Thursday, February 7, 2019

2019 Hometown Legislative Action Day targets Advocacy Initiatives, other bills

Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 5 and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute the next day brought together more than 530 people in Columbia. They came to push for solutions to hometown issues, and to learn from Municipal Association staff and a variety of guest speakers. 

At HLAD, Gov. Henry McMaster gave the keynote address, praising economic growth and development and calling for local officials to support his education reforms. He described his proposal for a $100 million Rural School District Economic Development Closing Fund to boost rural school districts with an eye toward improving local economies. 

“If we collaborate, if we communicate and cooperate, we can think big,” he said. “Remember, there’s no power in a small idea. Think big or go home.” 

Municipal Association Board of Directors President and Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake called attention to HLAD’s role of reminding legislators that “it is all of us, the municipal leaders, who are on the front lines of making government work for our residents. We are the ones who assume responsibility for everything from garbage pickup to wastewater treatment, parks and recreation and most important ensuring that our neighborhoods, community spaces and our citizens are safe.” 

Legislative Action 

Before attendees traveled to the State House to meet with their delegations, the Association’s legislative team gave an update on Advocacy Initiatives progress. 

As Melissa Carter, research and legislative liaison, described it, “in the last four weeks we have seen more progression and more energy [on the initiatives] than I have ever seen.”
The team emphasized that the individual efforts of cities and towns make a major difference in statewide pushes. The progress happening now is also the result of years of work, as Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate, has said in a recent City Connect podcastThere are three Advocacy Initiatives: 
  • Flexibility with hospitality and accommodations tax revenue: Both the House (H3132) and Senate (S217) may allow cities and towns to use this revenue for flooding and drainage at tourist destinations. S217 has received the most progress. 
  • Local Government Fund predictability: H3137 would have the fund mimic the way the state budget is forecast, so that the fund will match the growth rate estimated for General Fund, up to 5 percent. 
  • Reducing wait times for new hires at the Criminal Justice Academy: Senate and House subcommittees are hearing from law enforcement agencies on budget requests. Reducing wait times could help increase the number of Academy graduates, which is critical at a time when more South Carolina police are leaving the profession than the Academy could replace with new graduates. 

The team also made note of some other bills: 
  • S227: This “zero millage bill” would allow municipalities without an operating millage to create one. 
  • S401: This would require entities that initiate transportation improvement projects to bear the cost of relocating water and sewer lines. 
  • S171 and H3833: The Municipal Tax Relief Act would give municipalities limited power to impose a sales tax through referendum. 
  • S7 and S386: These bills would increase the dollar amount limits placed on lawsuits filed against municipalities. 

Other sessions 

  • Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler, Conway Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Phillip Hendrick Jr. and Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington discussed the challenges of crisis communication and the importance of having a plan for the flow of information during a difficult situation. 
  • Kim Stenson, director of the SC Emergency Management Division, reviewed state and local responses to recent natural disasters, including steps local leaders can take to prepare for future disasters. 
  • SC Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel discussed the challenges of law enforcement recruitment and the need to incorporate more technology into recruitment and training. 

Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government's 2019 Honor Roll 

The Honor Roll recognizes the city and town councils that can count all members of their sitting council as graduates of the MEO Institute. Following graduations at this February’s sessions, the Honor Roll includes these municipalities: 
  • Town of Blackville 
  • Town of Gray Court 
  • City of Greer 
  • Town of Hollywood 
  • City of Inman 
  • City of Lake City 
  • Town of Pendleton 
  • Town of Santee 
  • Town of Summerville 
  • City of Union 
  • City of Wellford