Bill's Straight Talk -- Legislative News

 

June 30, 2018: A Good Day for South Carolina

 

The South Carolina General Assembly returned to the Statehouse this past week to mop up important unfinished legislative business. As the gavel fell on the session I could only say, "It was a good day for South Carolina".

SCE&G's Rate Cut 15%

A major focus of this legislative year has been to right the wrongs of SCANA (SCE&G) and Santee Cooper for their failures to construct the two abandoned nuclear reactors at V.C. Summers. The utilities spent a combined $9 billion on two reactors before abandoning them last summer. That's been particularly costly to SCE&G ratepayers who have suffered nine rate hikes and have been paying an additional 18-percent on their monthly power bills while getting nothing in return.

This week House-Senate conferees hammered out comprehensive legislation that temporarily cuts SCE&G's electric rates by 15-percent. That saves utility's customers some $260 million on their power bills through the end of the year.

The House had sought to eliminate the nuclear surcharge by taking the rate to zero; the Senate proposed to reduce the surcharge from 18-percent to 5-percent. Conference Committee members compromised at 3-percent. Both the House and Senate approved the legislation and sent it to Gov. Henry McMaster who quickly vetoed it. For several months he had vowed to veto any bill that did not completely eliminate the nuclear surcharge and he kept true to his promise. However, it took only minutes for both the House and Senate to override the veto putting into law the temporary rate reduction of 15-percent.

What's Next?

 

• First Step: While the legislature passed the law, it's up to the Public Service Commission to implement the temporary 15-percent cut in power bills. The PSC meets Monday to take action.


• Temporary: The temporary rate reduction is just that - temporary. However, the rate cut extends back to April 1. Electric rates will be cut through December when the PSC is set to decide who pays for the failed nuclear reactors in the coming decades.


• Push Back:
SCE&G has vowed for months to sue the state if lawmakers intervened in their rates contending the legislative rate cut is unconstitutional. So far, no lawsuit has been filed.


• Impact on Dominion on SCE&G Takeover: Dominion has opposed the legislature taking action to temporarily cut rates, but there has been no announcement that they are pulling their offer to buy the utility. For now, Dominion's proposed takeover is on track.


More than a Rate Cut


The comprehensive legislation we passed also included a number of elements that the House had crafted into separate bills that it passed but failed to go to a vote in the Senate:


• Repeals most of the Base Load Review Act (that's a HUGE step forward!)


• Reforms the Public Service Commission and the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS)


• Creates a consumer advocate for ratepayers


• Allows for long term rate relief by defining the terms of "prudent" and "imprudent" (critical legal terms going forward)


• Gives ORS the tools needed to access confidential documents of utilities and subpoena powers


• Eliminates the July 12, 2018 deadline whereby the PSC must make a decision on the SCANA-Dominion merger giving the PSC time for a thorough review


• Establishes a new timeline for the PSC to make a decision by December 21, 2018


With the passage of this comprehensive reform bill the legislature took a tremendous step forward toward providing immediate and permanent long-term relief for South Carolina electric ratepayers while systemically reforming government agencies.


News Note: Thursday, SCANA Corporation's Board of Directors declared a quarterly dividend of 12.37 cents per share for the second quarter of the year. That is an 80% reduction of the quarterly cash dividend compared to the first quarter of this year.


State Budget Approved


The legislature passed an $8.2 billion General Fund budget this past week that is largely funded by state sales and income taxes. It has been sent to Gov. McMaster for review where he can reject individual items with his veto. Frankly, I have never voted for a budget with which I totally agreed. There are always expenditures I don't believe are needed, but a government budget is a collaborative effort that must win approval of a majority of 170 legislators from every part of the state with different interests and agendas.


Budget highlights...


• Increases the Base Student Cost for each public school student by $60
• Public school teachers get a 1 percent cost-of-living increase; the House had sought a 2-percent increase
• K-12 teachers a "step increase" for an additional year in the classroom and ensures none make less than $32,000 a year. (That's to help fill vacancies in 20 poor, rural districts that start teachers at less pay.)
• $13 million more to keep up with added enrollment in public charter schools
• $8 million more to cover the cost of replacing the remainder of the state's oldest and fire-prone school busses
• Nearly $60 million in added state money to cover the costs of the 25-percent of South Carolinians who get their health insurance through Medicaid. The Medicaid budget alone (90-percent federal money and 10-percent state money) is more than $8 billion and larger than the entire General Fund budget!
• Adds $56 million to cover higher health care costs for the more than 490,000 state workers, family members and retirees enrolled in the state health plan as of January
• Adds $32.4 million to cover the higher cost of state workers' pensions
• Adds $3.7 million to pay for raises of about $750 apiece for corrections officers
• Adds another $2 million to pay overtime costs for S.C. Highway Patrol officers
• The state's public colleges get far less than requested with only $50 million in one-time money to address building and maintenance cost


Planned Parenthood Budget Debate


You may have read about the budget debate over funding Planned Parenthood's abortion services. A group of legislators tried to defund Planned Parenthood which could have put the entire state budget in limbo for weeks or months. To be clear, I appreciate and share the pro-life passion held by many of my colleagues for protecting the rights of the unborn. But there was so much misinformation circulating on social media I am obliged to provide facts.


Depending on who was stirring the story, the State was supposedly funding Planned Parenthood to the tune of $5 million or $30 million in this budget. Actually, the federal government's Medicaid funding is the 90-percent funding source with the state chipping in 10-percent. In reality, the funds we were debating amounted to $13,000. That's $13-thousand, not millions or billions!


Under current law none of the federal or state funding that Planned Parenthood receives can be used for abortion services except to protect the health of the mother or in cases of rape and incest.


In 2016, I served on a special House Oversight Committee that investigated state funding of Planned Parenthood. We determined that no state money was being used for abortion service. By the way, during the period we investigated (2011-2015) the state did pay for 29 abortions at hospitals, not Planned Parenthood. Twenty four of those abortions were to save the life of the mother and the other five were because of rape or incest. The same holds true for last year when five abortions were paid for by state funds under the same circumstances.


The money going to Planned Parenthood and many other health providers around the state is for family-planning services only, not abortions.


Thanks to Gov. Henry McMaster, SC has applied to the federal government for a waiver to allow for more Medicaid funding discretion. If that waiver is granted Planned Parenthood would be barred from receiving any state money.


Were it not for the facts I have outlined, I would have voted to reject the budget; however, in light of those facts, and after weighing the bad outcomes that would have been associated with heading into a new fiscal year on July 1 without a budget, I voted in favor of the budget conference report.


SC High on Optimism


A new survey shows South Carolina small-business owners ranked first in the U.S. in optimism about their businesses in 2018. Womply, a technology and data service, surveyed 4,700 owners in the United States to gauge optimism and hiring intent. SC topped the optimism chart, with 95% of respondents being optimistic about their company's prospects for 2018.

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HANG UP!


Sunday, July 1, Georgia's new 'Hands Free Cell Phone Driving' legislation takes effect. If you are addicted to talking, texting, surfing social media while driving, it could be a costly mistake in Georgia. Learn more - read the Aiken Standard editorial

 


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Thoughts, Prayers and Words of Encouragement


Please join me in support of my colleague Katie Arrington. She is SC's Republican first congressional district candidate. Arrington and her friend were critically injured in a crash on Highway 17. The head-on collision occurred when a car going the wrong way smashed into the vehicle in which Katie was a passenger. Katie is a strong person in so many ways. She vows she will continue her campaign AND I'm behind her all the way!


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I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

________________________________________________________________________________________

 

June 11, 2018: Voting Day has Arrived

Most Americans deeply cherish their individual freedoms, but with liberty comes responsibility. It is the responsibility of every American to cast a ballot and select the people they wish to represent them in government at every level.

Please don't be struck with apathy over our election process. In my view, if a citizen doesn't vote they don't have a right to gripe and criticize. We're all in this together.

Polls are Open Tuesday

If you have not already cast an absentee ballot, this Tuesday, June 12th, you can exercise your valuable right to vote by going to the polls. Whether you vote in the Republican or Democrat Primary Election, let you voice be heard. The polls are open from 7am-7pm across the state. (Read everything you need to know ahead of Tuesday's vote.)

Gov. McMaster Gets Our Backing

It was an honor to endorse Gov. Henry McMaster in Tuesday's GOP Primary Election. During an Aiken rally this past week, Sen. Tom Young, Rep. Bart Blackwell and Aiken County Councilman Andrew Siders endorsed the governor as well. Solicitor Strom Thurmond and Sheriff Mike Hunt previously endorsed McMaster.


 

In introducing McMaster at the rally, I likened him to the late Gov. Carol Campbell who is fondly remembered for his many accomplishments. As a Republican governor, Campbell got things done while dealing with a Democrat majority in the legislature. How did he do it? He worked with them, not against them. Great things can happen when you work with others.

In my view, Henry McMaster has the makings of a Carol Campbell. He's a collaborator. He's smart. He's experienced. He's charming. But, he's also as tough as nails when he needs to be. That's what we need from our governor.

I told those assembled the story of a high school student, Alex, from the Upstate who wrote the following on my Facebook:

"In reality, without the legislature, you can't change much. My fear is if we elect 'the buzz-saw' or the other outsider, they will remain on the outside of the legislative process. We need to make conservative reforms while Republicans have control of state government. I don't think either Warren or Templeton will do that running against (and burning bridges with) the legislature."

A wise observation from a teenager who knows Henry McMaster is leading a winning team.

• McMaster is the ONLY candidate endorsed by the NRA.


• ONLY candidate endorsed by SC Citizens for Life.


