LWVSC LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES FOR 2017
LWVSC Priorities for the SC 2017 Legislature
LWVSC and LWV Charleston Area Priorities
The local Charleston Area League supports and primarily mirrors the state League's positions and priorities. See the Charleston Area positions
and the Charleston Area 2017 priorities.
Expanding Ethics Reform
We made serious progress last year in ethics reform with expanded income disclosure and independent investigation of legislators. However, we need more. These are the highest priorities:
- Legislation to fix the "committee" definition in our current statute, ruled too vague in federal court, in order to provide for disclosure of donors to some kinds of third party political action committees.
- Judicial reform to insure greater elapsed time between serving as a public official and pursuing judicial appointment.
- We also support improvements in revealing potential conflicts of interest, but we believe that pursuing this concern may benefit from waiting to see if greater clarity regarding the interpretation of current law is achieved during the coming months.
Regulating Utilities to Help Rate Payers
The Base Load Review Act is written in a way that makes ratepayers pay for cost overruns that arise from imprudent management decisions, such as inadequate liquidated damages clauses in construction contracts. Amendments should include:
- Restricting conditions under which utilities can pass on financing costs for overruns when those overruns arise from imprudent management decisions.
- Putting the burden of establishing prudent management on the utilities rather than ratepayers.
- Empowering the Public Service Commission to adjust return on equity.
Funding the Judiciary & Selecting Judges
Two aspects of the Judiciary related to judicial independence demand attention: budget and elections.
Budget: The Judicial operations budget was reduced unreasonably last year, in what many see as retribution for Supreme Court decisions not liked by many in the General Assembly, especially the Abbeville decision, which found that the state had failed to provide "minimally adequate" education to children in the state's poorest school districts. The LWVSC supports fully funding the operational costs of the Judiciary.
Judicial elections in SC could be much worse. They could be public elections, which are a catastrophic solution. However, the current system challenges judicial independence and separation of powers by being entirely controlled by the General Assembly. Ethical violations (especially vote trading) are reported in many elections.
- The LWVSC supports reform of the Judicial Merit Selection Committee to include only legal experts, not legislators. At present legislators dominate the process, and then conduct the final election as well.
- The LWVSC does not regard efforts to move toward gubernatorial appointment as a priority to insure judicial independence so long as the JMSC is made truly independent.
- The League supports extending the time that must elapse between a public official ending official responsibilities and pursuing a judicial appointment.
Improving Access to Voting
- We support, as a practical change, allowing the Governor to extend voter registration times when emergencies prevent registration during the normal period.
- We support removal of witness signatures from absentee ballots, a measure which has been attempted in several recent sessions. The LWVSC supports this change because the witness signatures serve no useful purpose. During the initial election process they cannot be checked. In the case of voter fraud, it would not be the first avenue to document the crime since the voter would presumably answer to the legitimacy of the ballot.
- The LWVSC supports no-excuse early voting. However, we recognize strong opposition in the House and are not optimistic.
- The LWVSC supports an extended voter registration period and reduced interval between the end of registration and election day.
- The LWVSC supports automatic absentee voting for some classes of voters, especially those with permanent disabilities.
Making Taxing Equitable and Adequate
A House committee is attempting to find fair solutions to problems in our tax structure. However, equitable solutions are extremely difficult without repeal or substantial amendment of Act 388, which is not expected. Our concern is that an attempt to be more fair to small businesses must not result in inequities to individuals. LWVSC tax expert Holley Ulbrich has observed that a more fair sales tax would reduce the overall sales tax rate and compensate by reducing the number of exemptions. However, there is reason for concern that reform efforts might make tax equity even more elusive for low income citizens if the focus is put disproportionately on tax relief for businesses.
Expanding and Improving Healthcare
The LWVSC has been part of the Close the Gap coalition, working to expand Medicaid to cover the approximately 123,000 South Carolinians who currently have no health insurance because they fall into the "gap" with income too high for current Medicaid limits and too low to qualify for insurance subsidies. At this point we will be assessing what impact national changes will have on this effort.
We will continue to support relevant bills that foster improvements in the existing state healthcare system and that are of interest to LWVSC.
Fairly Funding Education
The Allendale court decision
observed that solutions to the state's educational problems are not all about money. The LWVSC supports:
- consolidation of smaller less efficient school districts.
- better compensation for teachers in rural areas with large high-risk student populations
- efforts to shift at least some significant part of the revenue benefits of major state-subsidized industries (for example, Boeing, BMW) from individual counties to the entire state. All of the state pays for many of the subsidies and benefits that lure these companies to SC, while at present only the local county benefits from a property tax return on that investment. These funds could be used to help fund improvements in poor districts.
Protecting Women's Reproductive Health
The LWVSC will oppose any efforts to pass a "personhood" bill, which would unreasonably equate unimplanted eggs with legal persons, and in the process outlaw contraceptive pills, the IUD, and IVF. We work with the WREN coalition for women's issues.
The LWVSC supports expanded background checks and limited access to military style weapons.
The LWVSC also supports efforts to improve mental health care for individuals who are at risk for abuse of weapons.
Protecting the Environment
The LWVSC supports efforts to preserve and protect the natural environment on which we all depend and works closely with other members of the SC Environmental Coalition on relevant bills.
Reforming Criminal Justice
The LWVSC has positions on criminal justice issues, but is not at present involved in lobbying on specific bills in this area.
Redistricting is a process crucial to our democracy, but at present South Carolina has very few districts that are competitive in the general election. This increases political polarization, an extremely destructive force in our nation. It deprives citizens of a meaningful vote.
We will oppose efforts to make this problem more pronounced and will support efforts to insure more competitive districts. Ideally we wish to see a nonpartisan commission of individuals who are not legislators or holders of other elective office define South Carolina's districts.