2014 State Legislative Wrap-Up

2014 State Legislative Wrap-Up

Legislative Victories

Microenterprise Development Act 

The Legislature passed the Microenterprise Development Act with the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Kenneth Hodges, working very hard for its success.  The bi-partisan bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Mia McLeod, Harold Mitchell, Seth Whipper, Robert Brown, David Hiott, Mac Toole (legislative board member of the SC Small Business Chamber), Kevin Hardee, Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Chandra Dillard and Leola Robinson-Simpson.  Please send these legislators an email to let them know that you appreciate their support.

This important bill establishes within the S.C. Department of Commerce a Microenterprise Partnership Program to coordinate and facilitate the development of microlending (loans of up to $25,000) and microenterprises (businesses with five or fewer employees) in the state.

It is important to note that most net new jobs in our nation are created by microenterprises that are less than five years old.

Congratulations to the S.C. General Assembly for recognizing the importance of these small businesses that make up 50 percent of all our state’s businesses.

Solar Energy Bill

After several years of blocked efforts to pass legislation to allow third-party leasing of solar panels for residential and commercial buildings that involved the financing party to install solar panels at no charge and then sell the electricity generated to the building’s owner, success was achieved via a significant compromise legislative effort.

The newly passed solar bill—backed by the S.C. Small Business Chamber, conservation groups, the state solar industry and the utility companies—encourages utilities to develop solar energy sources, allows for solar equipment leasing to residential and commercial customers (but not third-party sales of electricity) and generally promotes the growth of the state’s solar energy industry.  This legislation will make solar panels affordable for small businesses looking to reduce their energy costs,  jump start our small business solar installation industry and reduce the need for building expensive new power plants that drive up the cost of electricity.

But don’t rush out to lease solar panels because the S.C. Public Service Commission must first approve new net metering rules that will set the compensation rates utility companies will pay for putting back on the grid for excess electricity generated from the consumer’s solar panels.  S.C. Small Business Chamber president and CEO, Frank Knapp, expects to be a party to this process to ensure small businesses receive the best net metering rates possible.

Workers’ Compensation

The S.C. Small Business Chamber successfully opposed a bill that would have threatened the current fairness of the state’s workers’ compensation insurance system by giving preferential treatment to businesses employing longshoremen.  Passage of this bill would have caused increases in costs to the workers’ compensation system that would have been distributed to all other businesses in order to benefit a few businesses.

Pollution Amnesty Act

Thanks for Senator John Scott the state’s power companies were successfully stopped in their effort to pass legislation that would have prohibited non-government sources (i.e. the public) from being able to take the utility companies to court to force them to clean-up illegal pollution that occurred prior to June 6, 2012.  Unfortunately the utility companies in 2012 had successfully supported legislation to grant them amnesty from private lawsuits for illegal pollution after June 6th of that year.

Senator Scott single handedly blocked the Senate in the waning days of the legislature from taking up the Pollution Amnesty Act before it adjourned for the year.  Please send Senator Scott an email thanking him for his courage to stand up to the state’s utility companies on behalf of small businesses and citizens.

The problem is that the state regulatory agency, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, has not been very aggressive in making sure the utility companies aren’t polluting our waterways, principally at their coal ash ponds where they have stored the byproduct of burnt coal.  The coal ash contains high levels of toxic mercury, lead, selenium and arsenic.

The threat of pollution from coal ash ponds is seen in this year’s massive contamination of the Dan River in North Carolina from a Duke Energy coal ash pond.  Similar ponds are scattered around South Carolina with the Saluda River and communities like Ware Shoals being in particular danger from a coal ash pond in Anderson County which was found this year to have dam erosion and seepage.  Small businesses and residents should not be restricted from protecting themselves through the courts from pollution caused by utility companies.

Legislative Disappointments

Unfortunately some of our legislative agenda was not successful.  The biggest disappointment was the failure of the Legislature to expand Medicaid to working South Carolinians who are below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.  The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of newly eligible Medicaid recipients for the next couple years and then decrease their funding to cover 90 percent of the additional costs.

Expanding Medicaid to these workers, who make too little to receive premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, would have resulted in a healthier and more productive workforce to their small business employers regardless if the business had health insurance.  If the small business owners did offer health insurance to their employees, they would save money because they would not have to pay for premiums for workers with Medicaid.  This would be quite a financial savings especially for the hospitality industry especially in 2015 when businesses with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees will be required to offer health insurance.

Other legislation that failed to pass included the establishment of a legislative Joint Committee on Economic Development and a Division of Small Business and entrepreneurial Development within the Department of Commerce.  Also failing was legislation to prohibit Most Favored Nation clauses in healthcare provider contracts with insurance companies, establishing tax credits and property tax exemptions for solar energy systems, providing for small business loan tax credits for community development entities and requiring online retailers to collect and pay sales and use taxes.

A Successful Legislative Session

In spite of low expectations for the 2014 legislative session, it turned out to be a pretty successful year.  Thanks to all our members for your active support in contacting the members of the Legislature on our issues.