• And, of course, the ONLY candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump & McMaster: a partnership that will continue to benefit South Carolina.


But the most important endorsement he needs is YOURS on Tuesday. Please vote for Gov. Henry McMaster
.


While in Aiken....


After the "Rally-in-The-Alley', Cindy Rudisill, of Cyndi's Sweet Shoppe, made certain Gov. McMaster and his daughter, Mary, had some special Aiken sweet treats for their bus ride around the state.

 

 

There was another sweet moment following Gov. Henry McMaster's 'Rally-in-The-Alley'. Anne Perry, wife of the late Rep. Skipper Perry, gave the governor a hug and thanked him for his friendship. Gov. McMaster recalled how Skipper helped him win his first election to head the South Carolina Republican Party.

 


And finally, Gov. McMaster honored another Aiken tradition - he knows that any campaign stopover in downtown Aiken isn't complete without visiting the famed Lionel Smith Ltd.

 

Photo of the Week

Coach Brian McCormack is a lifelong Aiken County educator who is greatly admired by students, parents and colleagues. His inspirational leadership was honored by all when I presented Coach McCormack with a Resolution from the S.C. House of Representatives recognizing his retirement after 35 years of exemplary service at Ridge Spring-Monetta HS where he has served as a teacher, coach and Athletic Director. In a wheel chair since a tragic car accident in 1988, Coach McCormack says while he has a disability, he is not disabled. He received a standing ovation at the sports banquet.

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

_________________________________________________________________________

 

May 14: 2018: The Grade Is In: ‘INCOMPLETE’

The last day of each school year brings a final report card. Achievers strive for all A's. The regular session drew to a close last Thursday and the only grade the SC Legislature can get is "INCOMPLETE". Like a struggling student who needs to pay special attention to catch up or make an additional effort, the General Assembly is headed for summer school to erase the "INCOMPLETE" grade.

Still No Final Solution to Nuke Debacle

The major disappointment is the Senate's failure to act on several critical bills the House passed earlier this year addressing the V.C. Summer $9 billion nuclear fiasco. Last week the Senate rejected the House's plan to forbid SCE&G from charging customers an 18% nuclear surcharge to cover the costs of the failed V.C. nuclear project. House members believe it is wrong to make customers foot the bill for a project that was never completed. We passed legislation to completely eliminate the surcharge. The Senate believes ratepayers should still be on the hook for a 5% monthly surcharge. The reactors were abandoned last July after SCE&G and co-owner Santee Cooper poured $9 billion into their construction, and SCE&G continues to collect $37 million a month from ratepayers in related fees. Fortunately, those bills will be revisited when the legislature reconvenes May 23-24 or in June.

Potential Nuke Progress

The Senate voted unanimously on the final day of session to repeal the Base Load Review Act, a 2007 law that allowed utilities to charge ratepayers for projects that were not complete. The Senate also voted 43-0 to give the state Office of Regulatory Staff subpoena powers and to create a consumer advocate. The measures, which have already cleared the House are now one step closer to becoming the first legislation to be made law in response to the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle. A conference committee is working to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bills.

Major Unfinished Business

In our upcoming legislative session, in a couple of weeks, we will finalize the state budget that goes into effect July 1st. A conference committee is hammering out difference in the House and Senate versions of the budget. Key issue in the budget negotiations are teacher raises, school safety, prison security and correctional officer raises, the state pension system, assistance to our agriculture industry, and tax relief. Another major item to be settled is conforming the state tax code to the federal code. Without conforming the two, South Carolinian's will be paying more in state income taxes. The House has passed legislation to reinstate the personal exemption. That bill is pending in the Senate.

Legislation That DIED

• The House passed legislation on April 5th that increased penalties for individuals who commit, plan, or assist an act of terror. The Senate decided not to allow a vote on this legislation.


• Despite employers voicing the need to find workers with computer science and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, the Senate refused to pass a bill proposed by House Speaker Jay Lucas to form a curriculum for this in our public schools. It is most unfortunate the Senate failed to help our students learn the skills for the jobs of the future.


• Another disappointment was the Senate's failure to pass the House bill that would make dismemberment abortions illegal in the Palmetto State. Pro-abortion Democrats led a filibuster in the Senate that doomed this reform.


Distracted Driving Continues Unchecked in SC

 


Sadly, I report the DUI-E (Driving Under the Influence of Electronic Devices) legislation I championed died before receiving a vote from the full House. By comparison, Georgia moved swiftly this year by passing and signing into law a nearly identical bill that takes effect July 1. Georgia is the 16th state to enact the hands-free cell phone legislation for drivers. SC could still be the 17th if we quickly move forward next year. I will refile the bill and push it hard. For the sake of public safety, I hope we don't delay because eventually we will enact this legislation. The only question - will we be the 17th or 47th state to pass this legislation like we do so many other common sense bills. All drivers know how dangerous our roads have become because of distracted driving - a recent poll shows 65% of South Carolinian's support the hands-free bill, only 12% oppose it. My goal: Get 'Er Done!

Success - A Fix for Education Leadership

It took 27 years of legislative effort, but at long last South Carolinians will get the opportunity to vote on major reform in education. In November, voters will decide on a Constitutional referendum that would make the SC superintendent of education a gubernatorial appointment, rather than an elected position. Republicans have long sought this change to bring more accountability to the state's education efforts. The legislation passed the Senate in the final minutes of the session as the clocked ticked toward the 5:00 pm Sine Die deadline.

Major Legislative Achievements


While the V.C. Summer nuclear fiasco dominated the 2018 legislative agenda and tended to suck the air out of the General Assembly, there were successes. Here's a topline list for the two year session:


• Government Reorganization - Finalized legislation that puts the governor and lieutenant governor running on the same ticket starting this year.


• Government Transparency - In the first half of this legislative session, Gov. Henry McMaster ushered in what he called, "a big step forward" in government transparency with the signing of a bill that closed loopholes in SC's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) insuring more government transparency. I have been the primary champion of this legislation since my first term in office.


• Road Funding - Like it or not, this session brought passage of the controversial 71% increase in the state's gas tax. The tax is being phased in 2-cents a year until it reaches and additional 12-cents per-gallon by 2023.


• Retirement System Reform - In the first year of the session the legislature hammered out a bill that took a major step forward in bringing solvency to the public employee retirement system. The pension legislation calls for public employees pay a bit more - and state agencies a lot more - in an effort to shore up the struggling retirement system. Regrettably, the promise to transition to a "defined contributions" plan, like a 401(k) didn't materialize this year.


• Protecting Children - Created the Children's Advocacy Department, an umbrella agency designed to act as a watchdog over all child services offered by state government.


• Combatting Opioid Addiction - A new law authorizes pharmacists to dispense opioid antidotes to certain community organizations while another requires opioid addiction education in high school.


• Expanding Health Care - Medical professionals are lauding a bill that frees advanced practice registered nurses by giving them more geographic freedom from an overseeing physician. This reduces barriers for Nurse practitioners to practice and strengthens SC's health care workforce.


• Dyslexia Screening - Mandatory dyslexia screening for all kindergarten and first graders to provide early detection of this medical issue that can bring academic difficulties.


• School Choice Victory - Codification of the Exceptional Needs SC program which gives tuition breaks to parents and caregivers who have enrolled a student at a private school to meet the student's special-needs education.


• REAL I.D. Act Passes - A law won approval to bring South Carolina into compliance with federal REAL I.D. requirements. It's not mandatory; citizens may opt out of REAL I.D.


• Good Neighbor Policy - The so-called 'chicken bill' became law allowing neighboring residents to contest a chicken farm being erected.


• Prohibiting Endless Delays - There is a history of endless lawsuits intended to menace SC manufacturers. Legislation was passed requiring judges to offer a ruling on a challenged project in less than 90 days and another new law that says existing manufacturers cannot be sued by new neighbors for being a nuisance.


• Liquor Fix - Following a SC Supreme Court ruling nullifying a law limiting the number of liquor stores, the General Assembly passed a revised law keeping the number of stores per liquor license to three in the state.


• Litter Enforcement - SC's litter enforcement is lousy (just look alongside our roads and highways). The legislature passed a bill this year restructuring fines to fit the crime. Experts believe this will encourage enforcement of littler laws as it has done in other states.


• Moped Safety Act - After years of legislative efforts, loopholes were closed in various laws to subject moped operators to the same violations, including DUI, as other motorists.


• Work Zone Safety Act - Prompted by the senseless hit & run deaths of two Aiken County SCDOT workers, the Aiken Legislative Delegation proposed a law to strengthen penalties for those who endanger the life of a highway workers. The bill won swift approval from the House and Senate. Gov. McMaster came to Aiken to sign it into law with SCDOT workers standing with him.


Mark Your Calendar - We Need YOUR Input
Higher Education Town Hall in Aiken


SC's Commission on Higher Education will be conducting a Town Hall in Aiken this Thursday, May 17th. The topic: College Access & Affordability in South Carolina.

 


In Sunday's Op-Ed in the Aiken Standard I wrote, "The college affordability crisis has reached a fever pitch in South Carolina, and the citizens of the state are in need of help. This is the message citizens and state leaders have been hearing at town hall events being hosted across the state by the S.C. Commission on Higher Education." (Read the Op-Ed column)


Please join this discussion on the future of higher education in South Carolina this Thursday at Aiken High School at 5:30 p.m. Your thoughts and input are needed to help chart an affordable and sustainable path forward for higher education in our state.

