Senate Bill 705: Long-overdue reforms for underground utility safety

Ongoing efforts to amend and update South Carolina's laws regarding underground utility safety took two major steps forward last week. The first was on Monday, when stakeholder groups reached consensus upon the entire draft legislation to be filed in the State Senate and then on Thursday, when Senate Bill 705 was filed.

The legislation, which would update laws which haven't been updated since 1978 ahead of a major disaster or pending federal intervention, features several key points:

  • Mandatory one-call center membership: South Carolina will now require all utilities to be members of the 811 "Call Before You Dig" service, meaning one call is all construction companies and homeowners need to make to notify utilities. This will be phased in, allowing smaller utilities time to plan a transition. This means the number of states which do not mandate membership will be reduced to just five.
  • Positive response: Utilities will be required to respond and coordinate responses with those who give noticed before digging. This reduces the number of states which do not require responses to those who call in to 17.
  • Tolerance zones: The actual location of underground utilities must be no more than 24 inches from marks on the ground. This was reduced from 30 inches, requiring greater accuracy in marking, as well as caution by contractors. Now only two states allow 30 inches, while the remainder require either 18 or 24 inches.
  • Modernization: Many new technologies and standards have been adopted since the law was originally enacted in 1978. Many smaller changes were made to integrate new standards, technologies and practices into state law.
  • 811/One-Call Center governance: The membership for board seats for the state's One Call Center was increased, with specified seats being selected for various stakeholder groups.
  • Enforcement: Penalties for violations will now be divided between the Attorney General's office and the state's General Fund. This will help fund enforcement of the law, which had not seen a single action taken since it's original enactment. The Attorney General's office agreed to establish an enforcement mechanism if these changes were made.

If you are a Senator, please add your name to this important bill. If you know someone who is, ask them to put their name on this bill.

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