Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Distracted Driving Month wraps up today

As April's Distracted Driving Month wraps up today on the last day of the month, 19 South Carolina cities and towns have passed bans on distracted driving or texting while driving. This number continues to grow as the legislature works its way through three pending bills related to this issue. The Municipal Association's board voted in 2013 to support a statewide texting ban.

The Senate and House of Representatives have passed different versions of a statewide texting ban. The Senate voted 38 to 2 to pass S459 that prohibits a person with a beginner's permit from using a cell phone while driving. S459 is awaiting action in the House Education and Public Works committee. S416, a Senate version of a statewide distracted driving ban, is awaiting action on the Senate contested calendar. Meanwhile the House of Representatives passed H4386 that prohibits anyone from using a communication device to send or read texts or emails while driving.That bill now awaits action in the Senate Judiciary committee. 

An article in the latest issue of Uptown tells the story of several cities that have passed some type of distracted driving ordinance and recounts their experiences with publicizing and enforcing them. The City of Greenville's ordinance went into effect April 1.

Camden's ordinance has been in place since 2010, and the city recently released a YouTube video explaining the ban and the reasons why the council passed it. More details on what these and other cities are doing are in the May Uptown.

Stay tuned to the weekly legislative report to get updates on the progress of texting/distracted driving bills as the legislature moves toward its last weeks in session.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Workshop for local government reporters raises good questions

Two dozen reporters from around the state spent the day at the Municipal Association talking budgets, forms of government, the Freedom of Information Act and records retention with a variety of Association staff and other topic experts. The seminar was co-sponsored with the SC Press Association and the SC Broadcasters Association.

The reporters posed many interesting questions during the budget session presented by Jeff Shacker, the Association's field services manager. One topic of discussion was about fund balances - especially what is a good benchmark for a city's fund balance. Jeff explained it boils down to the city's tolerance for debt and the city's possible uses of the fund balance. These uses could include anything from one-time purchases of major equipment such as a fire truck to holding funds for use in case of an emergency. More details about fund balance can be found here.

Jeff Shacker answered many reporter questions about how municipal budgets are built and implemented.

The Association's Scott Slatton led a good discussion about best practices and state law regarding council agendas, making amendments to the agenda (Lambries case) and public comment. 

While the goal of the day was to educate reporters on local government topics, a panel of three reporters gave some great insight into how they view their local government beats. A few observations made by the reporters:
  • People don't buy a paper for government coverage because often it's just not that interesting.
  • People want to read about people. Readers are engaged with people, not millage rates or reassessment. People must have a reason to pick up a newspaper.
  • Local officials have to earn reporters' trust and reporters have to earn officials' trust.
  • Print will never die because of its tangible nature.
  • Stories being pushed out in increments online throughout the day is one of the biggest challenges in today's media world.
  • Reporters should be skeptical of everything - it's just the nature of the type of job. Journalism attracts curious people.
  • Committee meetings are a great place to learn details of an issue.
  • Reporters need to have plan around how they want to cover a big story because all the details can't be communicated in a single story.  
Thanks to our friends at the Press Association for their work in pulling together the sessions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Summertime is Calling Me...But Be Careful!

Many hometowns put a great deal of effort and money toward providing residents and visitors with recreational opportunities to improve the quality of life. However, these opportunities can also create liabilities for cities and towns.

Recently, the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund offered Parks and Recreation Liability training to its members help them recognize situations that might result in liability.

Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act require that newly built or rebuilt recreational facilities be compliant with the ADA. Other laws and practices can lessen the likelihood of severe claims. In South Carolina, the Tort Claims Act limits liability damages to $300,000 per person or $600,000 per occurrence. Background checks on employees and volunteers, a review of Motor Vehicle Reports and understanding the potential liability of using volunteers can often limit exposures faced by municipalities.

Conducting routine, scheduled inspections of playgrounds will help cities determine where work needs to be done to keep playgrounds and playground equipment safe. Performing audits that check for compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASTM International help cities ensure that critical areas where claims are likely to occur receive the needed attention. Get a compliance checklist from this February Uptown article.

Although many cities and towns have year round swimming facilities, the approach of warm weather raises the likelihood of claims related to aquatics liability. The Department of Health and Environmental Control regulates swimming pools in South Carolina. Abiding by these regulations and having staff trained in First Aid, CPR and AED use will go a long way in making sure that pool facilities are safe and fun.

Having a variety of recreational facilities to choose from is an important quality of life amenity for many who live in SC cities and towns. But, municipalities must be careful to not take on more than they can handle. Read more in this Uptown article about recognizing how negligence is determined, meeting industry standards, and having the manpower to inspect, repair, and maintain recreational facilities to keep these assets from becoming municipal liabilities. 

By Cindy Martellini, Claims Manager for the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services

Friday, April 18, 2014

Weekly Rewind

If it's Friday, that means the weekly legislative report is out. With the House on furlough, the Senate was the only body working this week. Read about what happened with the state budget process and more. Both houses are not in session next week.

