S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a bill Wednesday that he said will save time for developers hoping to jump-start road and construction projects in the Palmetto State.
The legislation echoes similar efforts by President Donald Trump, who last year signed an executive order to make the federal permitting process for construction projects more efficient, the Richland Republican said.
"We're trying to make sure we move on our infrastructure swiftly and appropriately," he said. "This is a terrific step in that direction. We've got a lot of work to do on infrastructure, and this will help do it."
Critics argue the new law will allow work to start on projects without state environmental permits if a project still is being challenged in court. They also say it puts the legal burden on South Carolinians who want to protect their land, rather than developers, who previously had to argue why a project should be approved.
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The law will make it easier for developers to build in environmentally sensitive areas, shortening the time it takes to start work on projects, even if the projects are being challenged in the state's Administrative Law Court.
After 90 days, the new law allows a developer to ask an administrative law judge to lift what is called an "automatic stay" on a project that is being challenged. A judge then would have to hold a hearing within 30 days and make a ruling within 15 days of the hearing. Lifting that stay would allow construction work to start.
McMaster brushed off criticism of the new law, saying it does not limit the rights of South Carolinians who want to challenge a project in court.
"It just speeds up the process," he said. "As we know, court processes drag on forever ... and we have appeals after that. ... It does not take any rights away from anyone."
The bill was pushed by business leaders and conservative lawmakers, particularly those from coastal districts.
“Today’s bill signing is a win for South Carolina job creators and employees," Jack Sanders, chairman of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce's board of directors and head of Sonoco, said in a statement. “For too long, the automatic stay system placed undue burden on job creators, and this bill prevents frivolous legal challenges that hinder economic growth.”
State Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, said Wednesday the bill is not designed to address any, specific "local need, as this was often maligned to be."
Last year, lawmakers pushed back against efforts by the S.C. Coastal Conservation League to delay the extension of Interstate 526 in Charleston.
Rankin said, "We are tipping the hat to balance between environmental concerns, which are legitimate, but industry, progress and economic development."
Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter