Thursday, December 17, 2020

2021 Advocacy Initiatives Address Broadband, Public Safety Funding and Planning

The South Carolina General Assembly’s next two-year legislative session begins in January, and the Municipal Association of SC board of directors has approved the 2021 Advocacy Initiatives that the Association staff, along with local officials, will pursue. 

The initiatives come out of the input that cities and towns provide at Regional Advocacy Meetings during the fall. The board’s legislative committee then considers all issues and provides recommendations to the board. The Association offers a sample proclamation that cities and towns can use to adopt the Advocacy Initiatives. 

Here are the initiatives: 
  • Broadband expansion
    The Association will seek to amend the newly adopted broadband expansion law to allow cities and towns to not only lay fiber, but also light the fiber or partner with a third party to activate it. 
  • Enclave annexation
    Allowing cities and towns to close enclaves, also known as doughnut holes, in their municipal limits through annexation is a long-standing issue. Cities and towns have long advocated for closing enclaves that prevent consistent and efficient service delivery. 
  • Law enforcement reform
    Supporting reform measures to aspects of law enforcement training and practices will be important in 2021. Both the House and Senate are taking testimony from experts on changes to current law enforcement practices. 
  • Code enforcement
    Cities and towns struggle with paying for the remediation of dilapidated buildings and properties. Requiring code enforcement liens to be billed and collected, similar to property taxes, would allow cities and towns to maintain property standards more effectively. 
  • Abandoned buildings tax credit
    Extending the current abandoned buildings tax credit to 2022, which provides for additional local economic development incentives, will be valuable as the state’s economy recovers. Learn more about how the credit can help cities and towns in this Uptown article
  • Local Government Fund
    Because of the coronavirus, legislators did not pass a state budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The continuing budget resolution they passed did not include any additional funding in the Local Government Fund. Calling for the LCF to be funded according to current law will be critical for the fiscal year 2022 budget. 
  • Firefighter Healthcare Benefit Plan
    The Municipal Association supports the inclusion of money in the state budget to fund the Firefighter Healthcare Benefit Plan. Legislators passed a bill in 2020 that would offer monetary benefits to firefighters with cancer. For the bill to take effect, lawmakers must appropriate money in the budget. 
  • PTSD funding
    For several years, the General Assembly has included $500,000 in the state budget for programs to support first responders who experience trauma. The Association will seek to ensure funds continue to be included. 
  • Zero millage
    Cities and towns with no property tax millage should be allowed to impose a millage with certain limitations. There are some cities and towns that do not impose an operating millage who now need to do so. The restrictions in Act 388 prevent them from adding this millage. 
  • Municipal Capital Projects Penny
    Creating a Municipal Capital Projects penny tax for municipal residents to approve for capital projects within the city limits is important for cities and towns within counties that do not have a capital projects tax. 
  • Expansion of naloxone
    The Municipal Association supports expanding the availability of naloxone, the medication, used to revive individuals suffering from drug overdoses, to fire and emergency medical services first responders.
  • Textiles Communities Revitalization Act
    The Textiles Communities Revitalization Act needs to be amended to include as one site those parts of abandoned mill properties that are separated by way of an intervening connector, such as a railroad or waterway. This Uptown article explains this tax credit and shows how it works in action. 
Keep up with legislative action 

As the legislative session begins, be sure to follow along with the ongoing updates in From the Dome to Your Home, a weekly legislative action recap email that features suggested action steps for cities and towns, as well as the City Quick Connect podcast. In early February, Hometown Legislative Action Week will bring a full week of virtual content from the Association’s advocacy team as well as state and federal legislators.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Get Ready to Advocate in the New Legislative Session

In January, lawmakers will return to Columbia to begin the first year of a two-year legislative session, debating and passing the laws that govern South Carolina. 

The South Carolina House of Representatives counts 124 members while the South Carolina Senate has 46. Between the two chambers, the 2020 election led to 21 new faces coming in for the new session. For both the old and new faces at the State House, local elected officials must keep open lines of communication to discuss the Association’s new Advocacy Initiatives and advance the best interests of their cities and towns. 

The Municipal Association has a handbook to help officials work with their legislative delegation — Raising Hometown Voices to a New Level of Influence. It explains the value of building an ongoing relationship with legislators well in advance of asking for anything, by keeping them involved in council meetings, ribbon cuttings and other special events. The guide addresses the basics of legislator communication:
  • Build grassroots support.
  • Don’t be a stranger.
  • Remember you serve the same people.
  • Know both sides of the issue.
  • Understand the legislative process.
  • Express your opinion.
  • Stay on message.
  • All politics is local.
  • Timing is everything. 
The guide also delves into the way local officials can keep their outreach personal and productive, such as in-person meetings and phone calls when possible, writing follow-up letters with specific requests, and always tracking down requested information. 

For those wanting to learn more about the workings of the General Assembly, the guide also explains the structure of the Senate and House of Representatives, including their standing committees. 

Stay informed in the new session 

The Municipal Association provides local leaders with several vital ways to know what’s going on and get involved with their legislators:
  • Hometown Legislative Action Week, taking place February 1 – 5, will replace the regularly scheduled Hometown Legislative Action Day with a full week of virtual content, with videos from the Association’s advocacy team as well as state and federal legislators. 
  • From the Dome to Your Home is a weekly recap email on Friday during the legislative session on all legislative activity that can impact municipalities, including suggested action steps. The website provides subscription signup and an archive of past issues. 
  • The City Quick Connect podcast also includes From the Dome to Your Home content with added discussion from the legislative team available every Monday during the legislative session. 
  • The online South Carolina Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory allows for searching for municipality by representative and senator, showing which municipalities are in the district of each legislator.