 

Photo of the Week

 

 

Like many of you, our family celebrated Mother's Day Sunday. A portion of our day was at the Aiken Charity Horse Show at Bruce's Field. Our daughter, Kasey, was competing and the rest of the family gathered to support her. Good times celebrating the three MOMs!  (L-R: Kasey, granddaughter Avery, son Ryan, granddaughter Laurel, daughter-in-luv Jackie, my wife, Donna, granddaughter Lydia and me.)


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

May 7, 2018: Tick-Tock: Time is Running Out 

 

Fortunately, the SC Statehouse isn't like Congress where partisan political in-fighting is routine. Most issues we debate at the Statehouse center on good policy rather than the Left-Right polarization. That's why many votes pass with broad support from both political parties. That's not always the case as exemplified by late night, heated debates in both the Senate and House last week.

 

The Every-Year Abortion Debate

 

There's nothing like the abortion issue to cause both Republicans and Democrats to lock horns. The Senate debate stretched over two days and brought a 12 hour filibuster. At one point, a Democrat senator proposed and an amendment that would effectively ban abortions in the state. Saying he was sick of the abortion debate sucking all the air out of the Senate while other bills languish, Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) proposed an amendment to outlaw virtually all abortions. Hutto emphasized he did not support his amendment because he believes it is blatantly unconstitutional. However, he defended his strategy saying this would remove the incentive to argue this over and over again because if passed, it would be in the courts for years. Eventually, several Republican senators joined Democrats in sending the bill back to committee where it dies.

 

The House also had extended debate on the abortion issue. It came during a nearly 15 hour session. The budget debate focused on defunding Planned Parenthood (PP) in SC. A few Conservative Republicans argued for blocking any tax money from going to Planned Parenthood which operates two facilities in SC. A line of fiery, sharped-tonged Democrats took to the podium during debate to name call their colleagues and defend Planned Parenthood and its abortion practices. I served on a special House Committee three years ago that explored PP funding. Our investigation showed that Medicaid dollars that flow from the federal government through SC-DHHS do not directly fund PP abortion services. In the end, SC-DHHS has been directed in the budget to submit to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) such waivers and state plan amendments that are necessary to ensure that no family planning funds may be expended to subsidize abortion clinics and none of the funds appropriated may be paid or granted to an organization that owns or is owned by an abortion clinic.

 

Tic-Toc: Time is Running Out

 

It's late in the regular legislative session. This is the final week - just three days remain. That means there is a desperate effort to finalize legislation. Let's call it a rush to the finish line. Of course, the Sine Die Resolution allows the General Assembly to return to Columbia to try to wrap-up unfinished business. Regretfully, that's a LONG list!

 

SC Income Tax Conformity - A Very BIG Issue to Your Pocketbook!

 

The SC House voted to send a tax-conformity bill to the Senate, trying to prevent South Carolinians' income taxes from rising by more than $200 million automatically. Last December, Congress enacted significant tax reforms that will reduce federal income taxes for a vast majority of filers. SC bases its state income taxes on the federal tax code which makes state filing easy and simple.

 

Since the new federal law eliminated several provisions - and did not extend others - that means they would expire in SC. However, while Congress voted to double the standard deduction, SC's remained the same.

 

So simply conforming to meet the federal tax code - as SC has normally done each year since 1986 - would have led to a $253 million increase in taxpayer revenue. That's not acceptable! The goal of conformity is to have South Carolinian's keep their money and the state government doesn't reap a tax windfall.

 

The House voted unanimously to create a $1,525 personal exemption for individuals on their state income taxes, which budget analysts believe would offset any potential gains by the state.

 

The measure now reaches the Senate, where procedural rules could create a tight deadline with only a week remaining in this year's regular session. However, the House has indicated it would push for tax conformity to be included in any special session should lawmakers return to take up budget vetoes this summer.

 

While analysts believe the changes would no longer create a net increase in tax revenues collected, some individual filers would pay more while others would owe less. As example, those earning $150,000 or less would see a slight decrease in their taxes from conformity, while upper brackets would see an increase.

 

Public School Safety Wins House Support

 

The House took a major step to improve safety in public schools by making it easier to hire school resource officers. There are currently 590 public schools in SC that do not employ a school resource officer - that's about half our schools. The lack of available officers and hiring restrictions have made it difficult for school systems to hire more new officers. Many retired law enforcement officers have expressed interest in using their previous training to work as a school resource officer; however, current state law caps salaries of retired state employees who wish to serve at $10,000 a year. To fix this problem, the House lifted the $10,000 cap so retired law enforcement officers can apply for the many open school resource officer positions. $15 million dollars of state lottery funds will pay for other school safety measures as well, including metal detectors, security cameras, and door locks. State dollars will be allocated for poor school districts that cannot afford to hire school resource officers. 

 

Prison Security Measures

 

In response to the recent violence among inmates in our state prison system, the House increased its original budget for corrections officer raises and other security measures. $8 million in excess debt service funding is proposed for the Department of Corrections for critical security upgrades in the state's prisons. This includes the installation of window frames and glazing and new door locks for inmate cells.

 

Solar Expansion in Revised State Budget

 

The House's budget amendments include a provision that would raise the state's net metering cap from 2 percent to 4 percent. The legislation discontinued existing arrangements where all of an electrical utility's customers were subsidizing solar power programs, regardless of whether they are participating in the programs.  Nonparticipants in net energy metering programs are not required to subsidize the costs of customer-generators. The amendment needs to pass in conference and make it through gubernatorial vetoes to be enacted.

 

Homeowner Association Transparency Requirements

 

Legislation has won approval in the House and Senate in a move to increase transparency of homeowners associations (HOAs). Disputes regarding HOAs are an ongoing issue for homeowners across SC. The S.C. Homeowners Association Act (H.3886) is an important first step in providing uniformity, transparency, and relief for homeowners across the state. The bill provides for:  the recording of the governing documents with the local Register of Deeds or Clerk of Court, notice to the homeowner when there is an increase in the annual budget, notice on the seller's property disclosure statement that the property is governed by an HOA, and allows magistrates concurrent jurisdiction to handle monetary disputes. The bill also creates a Homeowners Association Ombudsman within the SC Department of Consumer Affairs. This legislation would implement consistent guidelines that encourage good governance among HOAs and protect homeowners' interests. The bill currently awaits ratification and a signature from the governor.

 

State Schools Chief: Elected or Appointed - You'll Decide

 

At long last, after many years of legislative efforts, SC voters are going to decide if they want the State School Superintendent to be elected statewide or appointed by the governor. The House voted to place a constitutional question on the ballot (S.27) asking voters if they approve in making the state school chief an appointed position. Only 13 states elect the State Superintendent; 37 are appointed. If voters approve the Constitutional Amendment, the final election for our State School Superintendent will be this year.

 

Protecting Children

 

The House concurred with Senate amendments to H.4705 which expands the category of those who are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect by adding clerical or non-clerical religious counselors who charge for services.

 

Drivers Vision Tests to Return

 

A bill reinstating vision tests for drivers in 2020 will go to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk now that it has passed both the House and Senate. The legislation states that individuals will once again be required to satisfy vision screening requirements in order to renew a driver's license. This will be done by either passing a vision test administered at the DMV or through the submission of a certificate of vision examination form executed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. These provisions take effect October 2020.

 

Distracted Driving & Motorcyclists

 

Distracted drivers are a motorcyclist's worst fear. Sometimes drivers don't see motorcyclists, but it's worse when drivers aren't even looking at the road and are mesmerized by the glow of their smart phone.  I was honored to speak to ABATE'S 'Motorcyclist Awareness Rally' in Columbia Sunday. ABATE has ranked passage of my DUI-E legislation (H.4480) as their top legislative priority. "Hang Up, Put the Phone Down & DRIVE! Distracted driving kills!

 

 

Congratulations Georgia!

 

Georgia has accomplished what SC doesn't seem capable of doing - enacting distracted driving legislation that will help save lives. Gov. Nathan Deal has signed the 'Hands Free Georgia Act' which forbids drivers from holding their phone while driving. The law goes into effect July 1. Georgia becomes the 16th state who has banned drivers from holding their phone. (Read More - WRDW-TV)

 

Citadel's Top Cadet

 

Congratulations to Aiken County's Sarah Zorn. She is the first woman to lead Citadel's Corps of Cadets. Sarah, a graduate of Midland Valley High School, will serve as Regimental Commander for the next school year. (Read P&C story)

 

Photo of the Week

 

The SC House honored another State Champion from Aiken County. The North Augusta High School Girls Basketball Team captured the 2018 Class AAAA State Championship. The Lady Yellow Jackets have won 54 of 55 games over the past two seasons. This is their second consecutive State Championship.

 

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

 

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

____________________________________________________________________

 

April 30, 2018: Six Days to "Get 'er Done"

 

Six Days! Six Days! Beginning Tuesday morning there are only two legislative weeks or six legislative days remaining of this 122nd session. I'm a "get 'er done" kind of guy, so this time of year my personal frustration level skyrockets with the lack of real legislative progress to fix what needs fixing and take steps to make South Carolina better and safer on so many levels.

The Blame Game

There is plenty of blame to go around (I'll be politically polite and not name names, although I'm tempted). While citizens lump us together and blame inaction on "the legislature", in all fairness, it is two separate bodies - the House and Senate. Both have their flaws and work at different speeds. As example, when the nuclear financial fiasco began last summer because of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project, the House shifted into high gear, formed a special committee to investigate the debacle and develop legislation to remedy what could be fixed. Starting in January the House passed five major pieces of legislation designed to reform SC laws and regulations in the aftermath of V.C. Summer. None were taken up in the Senate, even at the committee level. FINALLY, the Senate sent the House their one bill that addressed just one issue. (I'll detail that in a moment, but first, here's a little insight into the political dis-functioning in the Senate.)

