Politics & Government

New SC laws go into effect on New Year’s Day

South Carolina State House
South Carolina State House

Seven new laws passed by S.C. legislators last spring go into effect with the start of the new year. A look at how they will affect life in the Palmetto State:

Protecting heirs’ property

S.C. lawmakers passed a law meant to protect poor families who lack written property deeds from real estate speculators looking to buy up their land on the cheap.

Named for the state senator slain in Charleston’s June 2015 Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting, the Clementa C. Pinckney Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act creates safeguards to ensure family members are not forced to sell heirs’ property, especially at prices below market value.

The handling of heirs’ property – mostly rural land passed down through generations of African-American families without a written will – has become an issue in the Lowcountry.

Some families have lost long-owned land because they lacked a written will. Under previous S.C. law, anyone who inherits or buys part of the property – regardless of whether they live on or maintain the land – could force its sale in the courts.

“Usually, it happens when you have land owned by African-American families that has become valuable,” said state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who sponsored the bill. “There were some pretty egregious cases where you have 70 heirs and some developer comes in and buys a portion, forces the sale and makes millions.”

The new law gives family members a chance to buy out the interests of outside speculators or other heirs before the land is sold. It also requires a preliminary hearing to determine whether the land is heirs’ property in the first place.

If the family chooses to sell, the new law requires an independent appraisal of the land and then an open-market sale with published notice in an attempt to ensure the heirs get a fair price.

“It was really great to get it done,” Smith said. “It’s one of those that isn’t always a headline-grabbing kind of issue, but it really makes South Carolina better.”

Tougher ethics law

Starting Sunday, public officials must reveal the sources of their private, taxable income.

Four years in the making, the ethics reform bill passed late last session, along with another new law that empowers a revamped eight-member Ethics Commission to investigate allegations against legislators, who previously investigated themselves.

Elected officials must list the source and type of any private income that they receive when they file statements of economic interest. Those statements also must include the income of their spouses and family members.

Critics fault the new law for not requiring lawmakers to disclose the amounts of income they receive from businesses that lobby the Legislature, an issue in the recent indictment of state Rep. James Merrill, R-Berkeley.

Clarifying S.C. border with North Carolina

Some S.C. residents who went to bed on New Year’s Eve in the Palmetto State will wake up New Year’s Day as North Carolinians.

A two-decade effort using GPS technology to clarify the exact, down-to-the-centimeter border between the Carolinas comes to fruition this year.

The border adjustment, approved by both states, moved 16 people who thought they lived in South Carolina into North Carolina. Three N.C. families now will have S.C. addresses.

“It’s not shifting at all,” former state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, said of the 334-mile border. “We just pinned down exactly where the original line was.”

Many of the address changes are around York County’s border with North Carolina. The two states negotiated to soften the impact on affected property owners.

For example, children whose states of residence changed still can attend their previous public schools, and, for the next 10 years, they also will get in-state tuition at public schools in either state.

A deal also was cut to allow the Lake Wylie Mini Mart – once thought to be in South Carolina but now in North Carolina – to continue selling fireworks and alcohol, and to keep selling gas at South Carolina’s lower tax rate.

Updating real estate law

A law meant to bring S.C. real estate regulations into the 21st century also goes into effect Sunday.

The bill, pushed through the Legislature by GOP Sens. Thomas Alexander of Oconee and Tom Davis of Beaufort, allows real estate agents to work legally with both the buyer and seller of a property to facilitate a transaction.

That practice happens already, said Davis, a real estate lawyer. However, state law previously indicated real estate agents should represent only one side of a sale.

“The essence of it is to have the real estate laws in South Carolina conform with the way that business is actually conducted today,” Davis said. “The laws that were on the books were based on practices of 30 or 40 years ago.”

The new law also requires more training for real estate broker and salesperson licenses. That is necessary, Davis said, as more is demanded of real estate agents in the marketplace.

Bringing S.C. standards in line with other states

Legislators also passed a number of laws to align S.C. law with other states’ regulations.

Here are three that go into effect Sunday:

▪  One brings standards for rental car companies in line with regulations adopted by other Southeastern states. The law allows a “vehicle license fee” to cover a rental company’s cost to license, title and inspect its vehicles. That fee only must cover the company’s costs and must be disclosed before the rental.

▪  Another clarifies S.C. law concerning how residents can use a power-of-attorney document to deal with their property in case of future incapacity.

▪  S.C. lawmakers also approved new regulations for risk-retention groups – arrangements in which similar organizations or individuals work together to insure themselves.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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