2016 has been an active legislative year for the engineering profession.
Since the ACEC-SC/SCSPE Winter Meeting in March, the Practice Act (S.685) has been passed by both the Senate and House and signed by the Governor.
Our expectations were high when we went into this session hoping to get QBS and brokering into the law, along with the numerous other changes to the Practice Act, but that did not happen.
Both QBS and brokering were removed from the bill in the Senate. Brokering made it through the Senate LCI Subcommittee hearing, but was removed in the full committee meeting.
We pushed to get the bill out of the Senate before May 1, the cutoff date for bills to move from one House to the other.
Once the bill was across the lobby and into the House, we began pushing the Labor Commerce and Industry for a hearing so that the bill could be passed this session. We did not know if the House might make further changes to the bill which would mean the bill would have to go back to the Senate.
However, after some legislative maneuvering, the bill passed as it came from the Senate which meant the bill did not have to go back to the Senate and could go for ratification. S. 685 was given third reading in the House May 25 and passed with a vote of 99 to 0.
Passage was not without several tense moments. Carolinas AGC, expected an amendment to the bill that would make the term engineer generic. When the legislator that was supposed to introduce the amendment did not show up for the subcommittee hearing, we were told “don’t plow that ground.”
Therefore, engineers could not testify why they wanted to keep the term engineer protected; however, at Carolinas AGC person was given the opportunity to speak.
Nevertheless, the bill left the subcommittee without any amendments.
The next day, at the full LCI Committee meeting, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-York) introduced the amendment he was supposed to introduce at the Subcommittee meeting. Surprisingly, his amendment carried. We were caught completely off-guard because we told the amendment would not come up.
After the Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford (R-Horry) and LCI Chair Bill Sandifer (R-Seneca) told us they were shocked and that they would put a minority report on the bill to give us time to work the House Floor. Changing a bill on the House floor is not an easy task.
We were looking at having to kill the bill for the year.
Later that afternoon, Rep. Sandifer asked Adam Jones and me to come discuss the bill. Rep. Sandifer said if we could guarantee that LLR would not write any “cease and desist” orders to contractors using the term engineer improperly for a year, Rep. Norman would ask the House to remove his amendment from the legislation and pass it as it came from the Senate.
Rep. Sandifer said we had to inform Rep. Norman that we had the assurance and that we expected him to remove the amendment from the bill.
Following some maneuvering, we told Mr. Norman the engineers could hold up its end of the agreement.
The next day, when the bill came up for second reading, Rep. Norman went to the podium and asked for his amendment to be removed and for the House to consider the bill as it came from the Senate. The House concurred and the bill got second reading.
Then on Apr. 25, the bill got third reading.
When we look at legislation for the 2017 Legislative year, I think engineers should think about what they want. If brokering remains important, we need to search for draft language that is targeted for stopping the exact practices that are wrong.
For instance, if we want to keep out-of-state brokers from here, we need to write precise wording to do that.
We know Sen. Setzler (D-Lexington), an attorney, says he employs surveyors and engineers for his clients, and our broad language was not acceptable.
The same with QBS, we have many opponents on this issue. Pure QBS is opposed by several water distribution organizations the association of Counties, Santee Cooper, the Ports Authority and SCDOT. We did not see Santee Cooper, Ports Authority or SCDOT until the very end. They let the water organizations and the Counties carry the public opposition.
If we are serious about getting some kind of hybrid version of QBS, we need to meet with these organizations and see if we can come up with something they can live with. Like the water organizations’ lobbyist said, they had the votes; so they didn’t want to talk about compromise during the session.
In this off-season, we need to come up with what we want and can expect to pass.
There are some new hurtles in the House and Senate when they return in January. These hurtles are a good number of new legislators that don’t know ACEC-SC and SCSPE. Furthermore, some of the legislators that decided not to return and some of those that got defeated worked well with engineers and held senior responsibilities. We will have to work to establish new allies.
This has been an active legislative year. We look forward to working with you again next year.