The Gangs of New York

It drew a hearty laugh this week when one Representative described the Senate as being more like "the gangs of New York" with various factions morphing into coalitions depending on the issue. Most voters believe by the numbers that the Senate is 'Republican controlled'. No way! In my view, the Senate is 'Republican in Name Only'. There are a lot of former Democrats who scampered to change party affiliation when the Republican winds blew strong in SC. They team up with minority Democrats which enables the minority to be power brokers - and they aren't reluctant to flex their power. Then there is the so-called "William Wallace Caucus" - named after the iconic Scottish warrior of Braveheart fame. It consists of a group of Senators who tend to vote to the ideological right of the other moderate or left-leaning Republicans colleagues. There are more coalitions depending on the issue so a lot of labels could be tossed on the Senate. My favorite label, however, is - Deliberative Dysfunctional.


The Senate:
Too LITTLE Too LATE

With days before the session is to end, the Senate sent the House their one legislative remedy to help SCE&G ratepayers who have suffered under the 18-percent surcharge they have been paying monthly on their power bills. The Senate's proposal (S.954) would temporarily reduce the 18-percent surcharge to 5-percent. With some fiery debate, the House voted 104-7 to reject the Senate's plan and amended the bill to zero-percent which the House originally proposed.

One media source wrote: "The South Carolina House and Senate appear headed to a game of "chicken" on which chamber will blink first on nuclear-related power rates - with customers' power bills and the very future of a major power utility at stake."

Complicating the House-Senate rate battle is Gov. Henry McMaster's vow to veto anything short of the of the full 18 percent rate reduction, so the Senate's partial rate reduction could only stand if they had enough votes to override a veto, which is questionable. That scenario would result in no rate relief for SCE&G customers. SCE&G's electric users are paying $37 million a month into the unfinished reactors, accounting for nearly a fifth of average bills.

Whatever the legislature decides, it will only be a temporary reduction until the state Public Service Commission (PSC) makes a final ruling later this year. The commission will determine if SCE&G can continue to collect partially or the full 18 percent as it seeks to repay $5 billion in debt from the project.

Bottom line - the House and Senate will each select three members from its chambers to be on a joint conference committee that will negotiate a resolution to this bill. If the Senate refuses to work with the House and governor to provide temporary rate relief, ratepayers will be required to continue paying the 18% nuclear surcharge every month. And, that would be WRONG!

Not Biz as Usual - House Budget Battle Erupts

This past Thursday was supposed to see a perfunctory vote in which Representatives don't concur with the Senate's alterations to the state budget and we vote to send the process to a conference committee to hammer out a compromise. Usually happens every year.

This time the wrinkle came when a 38-page, $70 million amendment to the Senate's $8.3 billion budget plan, was dropped on our desk that morning leaving us no time to study it. I joined with those who repeatedly moved to adjourn until Tuesday so we could spend the weekend reading the plan. The House refused to adjourn and we debated the proposal for hours. Finally, late in the day the House adjourned and will continue to debate the budget bill this week. Many amendments are being drafted to reprioritize spending priorities.

Much of the additional spending in the Senate's budget plan comes from $60 million in unused debt service. The House originally chose not to touch the account, but the Senate spent it on various projects that they favored.

With the additional money brought in by the Senate, the House Ways & Means Committee proposed to eliminate the Senate's pet projects and instead use the money to fund $54 million on a new crime lab for SLED. I joined with many Representatives who believe the money would be most wisely spent to bolster school safety with the hiring of more resource officers and spending more money on prison security improvements. Only half of SC's schools are protected by resource officers. Gov. McMaster's initial budget request for $5-million for additional resource officers was ignored. Neither the initial House budget proposal nor the Senate budget plan included money for more resource officers. Additionally, the recent prison riot that killed seven inmates underscores the need to spend on security and staffing at our dangerous prisons. All that is likely to change this week when we try to amend the budget to address these priorities.

Emergency Prison Funding Approved

In a separate action, the Joint Bond Review Committee followed up on Gov. McMaster's recent Executive Order and authorized the prison system to use $10 million from a carry-forward account to spend on emergency security needs at medium and maximum-security prisons. Clearly, there is an urgent need for prison security funding, especially after fighting at Lee Correctional Institution recently left seven dead and 22 injured.

Active Shooter Drills in Schools

In another separate action, the House unanimously passed a bill (S.709) to require active shooter drills in all public schools and most charter schools, the first measure passed by either body in response to cries for school safety improvements following a February shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people. The active-shooter-drills requirement was included in an amendment to a Senate-passed bill to require regular fire drills in all public schools. The amendment requires two fire drills, two active shooter and intruder drills, and two weather and earthquake drills for each school year. The bill now returns to the Senate for approval.

A Fix to Hire More Resource Officers

The budget is being amended so there is an easier path for qualified law enforcement officers to become school resource officers. Law enforcement officers retired before the end of last year would have their earnings cap for retirement pay removed so they can return to work as school resource officers. Lifting that cap gets us the actual boots on the ground that we need to protect our kids.

Beach Front Management Reform

The House passed what is known as the Beachfront Management Reform Act (H.4683) to address the beachfront setback line along SC's Atlantic coast. The beachfront setback line is set by DHEC and it determines how close new construction can be built to the ocean. Data accumulated over a set period of time determines where the setback line will be for building construction. The last line was set in 2012 and a 2017 line has been proposed. One major issue with the current parameters is the inclusion of major storms in the data, which skew the overall accumulated data, and drastically affect the placement of the line. The Beachfront Management Reform Act sets in place a beachfront setback line at the most seaward of the established 2012 line, or the line established through a review or appeal of the proposed 2017 line. The law also states data cannot be used to determine new lines from an erosion zone within eighteen months of it being impacted by a named storm system. Additionally, the law sets up procedures and notices for DHEC to use for any future baseline and setback line establishment cycles, including a clarification of an appeals process, and more transparency from DHEC.

Advocating for Our Children

We can all be proud of this legislation. The House gave final approval to a bill (S.805) that creates the DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN'S ADVOCACY to ensure that children under the care of a state agency, particularly children served by the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, receive timely, safe, and effective services and to receive and investigate complaints related to the provision of services to children by a state agency. The Department of Children's Advocacy is being established to perform oversight duties to safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of all children receiving services or programs offered by the Department of Social Services, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, the John de la Howe School, the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School, and the School for the Deaf and Blind. The new department is headed by the State Child Advocate, who is appointed by the Governor.

"Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future." – John F. Kennedy

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Aiken County News

RUN UNITED!

You would have thought most Aikenites found their way downtown early Saturday morning to run, walk and cheer others at the annual Aiken Electric Coop Touchstone Energy Run United event. This was the seventh year for the event which has raised more than $100,000 for the United Way of Aiken County. Great fun for a great charity!

 

 

Celebrity Chefs Dish it Up

The 'Celebrity Chefs' were dishing up delicious food, beverages & fun Friday evening for a great cause - Mental Health America. It all happened at the Reserve at Woodside. The events proceeds total about $20,000 and benefit the organization, which works to support those affected by a diagnosed mental illness.

 

 

Breakfast for Horses

Aiken County's horse and animal lovers flocked to FATZ Cafe for Saturday's pancake breakfast to support Equine Rescue of Aiken. I joined Equine Rescue Director Jim Rhodes in collecting tips to support this most worthy cause.

Picture of the Week

During Saturday’s Run United event I was invited to hang out with members of ‘The Super Smart Girl Club’ of Aiken and their Founder & Director, Tina McIntyre. About three-quarters of the girls are homeschooled and the Club provides them the opportunities and encouragement every young girl needs.

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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April 22, 2018: Sanctuary Cities a No-Go in SC?

 

Illegal immigration tops the list of concerns of a majority of Americans who believe or national borders must be secured those who enter our country illegally must be sent back. Illegal means Illegal.

SC and Sanctuary Cities

There won't be sanctuary cities in SC if the Senate agrees with the amended bill the House sent back to them this past week. The House overwhelmingly passed legislation (H.4496) to enhance current state law banning sanctuary cities in our state. This legislation authorizes the circuit court to determine if a city or county has violated the provisions of this law that prohibit interfering with immigration enforcement. If a city or county is found to be in violation they will be barred from receiving Local Government Fund appropriations for at least three consecutive years.

Sentencing Reform

The House voted to allow a floor debate on legislation involving sentencing reform. The bill (H.5155) aims to grant parole to nonviolent offenders and incentivize good behavior by inmates. Paroling nonviolent offenders will both make it easier for prison guards to control violent inmates and save tax dollars.

Prison Riot & Deaths Should Not be a Surprise

The tragic melee at SC's Lee Correctional Institution last weekend which killed seven inmates was the worst loss of life at an American prison since at least 1993. It's clear that staffing levels at SC's prisons are not adequate to maintain safety. Around 28-percent of correctional officer jobs are unfilled at Lee Correctional. The current year's state budget included an additional $5 million for Correctional Officers hiring and the proposed state budget starting in July proposes pay increases for prison workers. Another major contributing factor to the violence is the ability of inmates to obtain and use cell phones. The federal government refuses to allow states to use electronic jamming devices to block cell phone usage in prisons.

Opioid Abuse Prevention

The full House unanimously passed another much-needed opioid abuse prevention bill paving the way for final passage in the Senate. The bill (H.3819) establishes additional requirements related to the prescribing of opioids to minors. Prescribers will be required to examine the minor to assess whether the minor has ever suffered or is currently suffering from a mental health or substance abuse disorder, share the risks of addiction and overdosing when opioids are taken, and obtain consent from an authorized adult, guardian, or parent, among other requirements. The legislation is in response to the opioid abuse epidemic occurring across the nation and across South Carolina.