As of today, 33 cities and two counties have agreed to accept the new standardized business license application. According to Edra Stephens, president of the Business Licensing Officials Association and business licensing director for Beaufort County, the county has already accepted about 30 of the standardized applications, and they are working great.

Read this blog post to learn more about how easy it is to use the form and help spread the word to businesses the can benefit from it. Contact Scott Slatton ( if you have any questions or want to get your city on the list of adopters. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The question of municipal traffic ordinances

The Association often gets questions about the powers of a municipal council under state law, especially related to operating vehicles on roads and highways within city limits. Recently, the question has been raised whether city ordinances can address moving vehicle violations.

A recent legal opinion written for the Municipal Association by attorney Danny Crowe evaluates two 2013 Attorney General’s opinions about whether cities have the legal authority to impose local moving violation ordinances that set penalties different from those in state law. 

The state constitution mandates certain types of general "matters" (such as general citizen rights or general laws) cannot be "set aside" by legislative acts of local governments. These specific matters include "criminal laws and the penalties and sanctions for the transgressions thereof." The rationale for this constitutional carve-out from the legislative authority of local governments was a perceived need for statewide uniformity.

In his opinion, Crowe concludes a local moving violation ordinance that imposes fines higher or lower than those allowed by state law would likely be in conflict with state law and void. Similarly, moving violation ordinances that impose only a civil penalty and that avoid the criminal tracking and points system are also in conflict with state law.

A May 2013 AG opinion took the position that a local traffic ordinance cannot make acts unlawful that were already unlawful under state law. The opinion says an ordinance such as this would merely duplicate existing state law and, because of that, could not be considered an "additional" traffic regulation as authorized by state law.

Crowe also cites a November 2013 AG opinion that states ‘we believe local ordinances regulating traffic are void as in conflict with state law if such ordinances: regulate traffic in the same manner as any provision of the Uniform Traffic Act without express statutory authorization to do so; impose greater or lesser penalties for traffic violations than those set forth by the Uniform Traffic Act; or impose a civil fine as opposed to the criminal penalties prescribed by the UTA, thereby circumventing the criminal tracking and point system the legislature intended to be used for traffic violations.’

To avoid potential legal action being brought against the city, Crowe advises that municipal councils avoid imposing any traffic ordinance that would be in conflict with state law by duplicating a state law or setting penalties different from what is allowed in state law.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Rewind

The Senate Finance committee continued to work on its version of the state budget this week. Read details in this week's From the Dome to Your Home.

The Municipal Association is joining with the SC Press Association and SC Broadcasters Association to present a workshop for local government reporters on April 24. Any reporter covering local government issues is welcome to attend. Please share this with reporters in your area. 

June 30, 2015, may seem like a long time off, but that's the date when GASB Statement No. 68, a new pension accounting standard, goes into effect. This statement will impact all cities and towns offering pensions to employees. There was a good article in Governing magazine this week about what other states are doing to prepare for this transition. Read the article and get other info about GASB 68 requirements here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Social media...asset or liability?

As more folks express their every thought online, local governments need to understand the pitfalls of social media to use it effectively and legally. Effective use of social media means looking at the communications, HR and IT liabilities as part of your strategy. Here are some tips for social media success from a 2013 Uptown article.

Local governments should make sure the person who manages the city's website and social media accounts understands social media policies and applicable laws concerning the archiving of posts.

According to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, a public record "includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used or in the possession of, or retained by, a public body."

As employers, local governments should have a social media policy and educate employees on acceptable uses and the consequences of unacceptable uses. As explained in this 2012 RiskLetter article, employers need to be aware of issues surrounding social media in employment decisions.

This 2011 Risk Letter article by labor attorney Kevin Sturm looks at legal issues surrounding social media communications by public employees, including the National Labor Relations Board views on employee online communications. In this 2011 Uptown articleyou’ll find rules of thumb for social media policies and links to resources for model policies.

Members of the Association’s SC Municipal Insurance Risk Financing Fund (property and liability pool) have access to model law enforcement policy on Internet Postings /Social Networking model policy that  was just updated in July 2013. Members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust (workers comp pool) can access the model fire service policy on Internet Postings/Social networking that was just updated in March 2014. (Both of these documents are available only to pool members.)
By Meredith Kaiser, Loss Control Consultant, Municipal Association's Risk Management Services

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Rewind

The president has signed the Flood Insurance Affordability Act that will help mitigate the rapidly increasing flood insurance rates.

The SC Economic Developers Association's blog featured the recently introduced standardized business license application. Thirty-three cities have signed on to accept this new application. SC Biz reported on Cayce's signing on this week. 

There was an interesting article this week in GSA Business about our state's tax burden relative to others. South Carolina has the ninth lowest state/local tax burden in the U.S.

The Spartanburg County Municipal Association gathered last week for its bi-monthly meeting and received information about the Dilapidated Buildings Act from its sponsor Rep. Doug Brannon and the Municipal Association's Scott Slatton. Piedmont Natural Gas Senior Manager Hank McCoullough also was on hand to discuss Ten at the Top's Shared Upstate Vision strategy.