Legislative Halftime: Palmetto Playbook Ideas Take Flight

June 4, 2021

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

In advance of the 2021-2022 legislative session, Palmetto Promise Institute “flooded the zone” with a number of practical policy ideas to make South Carolinians freer and more prosperous. We believed then—and now—that to “march the ball down the field” to economic recovery and long-term revitalization we must harness the entrepreneurial power of free enterprise and our people, not top-down government stimulus. Our ideas, collected in an attractive publication released during the last football season, was fittingly titled The Palmetto Playbook.

Now, nearly eight months later, we are pleased to report that a number of these ideas, as well as others in the same wheelhouse or from our earlier research, saw progress in the first half of the two-year legislative session that ran from January through May, 2021.

Cut taxes, torts, and tape!

These initiatives were concerned with getting rid of unnecessary taxes, preventing tort claims against businesses, and slicing government red tape. All of these plays resulted in touchdowns (were signed into law) or field goals (were passed by either the Senate or the House):

  • Protecting businesses from frivolous COVID liability lawsuits.
  • Putting people back to work by eliminating or lowering government hurdles to employment (clarifying the practice of architecture and “allowing” mobile barber shops). We really loved the mobile barbershops win in particular: a bi-partisan win for common sense and innovation!
  • Opening up the alcohol statute to allow for more free enterprise. (modifying how wineries are allowed to operate, extending COVID Executive Orders on alcohol).
  • Helping taxpayers by promoting fairness (taxpayers able to recoup attorney fees when prevailing against the Department of Revenue and code fixes to reduce tax liability for LLCs and S-Corps).
  • Encouraging better government (allowing the state to pay for performance, correcting certain issues with the state Public Employee Benefit Authority statute).
  • Of the issues that passed one chamber, we were very high on matters that were brought to light during the pandemic (cutting regulations on the sale of home produced food, allowing for virtual notarization of documents, and requiring local tax referenda to be held at the time of general elections, when more people are paying attention and vote). We also applaud the success in one chamber of reducing regulations for hunting on one’s own land or building a campfire for one’s own cooking purposes without a permit! Those are blows for freedom that should not need a law!

Looking into the future, even more can be done on Occupational Licensing, stopping “Policing for Profit” (civil asset forfeiture), allowing licenses and certifications earned in the military to convert seamlessly to civilian life, and waiving continuing education fees for the foreseeable future.

Make pandemic policies permanent!

These initiatives were all about building on what we learned during COVID in the medical field. 

  • Opening up the scope of medical practice to allow professionals to work at the top of their training (persons allowed to dispense medications in state institutions, temporary licensure in certain professions, expansion of scope for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Podiatrists).
  • Cutting red tape that prevents efficient delivery of care (direct delivery of medications, longer terms for prescriptions without a new order).
  • Concepts passing one chamber were scope of practice expansions for school nurses, pharmacists, and retired medical professionals and students pressed into pandemic service.

On the horizon are many more pieces of legislation that could have an immediate free market health impact: expand telemedicine permanently, repeal the Certificate of Need law that allows competitors to veto new medical services, ban surprise billing practices, join interstate medical compacts for seamless care, allow patients to shop for the best price for medical procedures, expand mobile optometry care, and further open up scope of practice for Certified Medical Assistants, Anesthesiologist Assistants, CRNAs, and those allowed to administer Methadone (emergency drug addiction medication).

Fund students and families, not systems!

These initiatives were all about the future of schooling in the wake of the pandemic. 

  • Requiring state universities to teach the Founding documents of our nation. A seven-year legislative battle finally ends with a win!
  • Consolidating tiny and shrinking school districts in Clarendon, Barnwell and Bamberg Counties (the latter two passed only the Senate so far). PPI called for specific districts to be consolidated in a separate report entitled Stronger Together in 2018.
  • Assisting Charter schools with needed funds due to booming enrollment and allowing for removal of charter school board members when required for cause.
  • Expanding flexibility in South Carolina’s only current private school choice program, the Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children(ECENC), also known as Exceptional SC.
  • Revising the law on statewide elected official compensation so that the State Superintendent of Education can earn a competitive wage and the position can attract a stronger pool of candidates.
  • Extending pandemic related flexibility to homeschool students wishing to play public school sports without losing a year of eligibility.
  • Allowing for multiple Schools of Innovation in a district and requiring increased accountability.
  • Requiring in-person learning to return.
  • Passing the Senate but not yet the House were the ability of the governor to remove school board members for malfeasance.
  • Passing the House but not yet the Senate were strengthening computer science curriculum requirements, permitting the use of non-certified teachers in certain cases, approving competency-based instruction, providing a report card to help evaluate teacher education preparation programs, and providing AP testing for homeschoolers.

Still in play are the crown jewels of our education agenda: robust private school choice and sustaining and expanding robust public school choice. The Education Savings Account Act received a productive hearing in the House and a subcommittee of the Senate continues its work on Open Enrollment (full public school choice within a school district without regard to attendance lines). We also must work to fairly fund public charter school students, as well as to fix South Carolina’s outdated and fractured education funding formula.

Deal with incompetence and create competition to lower energy bills!

These initiatives were aimed at protecting rate payers from bearing debt for energy they’ll never see and increasing competition to lower energy costs across the board for businesses and families. 

  • Success in the field of energy was less than stellar, with the South Carolina Senate all but ending any further interest in taking new bids for Santee Cooper, our debt-ridden state-owned energy utility, the only true “business approach” to this debacle. A bill passed both chambers and is in a conference committee, but “reform,” not sell, seems to have gained the upper hand. But will there be any true reform? While the House did pass a bill providing whistleblower protection for those who work in the utility industry, it appears the forces of a defiant state agency seem poised to notch a victory for the status quo over ratepayers.

We hope the legislature will take up the idea of South Carolina joining a regional transmission organization (RTO) to expand options for the purchase of electricity and advance true energy competition.

Help all our citizens thrive!

These less political initiatives were all about making life better after the pandemic. 

  • On justice, Republicans seemed to take judicial elections more seriously, reducing the horse-trading that has plagued selection of judges in the past. If only they had come to this epiphany in a number of Supreme Court races in years past.
  • On quality of life, an early release criminal justice reform bill passed the House.
  • Not in our Playbook were several other pieces of quality of life legislation that are designed to improve foster care, fight youth suicide, curtail child abuse, and prevent the exploitation of vulnerable adults.

Lawmakers need to enact major reforms to our magistrate and judicial selection system in 2022. Our paper “Judging the Judges” offers suggestions and may have helped guide new energy around how we pursue judicial elections to better reflect a judicial philosophy in keeping with the conservative values of our state.