Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Conservation Hotlist

With less than two weeks left in the session, our elected officials in the General Assembly are at risk of leaving South Carolina “high and dry” on water legislation and a host of vital conservation issues. We are still waiting on the Senate Finance Committee to schedule a subcommittee hearing on a bill (H.4269)that would extend the life of the Conservation Bank to 2023. Several Senators have held up a bill (H.3603) that would require DHEC to notify the public after a major spill in our waters. And a bill (H.3924) that provides greater protections for landowners who conduct prescribed fires has also stalled on the Senate calendar.
Read on for updates on other key bills.

In the Senate

Conservation Bank (H.4269, Rep. Bill Herbkersman/ S.903, Sen. Glenn McConnell) 2010 PRIORITY
Last year, the Conservation Bank received the largest reduction of funding of any state agency because it is subject to a “death clause” that zeroes its budget when there are across-the-board cuts to state agencies. If the Bank were treated on par with other agencies, deed stamp revenues could generate as much as $9 million next year so that even if the Bank’s funding was cut in half, funding would exceed $4.5 million. In April, the House Ways and Means Committee deleted the language that would have eliminated the “death clause” but retained the extension of the Sunset Provision to 2023. (The Bank is currently set to expire in 2013.) The last week of April, the House voted in favor of H.4269 in a 93-8 vote. Referred to the! Senate Finance Committee, H.4269 has yet to be scheduled for a Subcommittee hearing.

Emergency Notification (H.3603, Rep. Mike Pitts) SUPPORT
This bill, which passed the House in 2009, requires DHEC to create a standard procedure for public notification in the event of a major spill in public waters. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee gave this bill a favorable report last week, and H.3603 now resides on the Senate calendar with several Senator’s names attached in objection. We urge Senators to support this important legislation.

Prescribed Fire (H.3924, Rep. Jim Harrison) SUPPORT
H.3924 provides greater protections for landowners who choose to conduct prescribed burns on their property, and promotes the most efficient and cost effective forest management tool within South Carolina. This bill has passed the House and now has an objection attached, so it remains stalled on the Senate calendar.

E-Waste Recycling (H.4093, Rep. Dwight Loftis) SUPPORT
This bill requires manufacturers who sell most TVs, computers and printers in South Carolina to establish recovery programs at no cost to the consumer. H.4093 is supported by industry and the conservation community, and will help improve water quality by keeping toxic heavy metals out of our landfills and waterways. It passed the House in March, passed the Senate in April and was signed into law by the Governor last week.

In the House

Water Withdrawal Permitting (S.452, Sen. Paul Campbell) 2010 PRIORITY
After nearly four years of negotiations, most conservation organizations, DHEC, manufacturers, utilities, farmers and water suppliers have finally agreed to support a compromise water withdrawal permitting bill. On March 11th the Senate voted unanimously in favor of a permitting bill that requires new users to maintain natural seasonal flows in our rivers, protecting wildlife, recreational uses and downstream users. This is an important first step to fully protecting our state’s rivers and negotiating with other states over shared water resources. The House will continue its debate on this bill this week.  Email your Representative and urge him or her to support this ma! jor 2010 priority.

Natural Resource Agency Funding- 2010 PRIORITY
The conservation community is concerned about the human and natural resource fallout from the severe budget cuts already instituted at DNR, Forestry, PRT, and Agriculture. The House and Senate budgets both currently include operational funding for the Bank in the amount of $207,000 which will allow the Bank to keep its doors open another fiscal year.  We’d like to thank the Senate for identifying $1.5 million in March to meet some of the Bank’s current obligations and we urge the House and Senate to ensure that this funding stays in the final budget. We also encourage House and Senate members to shore up DNR funding either through appropriations or fees. DNR has already cut 198 positions. Of these, 88 are within the Law Enforcement Division, leaving three counties with only one resident officer and one county with no officer. The Senate has approved a small administrative fee on all hunting and fishing licenses and! watercraft titling and registrations to help maintain DNR law enforcement and other vital agency services. We urge both chambers to approve DNR funding and help save over 70-120 positions at the Department.

Community Economic Development Act Reauthorization (S.915, Sen. John Land) SUPPORT
These bills would amend state law to allow funding to be appropriated for community development corporations (CDCs) and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) for five additional years, to 2015. Thus far, $2.4 million of the $5 million authorized has been appropriated and awarded to certified CDCs through a competitive process. The Act also allowed up to $5 million in state tax credits for private investments in CDCs or CDFIs. The conservation community and CDC leaders have begun to collaborate about ways to connect rural land conservation with sustainable development of housing, farming and energy initiatives. We support the reauthorization of the Community Economic Development Act to encourage the continued leveraging of public and private funding to benefit low income communities and neighborhoods. S.915 passed the Senate in February ! and received second and third reading last week in the House. It has now been sent back to the Senate for concurrence.

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