Senate votes to Slash SCE&G Nuclear Power Rates;
Dominion Warns Merger Could be Derailed

The Senate approved a resolution which would temporarily cut SCE&G's power rates by 13-percent. That's about 75-percent of what customers are being charged monthly to pay off the ill-fated V.C. Summer nuclear expansion. Senate opponents argued it is unconstitutional to revoke a utility's rates when that utility is following state law. The move also puts into jeopardy a potential offer from Virginia-based Dominion Energy to buy SCE&G's parent SCANA. Dominion CEO Tom Farrell has said the deal hinges on the company continuing to collect from ratepayers to recover SCE&G's nearly $5 billion in debt from the V.C. Summer project. Any rate cut would be temporary until the state Public Service Commission has a chance to make a final ruling later this year. The House previously passed its own version of the resolution which temporarily repeals the entire 18 percent rate hike. It's interesting to note that SCE&G is currently using the roughly $38 million per month to pay dividends to its investors.

Senate Fails to Defund Planned Parenthood

Moves to stop funding for Planned Parenthood through the state Senate's budget plan was shot down twice last week. Amendments would have stripped $34 million in Medicaid funds from going towards family planning, which proponents argued helps subsidize the three abortion clinics across SC. Federal law prevents taxpayer money from funding abortions except in the case of rape, incest and risk to the mother's life. Pro-life senators claim the Medicaid funding subsidizes other services and keeps the abortion clinics running.

SC has Third-Highest Rate of DUI-A Related Deaths

Not proud of this rating! A new report by a consumer research group finds SC has the third-worst rate in the country for DUI-Alcohol related deaths. The most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds a rate of 6.59 DUI deaths per every 100,000 South Carolinians in 2016. That's more than twice the national average. (View Report)

Distracted Driving is even More Dangerous!

Experts are now saying that distracted driving (talking & texting top the list) is more dangerous and deadly than driving drunk. If you are a regular reader of this newsletter, you likely know I have been working hard this year to win passage of my DUI-E legislation (H.4480) which calls for drivers to put down their cells phones, be hands-free, and talk or text only via a speaker phone or Bluetooth. A similar bill in Georgia is awaiting Gov. Deal's signature and would start enforcement July 1st. Debate on the SC legislation is (finally!) slated for this coming Wednesday.

Hall of Fame QB Warns South Carolinians on Dangers of Distracted Driving

Kudo's the Brett Farve for his words of advice for SC drivers. In public service announcements that will be broadcast across SC, Farve is asking SC drivers to stay off their phones while driving because distracted driving is a rising cause of fatalities. (View PSA)

NTSB Supports DUI-E (Electronics) Bill

The Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board wrote me with his advocacy for the distracted driving legislation. Chairman Robert Sunwalt is a resident of SC. He wrote:

"As a resident of South Carolina I'm glad to see South Carolina's distracted driving law moving in the right direction. I believe a significant number of lives can be saved and injuries avoided by South Carolina expanding and strengthening its law. It is past time to face the fact that distracted driving is a serious safety risk. It's not just about the safety of distracted drivers - it's about the safety of everyone else on the road, because no text, no call, no update is ever worth a human life."
Read the entire letter

Daylight Savings Time Change Legislative Stalls

A proposal which could have ended the semi-annual time change in SC has been tabled for this legislative session, but the discussion is expected to continue into next year. Rep. Alan Clemmons proposed putting the issue up for a referendum to voters in the 2018 election. Florida and North Carolina are considering similar bills. Clemmons says he is seeing similar bills pop up around the country and he suspects there will be a federal bill proposed to allow states to opt in or out of DST as they see fit.

GOOD NEWS!

SC employment and business payrolls reached record levels in March, according to the latest report from the SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW). The unemployment rate remained at 4.4% in March with every County seeing a decrease in unemployment. DEW officials say more people are entering the workforce as businesses continue to add a record number of jobs and hire a record number of South Carolinians. This is something to celebrate!

Photos of the Week

 

 

Aiken High School's outstanding culinary program was invited back to participate in the 'Annual Hospitality Day at the Statehouse' featuring a taste of SC. It's quite an honor to be invited; they were last at the Statehouse during 2011. Jean Gorthy has led Aiken HS's culinary program for 27 years and has trained hundreds of students for careers in the hospitality industry. They served their delicious, creative strawberries as we welcomed them to the Statehouse.

 

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BONUS SECTION

Reader Feedback: South Carolina's Educational Challenges


I receive lots of email feedback to my legislative updates. I appreciate hearing the views from constituents and others. Last week, I wrote at length about the sad state of SC's public schools based on the latest results. I thought you would like to read a small sampling of feedback...

"You mention parents' responsibility as one of the causes. I truly believe it's THE most important cause. Many parents today do not value education for their children. They don't give their children the idea that school is important, that it's something that will affect their adult lives, that they must take it seriously and that they, themselves, take their children's education seriously. They don't make time in their after-work, family time for homework, reading to their children (a proven determiner for educational success) and discussions about school. Many children today come to school knowing that their parents do not care what their life at school is like. To them, if their parents - the most important and influential people in their lives - don't value their education, why should they? And, if what the teachers are asking them to do is not important, why should they take it seriously or care about it at all? No wonder there are such serious, class disturbing, discipline problems." - Retired teacher with 30+ years in the classroom

"In comparison to other countries, the United States is quickly losing ground and it seems to get very little press. To see South Carolina's ranking is more than alarming. It's the canary in the cage and the canary is gasping. And I don't believe it's a matter of throwing more money at it. Fundamental changes need to be made at many levels." - Aiken County Resident

"I was dismayed but not surprised at the abysmal state scores for our students. I must tell you that, having some experience in the educational world both as a teacher and as an administrator, I am convinced that student discipline is the key to successful learning. Having said this, there is no question in my mind that this discipline begins at home and is the responsibility of the parents. Where the parents value education and socially acceptable behavior there is rarely an education related problem." - Former Educator

"If you want to solve the problem, I believe you must give administrators authority to "take on" intransigent, irresponsible parents and support and advocate for these administrators as they work their way through the court system in addressing the inevitable lawsuits brought by parents who would just a soon have our school system remain status quo. After a few district victories in court, I believe parents will understand the "new order" and adhere to it." - Aiken County Resident

"Today's parents say life is different than it was before and they shouldn't be expected to do things the way their parents and grandparents did. But schools were successful then and they're not now. There IS a connection. Parents ARE the answer. When a well-meaning teacher stands in front of his/her classroom and talks about how important it is for the students to do their homework and to work at learning, today's children don't believe it. After all, their parents have shown them in many, many ways what they value and, to a child, their parents' values are the right ones." - Retired Teacher

"I absolutely applaud your work addressing the real issues with our public education system. The breakdown of family values and especially good order and discipline within our schools is at the very core of this issue. How do we give administrators and teachers at every grade level the power to discipline again? This discussion has been long overdue. I believe if you and supporting elected officials stay focused on this very important issue, then you will see the outrage from taxpayers." - Aiken County Resident

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

___________________________________________________________________

 

April 14, 2018: Where's the Outrage?

 

Where is the outrage about the poor performance of America's public schools? That's a question Condoleezza Rice often asks her audiences. America's former Secretary of State and now a professor at Stanford University, believes the demand for excellent public education should be the civil rights issue of today with every citizen demanding improvements and helping make that happen.

Secretary Rice would likely be even more outraged and distressed by this week's news in South Carolina. Charleston's Post & Courier summed it up with this headline:


"South Carolina schools slip from bad to worse on
'Nation's Report Card' test rankings"

 

The P&C wrote: There are no bright spots in South Carolina's latest scores on the test known as the "Nation's Report Card." Fourth-grade math and reading scores are down. Eighth-grade achievement in both subjects has flat-lined and the state's national rankings, which were low to begin with, have gotten worse. South Carolina fourth-graders placed 47th in the nation on the reading section of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress , down from 39th in 2015 when the test was last given.

The Palmetto Policy Forum wrote: "Southerners know the wisecrack that comes up whenever talking about some less-than-stellar state statistic: 'Thank goodness for Mississippi.' Sadly, South Carolina's education system just lost that excuse."

"When I got the results, I was dumbfounded," said Melanie Barton, executive director of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee.

Barton hopes the new ratings serve as a wake-up call and bring a new sense of urgency to lagging schools. She also hopes lawmakers will consider policies from other states, such as Mississippi's investment in pre-K education and quality literacy coaches, or Florida's rigorous new state education report cards.

 

The National Center for Education Statistics has administered the NAEP every two years in every state since 2003, providing a rare yardstick for comparing states' educational systems. The test takes a sample of fourth and eighth graders each time, and its results are available by state but not by district, school or pupil. SC schools and districts have not received overall ratings from the state since 2014.

Making Excuses & Blaming Others

Results like these are always followed by the blame game; pointing fingers at others is the usually the first response. It's time for every faction to take responsibility for their own contribution to this epic failure.

• The legislature and the State Department of Education need to examine state policies.
• Every local school district is ripe for needed self-examination by first listening to the teachers.
• Districts need to question whether their administrative and curriculum policies are enabling classroom learning or inhibiting it.
• Many parents are also culpable; they send their undisciplined children to school where they are disruptive.
• Teachers confess privately they spend more than half their classroom time disciplining and trying to keep order so learning can take place.

