2006 Legislative Wrap-Up

2006 Legislative Wrap-Up

2006 LEGISLATIVE SUCCESS
Priority Issues Enacted or Show Progress

The SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce started in January with 6 top legislative priority issues. On June 14th, the S.C. General Assembly finished for this year. Below is a brief description of the outcome on each of these issues.

1. Affordable Health Care/Insurance
SUCCESS: The Small Business Chamber and the S.C. Primary Health Care Association’s initiative to promote small business use of community health centers’ affordable primary healthcare services moved forward on two fronts. The Mid-Carolina Steel pilot project rolled along nicely and for the first time the state budget invested money in our community health centers to enable them to serve more uninsured including employees of small businesses. The $1 million earmarked in the state budget for the centers avoided a threatened line item veto by Governor Sanford when he instead vetoed the entire budget. The legislature overrode that veto.
(For more information about how your business can offer affordable primary healthcare to uninsured workers, call 803-252-5733.)

PROGRESS: For the first time the legislature actually debated a plan to make health insurance for small businesses more affordable. The Small Business Chamber was a prime proponent of the plan that would have enabled small businesses to receive premium assistance through Medicaid for their workers with family incomes up to 200% of poverty (about $38,000 for a family of four). The effort for a modest increase in the 7-cents a pack cigarette tax to pay for the program was first snuffed out as an amendment to the House budget. Then after legislation for the proposal received a favorable vote in a subcommittee, the House Ways & Means Committee voted against it. However, the strong bi-partisan support lead by Rep. Paul Agnew and Rep. Rex Rice this year lays the foundation for better success next year.

2. Keeping More State Procurement Dollars At Home
PROGRESS: Last year the House passed a bill proposed by the Small Business Chamber that would have addressed the problem of approximately 43% of our state procurement dollars ($1.3 billion) going out-of-state and thus not helping our state’s small businesses and workers. However, this legislative year that bill failed to be addressed by the Senate. In a final effort to force the Senate to address the bill, the Small Business Chamber asked the House to attach the bill to Senate legislation it was ready to approve. Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Bobby Harrell and Rep. Mac Toole, the House amended the Senate bill forcing a House/Senate conference committee to address the procurement issue. As a result of the strategic House action, Budget and Control Board staff met with the Small Business Chamber and agreed to work with our organization to develop legislation to address the procurement issue in a way that will be acceptable to all parties. With this pledge of cooperation and not wanting the original Senate bill to fail, the House withdrew its insistence on its amendment and thus allowed the bill to pass.

3. Fight Increases in Workers’ Comp Insurance
SUCCESS: The Small Business Chamber opposed legislative efforts to eliminate the workers’ compensation Second Injury Fund, a program to encourage businesses to hire workers with previous injuries from accidents, combat or other causes. Insurance companies, Governor Sanford’s Department of Insurance and big businesses strongly supported the legislation. However, an important insurance industry organization projected that workers’ comp rates would have to increase by about 17% if the Second Injury Fund was dissolved. The Small Business Chamber’s strong efforts helped lead to the legislation’s failure to pass the Senate. Needed systemic reform legislation that will actually reduce workers’ comp premiums for small businesses will be developed for the next legislative session in January.

4. Make Job Tax Credits Easier to Use
SUCCESS: Last year the Small Business Chamber successfully promoted legislation to allow small businesses to hire as few as two new workers to qualify for Job Tax Credits. Previously, this state economic incentive was in practicality only for big businesses. But the Small Business Chamber determined that the law still needed to be amended to make it easier for small businesses to qualify for Job Tax Credits and to stop the incentives from ending in 2010. With the support of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, the Small Business Chamber’s legislation passed the General Assembly. Governor Sanford’s veto of the bill (based on another provision in the legislation) was overridden by the Legislature and the bill will become law.
(For more information on Job Tax Credits for small businesses, go to http://www.scsbc.org/view_issue.asp?id=29 )

5. Community-Based Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
PROGRESS???: The Small Business Chamber started out in January trying to convince the S.C. Dept. of Commerce to create a community-based program to promote small business and entrepreneur growth—a program similar to efforts for big business recruitment and modeled after the successful program in Georgia. Commerce and the Governor’s Office rejected the idea of them or even the Small Business Chamber seeking state funds for such a program in the recently passed state budget. Next the Small Business Chamber tried to have the state approve such a program but have it operated by the S.C. Women’s Business Center (a division of the S.C. Manufacturers Extension Partnership) with no state funding the first year. This effort also failed. However, Commerce is now in the early stages of developing a plan for entrepreneurial development.

6. Budgets for Technical College Tuition and Small Business Assistance
SUCCESS: The important Technical College Tuition Assistance program, which is funded with lottery money, received the Legislature’s commitment to provide about $1,000 of tuition assistance per semester for every qualified student for the next four years. At current tuition rates this assistance is approximately 70% of the tuition. Both the budgets for the S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Small Business Development Center were funded at last year’s levels.

Other Legislative Efforts
There was not such good news for other legislation also supported by the Small Business Chamber and others. Legislation to eliminate the Blue Laws, require affirmative approval of regulations, reduce strict check cashing regulations on certain types of businesses, eliminate the sales tax on durable medical equipment and scale back the Universal Service Fund tax on telephones—all failed. Most of these bills will likely be re-introduced in January and start the process again in a new two-year session.