The legislative session of the past year was one unlike any other that South Carolina has ever experienced. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring brought all legislative activity to a halt, but lawmakers returned to Columbia several times during the summer and fall to finish pending business. The second half of the 123rd General Assembly came to a close on September 24.
Even with the setback from the coronavirus, cities and towns can count numerous major wins, including greater revenue flexibility as well as new business-friendly measures. Bills that were introduced during the 2019 session received last-minute action, and a conference committee met to distribute the second round of federal funding. House members chose not to adopt a budget for 2020, instead they are relying on a resolution to continue funding state government at fiscal year 2020 levels.
Legislators passed two bills to distribute the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. This federal funding was designated to aid cities, towns, businesses, nonprofit organizations and colleges and universities that were affected by the pandemic. Cities and towns could apply for reimbursement from both phase one and phase two funding measures.
Bills Passed by the General Assembly
Business Licensing Standardization Approved
H4431, the business license bill that was amended to include standardization language which is fair to both cities and businesses, was passed by both the House and Senate on September 23, shortly before the end of session, after a conference committee met and worked out the differences. The effective date of the bill is January 1, 2022.
Flexibility with Hospitality Revenue
Introduced in 2019, S217 allows cities and towns to use hospitality tax revenue for flooding and draining mitigation in tourist-related areas. It was passed by the House and Senate in the final week of session, after being amended to extend the due date for local governments to submit comprehensive plans to December 31, 2021, because of the interruptions related to COVID-19.
Firefighter Health Benefit Plan
Passed by the House and Senate, S1071 creates the Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan. The plan provides a supplemental insurance policy for paid and unpaid firefighters who are South Carolina residents if they are diagnosed with cancer. The firefighter is entitled to a one-time benefit of $20,000, an annual out-of-pocket expenses reimbursement of up to $12,000 and a $75,000 death benefit. There was no funding attached to the bill. Legislators plan to include money for this benefit in the fiscal year 2021-2022.
H3780, the Broadband Accessibility Act, passed the House and Senate in the final week of session. The bill allows the state's electric cooperatives to provide broadband internet service within their territories and up to two miles outside of their territories. They may provide broadband service in partnership with their own broadband affiliates or with existing communications service providers.
Small Cell Deployment
H4262, the SC Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, was passed by the House in 2019, amended and passed by the Senate on September 23. The next day, the House passed the bill as amended by the Senate. H4262 provides rules under which small cells may be deployed within public rights-of-way across the state. It specifically allows cities and towns to regulate the appearance of small cell facilities and it provides municipalities the authority to designate design districts where more stringent appearance standards may be required. The bill allows municipalities to charge fees for the deployment of small cells, but those fees are capped.