Over 100 bills prefiled in state Legislature

First Byline: 
Jonathan Vickery - Staff Writer

From gradually eliminating the state's income tax to banning texting while driving, state legislators pre-filed more than 100 bills they hope to pass into law during the upcoming 2014 session.

The pre-filed bills have all been assigned a bill number, tentative committee assignment and were posted to the legislative website. South Carolina's senators and representatives can still file bills, but they won't be introduced and referred to committee until legislators return to Columbia Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Lawmakers are seeking to pass into law legislation dealing with a variety of topics, including protecting restaurants from legal liability or health code violations when donating surplus food to churches or other charitable organizations.

Another bill concerns whether to give a funeral home, funeral director or embalmer the legal right to retain custody of a dead body until all financial obligations for provided services have been paid.

Taxes and fees

Money is also a factor in a number of other pre-filed bills, especially concerning taxes and fees.
One in the senate would reduce the state's income tax rate by 1.4 percent annually until the tax rate for all brackets is zero.

On the other hand, another senate bill seeks to fuel the State Highway Fund by increasing the user fee on gasoline and diesel fuel. The bill would increase the current 16-cent per gallon fee by 2 cents a year until it reaches 36 cents. The additional 16 cents would help maintain the state's highways.

A similar bill in the House would enact the Local Option Motor Fuel User Fee Act that would allow counties to impose a user fee of up to 2 cents per gallon on retail sales of motor fuel. The proceeds would have to be used for road improvement projects and maintenance within the respective county.

Another bill wants to provide a tax credit to any taxpayer who employs a formerly incarcerated individual as a full-time employee. A monthly credit of $500 could be earned after every 30 consecutive days the formerly incarcerated individual is employed.

Sen. Brad Hutto, who represents Barnwell County, is proposing a bill related to the Local Government Fund, the state fund that municipalities receive money from. It aims to provide, at a minimum, the same funding from the previous fiscal year.

Education

As Sen. Hutto looks to protect funding for local government, a House bill aims to create a committee to review federal funding of public education in South Carolina - currently set at $864,331,430. The committee would be tasked with identifying areas where the "receipt and expenditure of federal funds should be given greater efficiency and transparency," according to the bill.

Other education-related bills include: enacting the Report-a-Bully in School Website Act; providing immunity from criminal or civil liability for a school employee or volunteer who "in good faith gratuitously intervenes on behalf" of a student who is harassed, intimidated or bullied; creating the Palmetto Pay Forward, Pay Back pilot program where college students can forgo paying tuition and fees in exchange for paying the institution a percentage of income for so many years after graduating; and creating a full day four-year-old kindergarten program for at-risk children in each public school district.

Rep. Bakari Sellers, whose district includes part of Barnwell County, proposes requiring the State Department of Education to release high school graduation rate data based on race or ethnicity by Sept. 1 of each year.

Another House bill deals with principals selecting teachers who demonstrate qualifications and effectiveness under the evaluation system. The bill includes provisions for displaced teachers rated "effective" or higher, including giving severance pay, temporary position or priority for an interview. It also contains a section allowing for the dismissal of teachers who receive an "ineffective" or "needs improvement" rating on their annual performance evaluation and has failed to remedy performance deficiencies.

On the road again

Several proposed bills deal with drivers and other traffic issues, including increasing the age for which children must be secured in a passenger restraint system from five to seven years old. It also adds certain height requirements and would prohibit a child from riding in the front passenger seat until they are twelve years old.

Two other bills deal with texting while driving. A House bill proposes a ban on electronic messages, such as texting, emailing or surfing the internet, while driving, and penalties for drivers who disobey.

A Senate bill would make it illegal for drives with a beginner's permit or restricted driver's license to drive while using a cell phone or texting device, as well as ban drivers from driving through a school zone or highway work zone while using a cell phone or texting device.

Crime

Increasing penalties for certain crimes is also high on the wish lists for some lawmakers.

Proposed bills seek to raise the number of points from 10 to 18 for those who trespass to hunt or trap animals, increase the minimum jail time for those who kill someone while driving under the influence, and enhance the sentence for those convicted of serious or most serious offenses while out on bond for another serious or most serious offense. A bill by Rep. Sellers aims to increase jail time for first offense criminal domestic violence offenses from 30 days to 180 days along with provisions for bond.

One Senate bill would enact the S.C. Second Chance Act so some nonviolent misdemeanor and felony offenses could be expunged.

Get to work

Sen. Brad Hutto is proposing a bill encouraging the governor and state secretary of commerce to intensify efforts for job creation in rural areas facing "chronic levels" of high unemployment, such as Barnwell County.

Other bills relate to those who already have a job, including preventing employers from firing workers who are volunteer firefighters or emergency medical services personnel who arrive late to work because of their volunteer duties. They would be required to provide written documentation from their department chief.