By Ron Barnett
The New Year will bring new laws governing how much water can be removed from rivers and new protections for seriously ill patientswhowant to stay with a doctor who might no longer be included in their health insurance plans. Another would regulate commercials for car sales.
The Water Withdrawal, Permitting, Use and Reporting Act gives the state Department of Health and Environmental Control regulatory authority over withdrawals fromthe state’s waterways, a measure that hasbecomeincreasingly important as droughts and population growth have put strains on water resources, agency spokesman Adam Myrick said.
“We’ve got the demand up, and we’ve got the supply staying basically the same,” he said. “Farmer Brown up& shy;stream takes too much water from the stream, and it leaves Farmer Smith high and dry,” he said.
Businesses are affected as well, he said.
Industries that discharge wastewater into streams, for example, have an interest in the flow of the stream remaining high enough to dilute the pollutants.
“If you’ve got lower flow coming down from the Upstate, then you can see how that could possibly throw things out of kilter a little bit,” he said.
DHEC will establish minimum flow levels for streams, and anyone who withdraws 3 million gallons ormore permonth will have to get a permit. Users will have to have a back-up source for their water if the stream levels get too low, Myrick said.
DHEC probably won’t have the data to begin issuing permits until mid-2012, he said.
The law also will allow the state to enter into agreements with other states for sharing water resources on an “apples-toapples” basis, Myrick said. South Carolina has been at odds with North Carolina and Georgia over water withdrawals.
At a time when many in South Carolina’s Republican establishment are hoping the new federal health care law will be repealed, state lawmakers adopted a new law that will prevent health insurance companies from forcing seriously ill patients to change doctors while they are in treatment, if their doctor leaves the insurance plan.
The bill was put forward by state Rep. Cathy Harvin, a Clarendon County Democrat who died Dec. 4 from complications of breast cancer.
“All these patients now have a degree of certainty that they’re not going to get kicked out in the cold and they’re going to have some access to treatment,” House Democratic Leader Harry Ott told The Associated Press. “Hopefully that will be a legacy that people will remember Cathy for.”
The South Carolina Medical Association supported the bill.
The bill cleared the Senate with two of 46 senators against it. The House approved it unanimously.
Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican, voted against the measure, calling it a mandate on private sector insurance.
“It’s government getting involved in a private contract, and I just have some bad feeling about it,” Bryant told The AP.
State Rep. Bill Sandifer said he introduced the Consumer Protection, Motor Vehicle Dealer Advertisements Act because of complaints of deceptive and confusing claims.
“A lot of times what we found was dealers said you would qualify for x dollars in discounts — on e of those discounts was for a first-time buyer, one was a ‘legacy’ buyer (who had bought from the dealer before),” the Seneca Republican said.
“You can’t qualify for both of them, but they lumped them together.”
Some television commercials show disclaimers at the bottom of the screen that are so small “you could not possibly read it,” he said. And radio commercials sometimes deliver their disclaimers by announcers who talk so fast they can hardly be understood, he said. “So what we were trying to do was make sure that the customer had all of the facts and that they’re presented in such a way that the consumer could understand them,” Sandifer said. The South Carolina Automobile Dealers Association supported the bill, Sandifer said, but Gov. Mark Sanford said it “unduly interferes with the business relati onships between automobile retailers and consumers,” and vetoed it.
“For the law to dictate the voice cadence of a car advertisement is ridiculous,” he wrote in a letter explaining his veto. “Additionally, the bill dictates to retailers how they may calculate discounts and sales prices. Should we do this for every advertisement for clothes, CDs, DVDs, or wigs?”The General Assembly overrode the veto.