 

And, of course, impulsively, school boards and administrators point fingers at a lack of funding by the state. We only wish that our state's student performance matched the same ranking as money being spent - SC is 33rd in per-pupil spending on education, yet 47th in performance.


Bottom line - in my view, this is a societal problem, not solely a school problem. Where is your outrage? Will you roll up your sleeve and help with the fixes? It won't be easy and it won't be quick, but it needs to start now!


School Takeover


The S.C. Department of Education is taking over 12 schools in Williamsburg County, making it the second district-wide takeover in less than a year. State Superintendent Molly Spearman declared a state of emergency this week citing major fiscal and academic problems. The school board and superintendent were immediately fired. Principals and other district officials could "absolutely" be next, said Spearman, who largely blames the district's failures on bad management. Spearman said she made her decision after meeting with hundreds of residents, who asked for the state's help.


Read-In at the Statehouse


Aiken's Kennedy Middle Schooler's joined almost 2,500 other SC students in the Annual 'Read-In' event at the Statehouse this week. Sponsored by the SC Association of Libraries & the State Library, the students brought their favorite books and read on the Statehouse grounds. After the rally I arranged for the 50 students to visit the House of Representatives where I introduced them and they received a standing ovation.

 


High School Champions


It's a life memory for a high school student to be celebrated as 'State Champion' by the SC House of Representatives. This week, the Aiken Legislative Delegation had the honor of recognizing two State Championship Teams both from Aiken - the 2017 South Aiken HS Boys' Varsity Tennis Team & the 'Lady Thoroughbreds' 2017 Girls Soccer Team. Congratulations to every team member, their coaches and their parents for their dedication in supporting these STATE CHAMPIONS!

 


From the State House to the School House


My 'State House to the School House Tour' took me to J.D. Lever Elementary on Aiken County's NE side Friday morning. I fielded questions from five classes of 3rd graders. Great fun! The study of SC government is part of every 3rd graders curriculum.

 

Solar Reversal


In a rare move, the SC House killed solar energy legislation a week after it won approval with a majority vote. The legislation would have eliminated the current limit on how much capacity solar customers can contribute to the power grid. House Speaker Jay Lucas ruled the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass because the original vote violated the state constitution's requirements that property tax exemptions pass by a two-thirds vote. After hours of debate, the final vote was 61-44, well short of that threshold.


Saluting SC's Fire Fighters


Wednesday was 'Firefighters Legislative Day' at the Statehouse. The annual event brings firefighters from across the state. Rep. Bart Blackwell and I enjoyed visiting with Aiken Public Safety's Lt. Brian Brazier and Sgt. David Griffin & Sgt. David Bunch of North Augusta.

 


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.


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April 7, 2018: Fixing Santee-Cooper and Focusing on Guns & Bullying   

 

In recent months the General Assembly has been highly focused on legislative fixes resulting from the financial fallout from the failure to build the two nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer. Most focus has been on SCANA, the majority partner in the construction project. This week the House turned its attention on Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility that was the minority partner in the costly debacle

 

Santee Cooper Reform Bill

 

The House overwhelmingly passed a Santee Cooper reform bill (H.4376) in order to protect ratepayers and prevent another failure like V.C. Summer from happening again. It is a three-pronged approach:

  • Provide a new governance structure to hold the Santee Cooper Board of Directors accountable.
  • Increase ratepayer protections by creating the Santee Cooper Rate Reduction and Stabilization Fund. The bill requires funds recovered from the Toshiba settlement and any gains made from the sale or salvage of V.C. Summer be explicitly used for rate relief.
  • Create a Joint Evaluation and Recommendation Committee that will determine whether a sale of all or part of Santee Cooper is in the best interest of ratepayers and taxpayers and puts a transparent process in place to vet potential buyers.

The legislation also authorizes the governor to remove at-will all current Santee Cooper board members and shortens their terms from seven years to four years.

 

Reacting to passage of the bill Gov. Henry McMaster lauded the House of Representatives for its leadership in protecting ratepayers. Speaking of Santee-Cooper McMaster said, "The leadership of this rogue agency has demonstrated on numerous occasions that their interest lies in protecting their own jobs rather than protecting their own ratepayers. The only feasible solution to protect ratepayers from shouldering (billions of dollars in) debt is the sale of Santee Cooper."

 

This legislation heads to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future since the Senate has not acted on the other five bills sent to them by the House that address various aspects of the nuclear meltdown.

 

Solar-Friendly Bill Wins Approval

 

The House backed the solar industry over SC's major utilities approving a bill that's intended to save solar jobs and allow more homeowners to put cost-saving sun panels on their roofs. The solar-friendly legislation was hotly debated. Some view the favorable vote as evidence of legislators increasingly distrust of power utilities in the year after a controversial nuclear project's failure. The vote was 64-33 with 25 Republicans joined all but two of the House Democrats voting to support a bill (H.4421) which eliminates caps on residential solar power. The solar industry is expected to reach the cap sometime this year. If the cap is not lifted, some believe SC could lose thousands of jobs as solar companies flee the state. The measure now needs a routine final approval in the House before moving to the Senate for consideration. In the end, some saw the House vote as a resounding message to state power companies that people need choices, such as solar, that can lower their electricity bills.

 

SC Poll: Majority Want Drivers to Put the Phone Down!

 

A new poll released this week shows that two-thirds of SC voters favor 'hands-free' cell phone use to cut down on deadly distracted driving. The Trafalgar Group, a nationally recognized political polling firm based in Atlanta, conducted the poll of 826 SC voters earlier this week. The poll shows 85 percent believe that texting while driving is a major contributing factor to the escalating number of accidents. While 65 percent of those polled favor the 'hands-free' cell phone legislation, only 12 percent oppose it. The DUI-E (Electronics) bill (H.4480) is to be debated by the House next week. Please let your Representative know you want him/her to vote for its passage.

 

   

 

Increased Prison Sentencing For Terrorism

 

The full House passed a bill to increase penalties for acts of terrorism. The legislation (H.3208) was crafted after a failed attack on U.S. troops by a York County teenager three years ago. The teen had pledged himself to ISIS. Due to current law, the teen was sentenced to only three years in juvenile jail and then released on parole after serving just one year of that sentence. The newly-passed bill mandates prison sentences of 10 years or more for individuals who plan an act of terrorism and a minimum of five years in prison for anyone who supports an act of terrorism, including financial assistance. The bill passed by a resounding vote of 111-0 in the House and will now head to the Senate.

 

SC Secession over Guns

 

Legislation was filed this week as a result of the national debate over firearms and gun rights. H.5217 would allow SC lawmakers to debate seceding from the United States "if the federal government confiscates legally purchased firearms in this State. Chief sponsor Rep. Mike Pitts acknowledges the bill has no chance of passage this year but pledged to continue to raise the issue based on what he described as a defense of the Bill of Rights.

 

Creating Effective School Bullying Policies

 

Bullying is closely linked to school shootings. The House took steps to tighten policy on school bullying by approving H.4701. The legislation calls for the following: when bullying is reported to a school, the principal or superintendent designee must investigate the incident, maintain written documentation of the allegations and investigations, and report findings to the district superintendent; parents or guardians of both the bully and the student being bullied must be notified of the incident; the school must provide information regarding actions being taken to protect the aggrieved student, prevent future occurrences, and the findings of the investigation; and the school must develop procedures for remediation that identify the specific nature of the incident and outline a graduated series of consequences for the student who committed the bullying. Alternative discipline measures that may be used to address bullying behavior include parent/guardian meetings, reflective activities, mediation, counseling, anger management, skills building, community service, and in-school detention. The bill heads to the Senate.

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Gov. Henry McMaster got some tutoring on EMS procedures from representatives of Aiken Tech this week at the SC Statehouse. The 16 technical colleges were on display on the Statehouse grounds. Student Richard Roe & Paramedics Program Director Jon Jones explained to the Governor and me how they utilize their equipment in the training of EMT's.

 

 

 

Legislative News in Brief

 

Fishing Alert: New Red Drum Fishing Standards

 

The House took steps to preserve the dwindling population of red drum fish the legislature voted to change the current "bag" limit of three per day to two per day. Also, it makes it illegal to gig for red drum at any time of year. Experts believe these modest changes, among others, will lead to a stabilization of the species. 

 

OK to Liquor Sales Bill

 

The House concurred in Senate amendments to Liquor Sales legislation (H.4729) which follows a SC Supreme Court ruling that found limitations placed on the issuance of retail liquor licenses to be unconstitutional. The legislation specifies that the state's police power includes regulating the number and localities of retail dealer licenses that a person may be issued in order to prevent monopolies and avoid problems associated with indiscriminate price cutting, excessive advertising of alcoholic products and concentration of retail liquor stores in close proximity. The bill was sent to the governor.  

 

New Trespassing Notice

 

If the Senate agrees with a bill passed by the House there will be a new alternative to the posting of 'No Trespassing' signs. H.4403 establishes a procedure that allows trespassing notice to be posted on tracts of land by marking immovable, permanent objects along the boundary lines with purple paint.

 

Cleaning Up Trash

 

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3896 that allows counties to create ordinances to crackdown property owners, whether residential or commercial, to keep their lot or property clean and free of rubbish, debris, and other unhealthy conditions that constitute a public nuisance.  

 

First Steps Reauthorized

 

The House gave final approval to legislation (H.3591) reauthorizing SC's First Steps to School Readiness program after the Senate amended it. It has been sent to the governor. This program for providing enhanced early childhood development, education, and family support services to enable children to reach school ready to achieve academic success.  

