PSC resolution, tort reform missing from legislative session

June 28, 2004

By Mark Jones, GSA Business

Following the recently completed legislative session in Columbia, some of the state’s biggest advocates for business issues can draw on many successes, but also find a few failures among many of the hot topics addressed this year.

As always, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the SC Small Business Chamber, and the SC chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business toiled in Columbia to push matters to the forefront that were of most concern to the state’s business community.

“We thought it was an OK year overall. It was a bit contentious down here for various reasons,” says Julie Horton, communications director for the state chamber. “It was as effective as it could be in a contentious year with elections and budget crunching.”

Among the biggest rewards was approval of the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act, while the biggest loss seems to have been another session without any comprehensive tort reform.

“I think it’s (SBRF Act) a tremendous piece of legislation because it’s the first time small businesses have a seat at the table for reviewing regulations,” says Michael Fields, state director of SC-NFIB.

Horton says the act, which will establish a watchdog committee of small business owners to evaluate the effects of regulations, provides a much-needed set of checks and balances for business owners through the formation of a “quasi-lobbyist” group.

“I think it’s going to have great benefits for small businesses all over the state,” says Frank Knapp, president of the SC Small Business Chamber. He adds that his group also pushed hard for reform of the Public Service Commission, the regulatory arm covering utilities in the state, and worked to cap potential increases in phone service.

He says PSC reform will limit ex parte communications and hopefully make the commission more responsive to consumers within the state.

Fields says the General Assembly “snubbed its nose” at the concerns of the state’s businesses by not enacting some legal system reform.
“Our membership is outraged at the lack of a balanced civil justice system,” he says. “It is a slap in the face to small business owners that a few personal injury lawyers continue to control the General Assembly.”
Knapp cites a move making it policy that all plaintiffs and defendants automatically be made aware of Rule 11 and the SC Frivolous Civil Proceedings Sanctions Act as means for defendants to acquire important information needed to “fight back against charges they consider to be frivolous.”

Other victories for the business community include the employment-at-will legislation, the Education and Economic Development Act, Medicaid funding and reform, the Life Sciences Act and Venture Capital bill, and the Textile Communities Revitalization Act.

Some of the important areas of focus for the future include healthcare reform, income tax reduction, and state procurement policies and government competition with the private sector.

“We’ve got to address this issue of government agencies competing with the private sector,” Knapp says. “There is more of this going on out there than we are even aware of.”
Fields says he will continue to push at both the state and national levels for permanent repeal of the “death tax,” explaining that “it’s not right to tax somebody while they’re alive and then again when they’re dead.”

He also wants to see the state move ahead with reducing the income tax levels because most small businesses pay business taxes through their personal filings. He says reduced rates would help create jobs and expand existing businesses.

Knapp stresses the state must adopt a complete change of culture in its procurement efforts because, “we are sending too much of our taxpayer dollars out of state and not using enough of our in-state services.”

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