expressly protect attempts to regulate local access through zoning ordinances.
Another bill that received pushback from cities and towns during the session, H4262, would have in its original form completely preempted local control of the ways in which companies deploy small cell facilities. An amendment returns much of the aesthetic control over the installation of these facilities to municipalities, but remains a likely unconstitutional encroachment by the state with regards to municipal rights of way.
Look for a more detailed overview of the legislative session in the 2019 annual legislative report, which will be available at the Municipal Association's Annual Meeting in July and online.