 

A Matter of Health for those Adopted

 

The House voted approval of a bill (H.3775) that calls for those who have been adopted to gain greater access to their original birth certificates that have been sealed so they can learn more about the health of their biological families.

 

Expanding Podiatrists Scope of Practice

 

The House approved legislation (H.3622) that expands the scope of practice that expands the cope of practice of Podiatrists to treat not only the foot but also the ankle.  

 

Palliative Care Improvements

 

The House approved legislation (H.4935) to create a study committee to consult with and advise the Division on Aging in an assessment of this state's palliative care initiatives. Palliative care aims at improving the quality of life of patients and their families facing the issues associated with chronic life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment, reduced hospital readmissions and treatment of pain and other conditions associated with chronic illness, including physical, psychosocial, and spiritual.

 

Annualizing Boat Certificates

 

Legislation that calls for annual renewal of watercraft certificates and payment of property taxes on boats was approved by the House. H 4715 eliminates the current three-year renewal period and adjusts the fees accordingly from $30 for three years to $10 each year.

 

Regulating Tanning Salons

 

Legislation to provide DHEC authority to regulate tanning establishments was approved by the House. To protect the public's health and safety, H.4412 calls for DHEC to inspect a source of nonionizing radiation which is used in a commercial establishment for the tanning of human skin.

  

Pictures of the Week

 

Hat’s off to Salley, SC resident Luke Parsons. The 9 year old made his first appearance at Augusta National to kick off Masters Week in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. Luke made a strong showing finishing third in the boy’s 7-9 age group. Luke’s dad, Dr. Tim Parsons, was his caddy. Luke has won two national championships and we have celebrated those achievements with SCDOT signs on Highway 39 in Salley. I have a notion this won’t be Luke’s last appearance at Augusta National.

 

Photos Courtesy of the Aiken Standard

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

March 26, 2018: DUI-E Bill Advances; Opposition Forms

 

The House scurried to wrap up legislative work before taking its annual Easter Week furlough. Here's a summary of Statehouse happenings.

 

TOP STORY: DUI-E Bill Advances; Opposition Forms

 

This past week saw a major step forward in cracking down on dangerous distracted driving in SC when the House Education & Public Works Committee advanced the bill I sponsored (DUI-E - Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device)  H4480

 

The committee's decision was not done lightly; a joint sub-committee held four hearings and heard compelling testimony from citizens whose family members have died because of distracted drivers, as well as from numerous citizen groups, organizations and state agencies that support efforts to curb distracted driving. There was no opposing testimony. The proposed legislation doesn't outlaw talking or texting, but requires a driver use a speakerphone or Bluetooth connection.

 

 

Opposition Prepares to Derail the Bill: The winds of opposition in the General Assembly are already blowing. Amendments have been drafted that would gut the bill and make it ineffective. Will the General Assembly water down and make worthless this sensible legislation like they did with the so-called texting ban of 2014?  Will your Palmetto State continue to hold the dubious distinction of being #1 in the nation in highway fatalities per capita?  This legislation (H.4480) moves us in the direction to change that. 

 

What's the Thinking behind the Opposition? I have often heard legislators, who are pushing for passage of a particular bill they favor, ask rhetorically, "What is one life is worth?" When it comes to distracted driving, it's fair to ask: "What's the worth of not one, but hundreds of South Carolinian's lives every year?"

 

Some legislators argue the 'Hands Free' phone approach is government overreach. That's nonsense. Government institutes numerous driving laws to increase public safety. In my view, public safety is the #1 responsibility of government. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Looking at or writing a text or searching for or entering a phone number forces a driver's eyes off the road. No one has the right the hurl their vehicle down the road blindfolded by their cell phone to potentially kill anyone.

 

IN THE NEWS

SC Distracted Driving Drama

 

The toll of distracted driving in our state is real and we have the ability to potentially curb that by requiring people put down their cell phones, look at the road and drive. Yes, actually look at the road. It's time for South Carolina to join fifteen other states, including Texas, that have approved similar 'hands-free' legislation.   FOX CAROLINA reports on DUI-E

 

What can you do? Call or write your Representative this week and ask them to vote in favor of H.4480.  If you're in House District 86, you're good, you're my Constituent, but be sure to contact your Senator and ask them to vote for the bill when it reaches the Senate.  

 

Deserving Honor

 

South Carolinians Show Pride and Patriotism 

It was a privilege to participate in this weekend's Commissioning Ceremony for the USS Ralph Johnson in Charleston. Described as lethal and the most advanced destroyer on the seas for its size, the ship is named in honor of PFC Ralph Johnson, a Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient who sacrificed his life to save fellow Marines by throwing himself on a hand grenade thus saving their lives. SC's patriotism was on display - a retired Admiral told me he has attended more than 30 commissioning ceremonies and this was the largest he had ever seen. South Carolinians came together in mass to pay tribute to PFC Ralph Johnson and a bid well wishes on the USS Ralph Johnson. 

 

 

Legislative News Briefs

 

River Water Bill Gets House Hearing

At my request, a House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a bill (H.3890) that would tighten the rules governing large water withdrawals from the Edisto and other SC rivers. The bill calls for farms withdrawing 3 million gallons or more a month to get permits, just like industry. Statewide, less than 4 percent of the river water is used for farming. Critics of large farming operations favor tighter regulations on how much water the industrial-scale farms can take and use from SC's rivers. Legislators said they need to study whether to include farms in tougher state regulations restricting water withdrawals. (The State report)


Cracking Down on DUI-A Offenders

A state Senate panel advanced a proposal that would require all SC drivers convicted of a DUI to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle as a condition to get behind the wheel. The machine requires the driver to blow into a breathalyzer before the vehicle can start. The offender would then have to randomly blow in it while the vehicle is on. If the device detects alcohol, it will not allow the car to start. There is no cost to the state. All expenses associated with the device are paid by the offender.

 

Opioid Prevention Measures Passed

The full House passed several bills to help combat the opioid epidemic taking place in communities across SC. The bills were created by the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee. The solutions passed by the full House include increased accessibility to live-saving opioid overdose antidotes, the creation of a prescription monitoring program that will keep track of information relating to opioid prescriptions, a new limit for initial prescriptions of opioid prescriptions to five days for acute pain and 14 days for post-operative pain, and improvements to decrease counterfeit prescriptions being used to obtain opioids illegally. These pieces of legislation were recently funded in next year's state budget passed by the House. The bills head to the Senate for approval.

 

What is an Opioid?  

Painkillers such as; morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal. Opioid drugs sold under brand names include: OxyContin®, Percocet®, Palladone® (taken off the market 7/'05) Vicodin®, Percodan®, Tylox® and Demerol® among others.

 

Medical Marijuana Faces Opposition

A Senate Committee has given approval of a bill allowing the use of medical marijuana in the Palmetto State. The Compassionate Care Act faces an uphill fight in the General Assembly. It is strongly opposed by top state law enforcement. According to a Winthrop Poll 78 percent support legalizing medical marijuana - not recreational marijuana. I'm a cosponsor and strong supporter of the Compassionate Care Act. Medical marijuana is a proven alternative to Opioid addictive drugs.

 

Liquor Store Ownership Plan

After a ruling last year from the state Supreme Court that declaring it unconstitutional for the state to limit ownership of liquor stores to three, the General Assembly has been scrambling to find a new way to prevent large national chains from getting a big imprint threatening the smaller liquor stores across the state. The Senate approved a complex plan which sets limits for small owners and corporate big box stores based on a county's population. The Senate's approach would raise the overall store limit to six per owner. However, that owner could not have more than three stores unless they are in counties with more than 250,000 residents. Only seven counties in South Carolina (Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Richland, Spartanburg and York) would reach that threshold.

 

SC's Sanctuary City Ban

The House Judiciary Committee passed legislation that would effectively ban municipalities in our state from declaring themselves, or acting as, sanctuary cities. Individuals who intentionally falsify compliance documentation may be subject to prosecution and municipalities could lose state-appropriated local government funds for a minimum of three consecutive years. This bill will be voted on by the full House when we return.

 

Stiffer Terrorism Sentencing

A bill to increase penalties for acts of terrorism passed out of a House committee and heads to the House floor for a vote by the full body. The bill calls for 10-year minimum prison sentences for individuals who plot a terrorist attack and minimum five-year sentences for individuals who support or help finance a terrorist attack. This legislation was introduced in response to a foiled attack on U.S. troops by a York County (SC) teenager, Zakaryia Abdin, who had pledged himself to ISIS. Law enforcement was able to stop the attack the evening before it was to take place, but Zakaryia served less than one year in juvenile detention due to his age.

 

A Potential Pay Fix for Needed Government Employees

SC has a lot of job openings for teachers and in law enforcement, but current state law makes it difficult for retirees to come back to work because their pay at state and local government is capped at $10,000 a year. The Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive (TERI) ends June 30, meaning about 6,630 retirement-aged public-sector employees could leave. When TERI ends, workers choosing to stay on the job are not allowed to collect retirement benefits after they earn $10,000 from their jobs. That means people qualified and who are willing to come back to work won't likely fill the jobs for which they are qualified. State agencies worry TERI's end could result in a mass exodus of employees. A Senate panel approved a partial fix this week that would allow teachers, who enrolled in the TERI program before Nov. 1, 2017, to stay on the job without a cap on their pay. The panel also agreed to allow retired law enforcement to come back to work but only as school resource officers. Expect the bill to be amended as it moves forward.

