Politics & Government

New SC laws go into effect on New Year’s Day 2019

Save on your taxes by hanging onto your gas receipts

SC drivers can be reimbursed in new gas tax credit.
Up Next
SC drivers can be reimbursed in new gas tax credit.

If you took our advice and saved your receipts at the gas pump in 2018, congrats!

For the first time, you can get a fraction of that money back when you file your 2018 state income taxes in 2019, thanks to a change in S.C. law that takes effect with the new year.

If you didn’t, you always can save your 2019 receipts to file in 2020. Because the gas tax rises another 2 cents in July, you can save even more this time around if you take the right steps next year.

S.C. lawmakers passed nearly 300 new laws during the 2017-18 legislative session, but not all of them took effect immediately. A handful of those laws — including some involving the 2017 gas tax hike — become effective on New Year’s Day.

Here is look at what the new laws mean for you:

You can get a tax credit for gas or car maintenance

The new year is the first year you can submit your receipts for gas purchases and vehicle maintenance to claim a tax credit from the state.

For context: S.C. lawmakers passed a roads bill in 2017 that is raising the state’s gas tax by 2 cents a gallon each July, through 2022.

However, each year, you can get back some of what you paid in higher gas taxes, so long as you keep your receipts when you go to the pump or the car shop.

When you file your 2018 state income taxes this year, you can claim some of those expenses on a new tax form: I-385.

You will get a tax credit for what you paid in higher gas taxes or what you paid for maintenance — new tires or oil changes, for example — on up to two cars, trucks or motorcycles. However, you only can claim the lower amount.

The gas tax hike, which eventually will climb to 12 cents a gallon, is being phased in gradually, so you can save more in tax credits each year. The average driver might save only $15 for 2018, but the same driver could get as much as $55 in 2022.

The I-385 form will become available in January. And don’t go trying to claim a credit for gas or maintenance services you bought outside of South Carolina. That won’t fly with the state Department of Revenue.

More criminal records will be erased

In the new year, South Carolinians who had multiple minor run-ins with the law also can get their criminal records erased for good.

Those expunged charges will not need to be disclosed on job applications, where some potential employers might have considered them disqualifying in the past.

At the prodding of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, lawmakers passed the new law in June in an effort to grow the state’s pool of workers eligible for a job. Effective Jan. 1, more South Carolinians will be able to erase official records of juvenile offenses, first offenses and minor drug charges.

S.C. residents already could have their criminal records erased for minor first-offense convictions. However, the new law allows those with multiple offenses to have their records expunged if the crimes were “closely connected.”

The bill also gives legal cover to businesses who hire applicants with expunged criminal records. It ensures no information related to an expungement can be used as evidence in a lawsuit accusing the business of negligence for hiring an employee whose past misdeeds have been deleted.

Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed the bill, saying employers should be aware of applicants’ criminal histories and decide for themselves whether to overlook past transgressions. But the GOP-controlled Legislature overwhelmingly overrode the Republican’s veto.

A person’s record must be clean for at least three to five years — depending on the crime — before he or she can apply to have past charges expunged.

Homeowners associations must become more transparent

In May, S.C. lawmakers passed stricter rules on homeowners associations, aiming to give current members of the groups more access to information and prospective homeowners a better idea of what they’re signing up for when they move into a subdivision.

The 2018 S.C. Homeowners Association Act requires the groups to write and record their governing documents, including bylaws, rules and regulations by Jan. 10, 2019. With the new law, the documents now must be made available publicly and filed with the county.

Homeowners associations that are not incorporated as nonprofits also will have to give a 48-hour notice to members before they decide to increase their budgets. And, under the new law, anyone who sells a piece of property must tell the buyer whether the home or land is part of a homeowners association.

The new law also authorizes the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs to document complaints about specific homeowners associations and pass them along each year to the General Assembly. But lawmakers didn’t give Consumer Affairs any authority to investigate the complaints or act on them.

Low-income, working families can save hundreds

Thousands of working, low-income S.C. taxpayers will see their state income tax bill shrink after lawmakers passed a new earned-income credit along with the state’s gas-tax hike in 2017.

The tax credit went into effect Jan. 1, 2018, and continues to be phased in gradually, with another step on New Year’s Day 2019. About 150,000 taxpayers will get a tax credit worth $285, on average, by 2023.

The tax credit could shrink what some taxpayers owe the state to zero. However, because the credit is non-refundable, it won’t result in the state writing you a check for any credit left over.

Also, working-class families will get a bigger boost from the state’s upward adjustment of its tax credits for families with at least two workers, thanks to the gas-tax hike.

Taxable earnings for that credit, once capped at $30,000 a year, are increasing $3,333 a year to $50,000 by 2023. That process began last year.

The maximum tax credit for those families gradually will rise to $350 in 2023 from $210 in 2017.

S.C. insurers must protect their customers from hacks

In April, South Carolina became the first state to pass the Insurance Data Security Act, a new law establishing data-security standards for insurance companies and rules for investigating cybersecurity attacks.

The law was the result of recent attacks that have exposed the records of tens of millions of Americans, including the 2015 hack of insurance giant Anthem. The bill requires all S.C. insurers to establish an information-security program by July 2019.

Manufacturers get a tax break

The property tax on manufacturers gradually is dropping to 9 percent from 10.5 percent. That process began in 2018 and will be phased in over six years.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
  Comments