Legislative Update–2003 Session a Success

The South Carolina legislative session, which ended last week, was a success for The SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce and its 9000 members. While not everything on our legislative agenda was achieved, there were some victories and progress.

Tech Tuition
At the top of the Small Business Chamber’s legislative agenda was renewing last year’s budget for technical college tuition assistance. Workforce development is critical to small businesses. We worked very hard to make sure that the General Assembly voted to allocate $34 million in lottery money to help South Carolinians with tuition to pursue advanced training and skill development at our technical colleges. This was a hard fought victory because there was so much competition for this money.

Income Tax Reduction
The Small Business Chamber is also very pleased with the strides we have made in raising the legislature’s awareness that small businesses pay a much higher income tax, 7%, than big business C-corporations, which pay 5%. Three years ago, this issue wasn’t on the General Assembly’s radar. But this year Governor Sanford, GOP Senators and Senate Democrats all had budget proposals which included reducing the income tax on small businesses. While these proposals, including the Governor’s plan we supported to increase the cigarette tax (for Medicaid funding) while reducing the income tax for small businesses, were not successful this year, we are optimistic that this issue of tax fairness will be included in next year’s budget.

Wage Garnishment
A clear-cut victory for the Small Business Chamber was the defeat of a wage garnishment bill (S.106) that would have required employers to garnish the wages of a worker if the employee had an unpaid commercial debt. We strongly opposed turning small businesses into bill collectors for others. It is very clear that when our members are alerted to contact their legislators, they are doing so and their voices are being heard.

Affirmative Approval of Regulations
For years there have been attempts to change our current legislative process which allows for regulations from state agencies to actually become law without any elected official voting for them. This year, a house bill (H.3082) was introduced to correct this problem and the Small Business Chamber worked hard to move it successfully through the legislative process so that it is now on the Senate calendar. It will be up for second reading in the Senate and hopefully passage early next year.

Economic Development Incentives
A top priority for the Small Business Chamber next year will be economic development incentives for small businesses. Late in this legislative session, we secured the co-sponsorship of 21 Senators for a Concurrent Resolution (S.730) that called for the state procurement code to be changed to require justification if a contract is not awarded to an in-state small business. The state Procurement Code should be used to promote in-state small businesses that are typically not able to benefit from state and local economic development incentives. This is an important way for the state to easily promote the development and growth of in-state small businesses.

Health Insurance
During the first half of this year, the Small Business Chamber invested a significant amount of time and effort on the crisis in small group health insurance. While legislation (S.349/H.3593) was introduced for dealing with the problem by creating a vehicle for small businesses to aggregate for the purpose of self-funding health insurance, the main focus was on documenting the severity of the situation and building support for action. We did so by serving on and working closely with a Health Insurance Task Force created by the SC Department of Insurance under a Federal grant to study the working uninsured problem and develop policy recommendations. With the data collection and analysis almost complete, we will now be able to focus our attention primarily on a solution.

Education Reform and Apprenticeships
It is clear that developing a well-trained and technically skilled workforce for small businesses must require a dramatic reduction in our state’s 30+% drop out rate by 10th grade. The Small Business Chamber supported an education reform bill (S.462), still in a subcommittee, that not only addressed this problem but also sought to create a seamless transition from K-12 to employment and/or further training or education. Registered apprenticeships and internships would be a part of this process under this bill. The Small Business Chamber continues to work with the SC Registered Apprenticeship Roundtable to promote the use of registered apprenticeships by businesses as an effective way of developing our workforce.

Other Issues
The Small Business Chamber also weighed in on other legislation that remains in committees awaiting action next January. These include the issues of property rights (S.280 & H.3555), PSC reform (S.208), tax code conformity to Federal tax codes (S.557), tort reform (H.3744), hospitality tax collection (S.476), and bad check fees (S.191).

Thank You
The Small Business Chamber thanks each of its over 9000 members and 10 trade association members for contributing to our success this legislative session. Together we have developed a strong voice for the small business community. We will continue to work on promoting our issues during the last half of 2003 and be prepared to hit the ground running when the legislators return to Columbia in January.

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