Lynn Teague on the Legislature’s unfinished business

When I saw this Tweet yesterday, it gave me an idea:

In my church, we confess every week as follows: “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”

That last part is where I, personally, fall down the most. So I take it seriously.

I asked Lynn if she would write us a blog post on what our lawmakers “have failed to do.” She kindly obliged, and here’s her report:

What Remains at the State House

The General Assembly just canceled their scheduled return to Columbia for May 23-24 to work on unfinished business. The conference committee on S. 954 and H. 4375 has been scheduled for Wednesday, but there will be no meeting of the whole House and Senate until the end of June. What haven’t they done? What should they be doing before the days dwindle down to a precious few?

Lynn Teague

Lynn Teague

Their work for the remainder of 2018 is defined by the sine die resolution, passed before their departure from Columbia on May 10. Under that resolution, they can return to deal with the state budget, anything related to V. C. Summer, legislation to make the state tax code conform to changes in the federal tax code, bills that have been passed in both houses and are now in conference committee, and some local legislation. They have given themselves until November to do this. That is far too late for some of the remaining bills.

First, the state needs a budget. The government won’t shut down if the budget doesn’t pass by July 1, but it would surely be better to let agencies know what they have to work with at the start of the fiscal year. The budget also includes important provisos that are there in part because the General Assembly failed to pass other needed bills. Legislators should be working now to resolve their differences on those.

What else should legislators do when they return? They must surely bring our tax system into conformity with changes in the federal tax code, either by reconciling H.5341 and S. 1258 in conference or by writing a new bill. This is an area in which failure to act could be costly for South Carolina’s citizens.

And then there are the utilities. Of course, the utilities, which everyone said were the sole focus of the 2018 session. And yet, bills to resolve both short-term and long-term issues arising from the catastrophic failure of V. C. Summer remain to be passed. Some of the delay can be attributed to differences between House and Senate. Some can be attributed to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that was not inclined to haste. I wouldn’t say that they were slow, but substantial parts of the Greenland ice sheet collapsed between meetings. So now a significant amount of work remains to be done.

S 954 is best known for the ongoing battle between House and Senate over the amount of a temporary rate suspension, whether 13% or 18%. With each passing day, we pay more to SCANA for something that we aren’t getting because this isn’t resolved. However, in the long term the more important aspect of this bill is the PSC schedule, which would give all participants certainty of a schedule to resolve the complex issues surrounding SCANA and its exorbitant rates. This schedule is especially important given SCANA’s stonewalling of discovery requests from intervenors and the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) at the PSC, delaying the ability of stakeholders to examine material evidence.

Other surviving utility bills include H.4375, amending the Base Load Review Act (BLRA) that made the V. C. Summer catastrophe possible. Retroactive repeal would be lovely, but is pretty surely unconstitutional. The most important elements of H. 4375 are preventing future use of the BLRA and introducing a definition of prudency, a central concept in evaluating whether SCANA’s costs at V. C. Summer were legitimately incurred. Another bill, H. 4379, creates a consumer advocate and removes the serious conflicts currently embedded in the ORS mission statement. The first two of these bills are on the agenda for the Wednesday conference committee, but H. 4379 is not yet in conference. Legislators must be working to resolve their differences on these bills before proceedings at the PSC and in the courts move further forward.

Those are the absolutely necessary bills for June. We are sure that legislators expect to dig in and move fast when they return to Columbia, but there is a lot to do. November is too late for much of it. July is too late for some of it.

Two other important utility bills, H. 4377 and H. 4378, were never heard in Senate Judiciary subcommittee, but nevertheless could and should be taken up under the sine die resolution. No one has indicated any intention to do this, but it is possible and needed so it is worth mentioning. H. 4377 makes important changes to strengthen the qualifications of members of the PSC and improve their access to information. We need that. PSC members shouldn’t be just representatives of local areas there to look out for local interests, they must be technically and legally competent to address the complex issues before the PSC.

H. 4378 revised the membership of the powerful State Regulation of Utilities Review Committee (PURC) that oversees the whole regulatory system. It gives the Governor appointments to this important body and ensures that legislators are not a majority on the committee. We badly need this. However, at present H.4378 does not go far enough. We should also prohibit members of PURC, their immediate families, and the businesses with which they are associated from receiving income, donations, or gifts from any regulated monopoly. At present they can receive all of these benefits from the industries that they oversee. This should end, now.

So, with all that time until November, there is no good reason for the General Assembly not to take up these other bills and actually reform our regulatory system.

Lynn is more diplomatic about all that than I would be, but she sure knows her stuff, and I felt a post from her would be far more informative than one from me…

7 thoughts on “Lynn Teague on the Legislature’s unfinished business

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Actually that quote I gave about sins of omission is from the OLD penitential rite, not the one the Church is using currently.

    But I like the old one…

    In fact, I continue to subversively say the old words, especially on the Creed. And at one point in the Mass, I still haven’t even learned the new words in English, so to keep myself from getting confused, I just say it in Spanish: “Señor, yo no soy digno de que entres en mi casa, pero una palabra tuya bastará para sanarme…

  2. Lynn Teague

    I tried to be as diplomatic as I could. It was hard. I’m now sitting in the State House waiting for the utility conference committee.

  3. Claus2

    Ha… people are surprised that nothing gets done at the State House? You must be new to SC. It’s the same incompetence year after year and the idiot voters continue sending the same people up every election. In South Carolina, if you win an election there is a 90%+ chance that it’s a lifetime appointment… there are still people who vote for Strom Thurmond.

    1. Lynn Teague

      Well, Claus2, I’m not exactly new. I was born here a long time ago, and I’ve had family here since an ancestor was one of the first people elected to public office in South Carolina in 1670. That aside, I’ve been at the State House for six years and there are certainly grounds for some cynicism, and people who deserve a lot more critical attention than they get from the voting public in their districts. However, there are also some very good people trying to do their best for South Carolina. There is such a thing as too much cynicism. If we say everyone is corrupt, it can become an excuse for not working for ethics improvements. If we say almost everyone is incompetent, it can discourage the competent from engaging politically.

      In any case, they made some progress today in the conference committee. Rep. Kirkman Finlay laid out a case for accepting the Senate’s lower SCANA rate cute percentage, but for a longer period of time, since the abandonment decision became official on August 1, 2017. That makes sense, there is nothing magic about having a cut start right after they get the governor’s signature on a bill.

      1. Lynn Teague

        No idea why my comment should be awaiting moderation. It would be interesting to see what the underlying algorithm looks like.

  4. Doug Ross

    Term limits. It’s not the new legislators who hold things up…
    Maybe the old guys don’t have the energy to work a grueling 20 hour a week schedule.

    If you want to get things done, vote libertarian.

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