Dear Chamber Members,
This week’s business update compiled by your Greater Sumter Chamber Team includes: SC Senate Introduces Liability Legislation, SC Legislative Updates, and Governor Announces SC Has Been Approved for Federal UI Supplement.
Last week, during a one-day Senate session to take up expanded absentee voting in the general election in November, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey introduced a strong liability protection bill for businesses who’ve operated responsibly during the pandemic. The bill, S.1259 (similar to H.5527 which was introduced in the House in June) has a strong list of co-sponsors including Senators Turner, Grooms, Alexander, Peeler, Shealy, Campbell, Bennett, Gambrell, Climer, Loftis, Rice, and Corbin. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee with hope it will receive a hearing and favorable report before the September 15th session begins.
To reiterate, this legislation is needed to provide limited liability protection for businesses, healthcare providers, and educational institutions in COVID-19 related lawsuits and ensure that employers who have taken steps to keep workplaces safe and follow public health guidelines are protected from liability. We appreciate Senator Massey, the bill’s co-sponsors, and the Senate (as well as the House who led the way on getting a bill introduced in June) for taking this important step towards getting these protections in place.
Given both the House and Senate have taken steps to introduce strong bills, we need our members to show their support by sending an email to your senator and representative telling them how important it is that the General Assembly pass the COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act (H.5527/S.1259) when they return for session on September 15th. You may find your representatives contact information here.
The only way we’ll be able to get this done is if legislators hear from YOU over the next few weeks about how important this is to reopen our economy and bring back our jobs!
SC Senate Passes Bill Allowing Absentee Voting with Certain Restrictions: Last week, the Senate convened and gave second reading to H.5305, which will allow all voters to vote by absentee ballot in the November General Election. The bill does not allow for ballots to be cast in drop boxes and still requires the absentee ballot witness signature. Ballots must be received before 5 p.m. on Oct. 24 (mail) or 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 (in-person).
The bill must now be passed by the House of Representatives when it returns on September 15th and signed by the Governor in order to become law.
Board of Economic Advisors: Last Monday, the Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) met to update the state’s general fund forecast for the fiscal year. The General Fund Revenue estimate was reduced by $52.1 million from the May estimate of $9.55 billion to $9.50 billion due to the continuing uncertainty regarding the impact COVID-19 is having on the economy. For reference, in February of this year, the BEA predicted General Fund Revenue of $10.25 billion.
- 2019-20 Forecast: Because the forecasted impact of COVID-19 on the last quarter of the fiscal year was much less than expected, the final collections for the fiscal year as reported by the Comptroller General totaled $9.79 billion, which resulted in a revenue surplus of $462.6 million. However, delayed Individual Income Tax refunds that were processed in July and August totaled approximately $160 million, which in effect reduces the total surplus to approximately $302.6 million.
- 2020-21 Forecast: The BEA decided to adjust several revenue items downward by a total of $52.1 million for a total gross General Fund Revenue of $9.50 billion, down from FY 19-20’s base budget of $9.79. However, the state is still expected to have about $86.1 million in new recurring dollars.
Senate Finance Committee: The full Senate Finance Committee met twice last week to hear testimony from several state agencies about the current state of operations and any contingency plans they have made for a potential budget shortfall. Agencies included the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office (RFA), the Executive Budget Office (EBO), the State Department of Education (SDE), the Department of Corrections (DOC), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT), the Technical College System (Tech), the Commission on Higher Education (CHE), the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW), the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
Using the testimony provided, the Finance Committee plans to meet this week to take up a proposed FY 2020-21 budget as well as the allocation of the remaining $668 million in CARES Act funds for SC. They hope to finish a budget by the end of next week.
It is still unknown whether or not the House will pass a new budget; it appears that they may be more inclined to follow Governor McMaster’s recommendation and keep last year’s funding levels in place, at least until the General Assembly returns in January.
House Way and Means CARES Act Ad Hoc Committee: This Committee met last Wednesday to take more testimony from state agencies about how they are using their current allocation of CARES Act money and if they have any Phase II requests. This week they heard from the State Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, the Medical University of South Carolina, and a number of other agencies during the public testimony section.
The Committee plans to review requests and develop funding recommendations prior to the General Assembly returning on September 15th.
Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) Grant: Last Tuesday, the SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved South Carolina’s application for the LWA Grant. Recall that on August 8th, President Trump announced that he had issued an executive order that would provide states an increased unemployment benefit supplement of $400 per week per individual (down from the CARES Act amount of $600 per week which expired at the end of July) with states providing a 25% match or $100.
After the US Department of Labor (DOL) clarified that states are allowed to use their existing unemployment payments as the state match so for each week a claimant is eligible for at least $100 in state or federal unemployment benefits, South Carolina submitted its application for the grant. Based on the application, the LWA will add $300 to the weekly benefit for any claimant who is eligible for at least $100 in state or federal weekly unemployment benefits. The payments will be retroactive to August 1, 2020.
DEW is currently working to update its online portal to incorporate the requirements of the new program and hopes to have the updates completed with benefits set to go out in two to three weeks.
Latest Unemployment Numbers: The SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) released updated weekly unemployment numbers today:
- For the week ending August 29th, the initial claims filed were 5,019.
- This is a decrease of 505 initial claims from the week prior.
- This week’s claim numbers are the lowest since the pandemic began in March.
- The total number of initial claims received since mid-March is 730,247.
- Since March 15th, the agency has paid more than $3.91 billion in a combination of state unemployment insurance benefits and federal CARES Act programs.
Have a great day,
Chris Hardy, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce