(The Center Square) – Within hours of convening for the first day of the 2021 legislative session, South Carolina’s House Ways and Means Committee advanced legislation Tuesday that would impose reform and oversight measures on the state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
House Bill 3194 also authorizes the General Assembly to sell the utility. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the recommendations after little discussion, 20-3.
“It's time for us to deal with this issue for once and for all,” Ways and Means Committee Chairperson Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said. “I’ve yet to find anyone in here that says Santee Cooper ought to continue as is.”
The legislation would authorize the General Assembly to sell Santee Cooper and lays out a mechanism for such a sale. A committee would be created of three state representatives and three senators – similar to the structure of a legislative conference committee – to negotiate the terms of sale. Once terms are acceptable to at least two members from each body on the committee, the House and Senate would vote on the terms of sale. If approved, the terms would advance to the governor.
“It's not like we're gonna raise out and do this in the dark at night,” said Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, describing the mechanism of sale.
Finlay served with Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, as co-chair of an ad hoc committee on Santee Cooper, which deliberated on the issue.
The bill also outlines requirements for reform at Santee Cooper. The terms for all current board members would end, and additional qualifications would be imposed on future board members. Replacements would be appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the General Assembly. Board members would have five-year terms and be prohibited from serving more than two consecutive terms.
Santee Cooper also would be required to seek approval from the Public Service Commission before undertaking major building projects or issuing any debt.