  

Aiken County News

 

City of Aiken #1

The Aiken Legislative Delegation stepped to the front of the SC House of Representatives Tuesday to praise the City of Aiken for being named the South's 'Best Small Town' by Southern Living Magazine. I quoted the magazine's warning to potential Aiken tourists about the city's magnetic quality: "One word of caution: Some of Aiken's visitors have been known to come for a weekend and never leave so you shouldn't pack light."

 

 

Welcome to the House

It was a joy to host Wagener's A. L. Corbett High School Class of 1965 on their Statehouse visit. They have the distinction of being the last group to have attended a one room schoolhouse before the state consolidated into multi-room structures in 1954. Their class had 39 graduates. I proudly introduced them to the House of Representatives and they received a standing ovation.

 

 

Shadow Day

Aiken legislators welcomed to the Statehouse our 'Student Shadows' representing Aiken County high schools. This annual visit allows students to experience a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process.

 

      

Mark Your Calendar - Earth Day Aiken 2018

The City of Aiken's annual Earth Day Festival will be held Saturday, April 21st, on the Newberry St. Festival Center and The Alley from 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The theme of the celebration is "Preserving for Tomorrow What We All Enjoy Today". The goal is to engage the entire community in a festive atmosphere that promotes environmental awareness, energy saving alternatives and personal stewardship. New this year will be an expanded area for fuel efficient vehicles. Earth Day Aiken is a family-focused event, to include children, young adults and others seeking information on a variety of science, technology, nature, horticulture and conservation topics. For more information check the Earth Day Aiken website.

 

Aiken Makes Plans for Memorial Day

The 2018 Memorial Day Parade, is Saturday, May 26, beginning at 11 a.m., downtown Aiken.  Veterans and military service organizations; area businesses; civic, community and youth organizations; schools; churches; and local bands are invited to be part of the parade honoring the sacrifices and service of military members and their families. Participation is free, but participants must register.  Entrants need to register by May 11.  For more information or to register, 

e-mail, aikenmemorialdayparade@gmail.com.  

 

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Running for Re-Election: I Need Your Support  

I am humbled to serve the citizens of House District 86 and ask that you allow me to 

continue my public service. You can help:  Contribute to Bill's Campaign

 

*********************************

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

_________________________________________________________________

 

March 17, 2018: Spending Your Money

The SC House of Representatives focused solely on one issue this week - debating the state's 'General Fund' budget that totals $8.2 billion. Months of committee hearings by budget writers resulted in a couple of hundred votes over several days including one 15 hour day of debate.

How YOUR Tax Money is Spent


The proposed total state budget is nearly $28 billion. Nearly 70-percent of that comes from specific federal government programs and through the state's 'Other Funds' budget from tuition, fees and fines. As proposed, next year's General Fund budget totals $8.2 billion. Let's put that in perspective.

 



The last General Fund budget before the 'Great Recession' totaled $6.7 Billion (FY 2007-2008). General Fund spending was slashed 23% during the recovery and bottomed out at $5.1 Billion (FY 2010-2011) with many critical state services severely hampered.

This budget proposal is $8.2 billion. Factor in only inflation (and not SC's significant population growth) to the pre-recession budget and this year's proposed budget represents a 4% real increase over the past 11 years.

Here's a list of the key funding items in this proposed budget:

Big Ticket Items

• $599 million in direct tax relief for South Carolinians
• $22 million to fully fund SC's 'Rainy Day' Reserve Fund (totals $515 million)
• $56.4 million to cover 100% of increases for state workers' health plan
• $32 million to reduce multi-billion pension liability


K-12 Public Education


• $60 million for teacher salary increase of 2%
• $5 million to increase starting salary for teachers
• $32 million in additional K-12 per-student funding
• $13 million for SC Public Charter School student growth
• $11 million for technical assistance for low-performing schools

 

Higher Education


• $50 million for maintenance needs at colleges around the state
• $11 million for Workforce Scholarships at Technical Colleges
• Full funding for Lottery scholarships

 

Healthcare


• $26 million to maintain Medicaid services at current level
• $11 million in increased funding aimed at addressing Opioid epidemic

 

Aiken County


• USCA's Penland Administration Building is budgeted to receive $3.5 million in state money to replace its antiquated HVAC system that is more than 40 years old. USCA has been requesting funds for four years. The ancient HVAC system is a health hazard to students and staff. To install the new HVAC the roof will have to be removed.


Items NOT Included in the Budget Proposal


• A 2-percent pay increase for all state workers was rejected, despite two attempts to amend the budget to include the needed pay increase (cost: $30 million). About 75-percent of all state workers earn less than $41,000 a year. Half earn less than about $34,000, according to the state Department of Administration. The Legislature hasn't funded cost-of-living raises for all state agencies since 2016. I voted to support the needed pay increase.


• Not in the budget was $5 million to hire at least 75 trained school resource officers for poor, rural schools as called for by Gov. Henry McMaster. Of the state's 1,195 public schools, about half have school resource officers. I voted to support this rescource for your rural schools.


Want to Learn More?
Review budget briefing presentation

What's Next?
The proposed budget passed 116-2 and was sent to the Senate where it will be debated and amended then sent to a Conference Committee to resolve differences. The budget takes effect
July 1.

Aiken County News

Surface Water Hearing
You are invited to attend


In recent years there has been concern over the use of surface waters, particularly water being withdrawn from the Edisto River here in Aiken County. In two legislative sessions I have cosponsored legislation (H.3890) calling for the permitting of agricultural water withdrawals from SC's rivers. I have requested the legislation receive another public hearing. The House Agriculture Subcommittee will hold a public meeting next Wednesday, March 21, at 8:30 a.m. in Room 410 of the Blatt Building at the Statehouse to hear testimony from DHEC, DNR and the public.

Aiken Makes Plans for Memorial Day

Planning is underway for the 2018 Memorial Day Parade, slated for Saturday, May 26, at 11 a.m.,downtown Aiken. The community is encouraged to make plans now to participate in the parade. Veterans and military service organizations; area businesses; civic, community and youth organizations; schools; churches; and local bands are invited to be part of the parade honoring the sacrifices and service of military members and their families. Participation is free, but participants must register. Entrants need to register by May 11. For more information or to register,
e-mail, aikenmemorialdayparade@gmail.com.

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I'm RUNNING - I Need Your Support


Friday, I officially filed to seek re-election. I am humbled to serve the citizens of House District 86 and ask that you allow me to continue my public service. I invite you to read the election announcement: I'M RUNNING!

Contribute to Bill's Campaign

DONATE HERE

 


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE
It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

__________________________________________________________________

March 10, 2018: The #1 Threat to Your Personal Safety

Dear Friends:

Thanks for taking the time to look over my legislative update. There is much to report on legislative activities this week. As always, I will focus on a few bigger issues and provide a digest of highlights on others.

DUI-E Legislation Advances

The House of Representatives took the first whack at SC's deadly epidemic of distracted driving. A House panel unanimously passed my DUI-E (Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device) legislation. The special House panel has met four times and heard compelling testimony on why we need to crackdown on distracted driving caused by cell phone usage.

Consider these facts from AAA:
• Texting while driving has surpassed drunk driving as the #1 perceived threat to personal safety.
• The most common distraction while driving is cell phone use.
• Drivers spend more than half their time focused on things other than driving.
• Distraction contributes to more than 5,000 traffic fatalities each year.

The proposed legislation (H.4480) calls for drivers to be hands free with their cell phones or other electronic equipment that is not built into the vehicle by the manufacturer. Talking and texting would still be allowed, but it would have to be done verbally. DUI-E would be punishable by a $100 fine on first offense and $300 for subsequent offenses. The bill will now go to full committee and with that approval it is onto the House floor for debate and a vote. (The State: Letter to the Editor - Is reading that text really worth taking a life?)

SCANA UPDATE

House says, "We'll Take Your Date, If You Take Our Rate"

Wednesday a bipartisan House coalition led by Speaker Jay Lucus held a press conference in the Statehouse calling for the Senate to take up legislation amended by the House to reduce SCE&G rates and provide immediate relief for hundreds of thousands of customers. Because of the Senate's refusal to debate and adopt House-passed legislation, SCANA continues to collect $1.2 million a day from ratepayers in order to pay for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. As of Friday, March 9, the Senate's unwillingness to act has cost SCANA customers over $45 million since February 1st, the day the House sent our ratepayer protection bill to the Senate for review.



So far, the Senate's only action relating to V.C. Summer has been passing a resolution to grant the Public Service Commission an extension to December to evaluate an acquisition bid by Dominion to purchase SCANA, but that resolution kept in place the current 18% surcharge being charged to SCANA customers for the V.C. Summer failure. In response, nearly every House member has agreed to keep the Senate's date if the Senate will accept the House's plan to eliminate the V.C. Summer rate. If the Senate continues its failure to consider the House's ratepayer protection package, the total surcharge added to the bills of SCANA customers will reach $370 million by December.

Adding Insult to Injury

SCANA recently decided to pay out $87.5 million in dividend payments to shareholders while they complain they are flirting with bankruptcy and ratepayers continue to pay monthly for the failure to construct the two nuclear reactors

Condon Named to Chair Santee Cooper Board of Directors

Governor Henry McMaster named former SC Attorney General Charlie Condon as the next Chairman of Santee Cooper's Board of Directors. Mr. Condon will serve the unexpired term ending in May of this year that was left vacant when former Chairman Leighton Lord resigned in December of 2017.

Budget Week Ahead

Next week the House will consider the final budget proposal created by House budget writers. The current budget proposal includes $60 million for a 2% across-the-board teacher salary increase, $5 million to increase starting annual teacher pay from $30,000 to $32,000, millions of dollars for new public school buses, $600 million in direct tax relief for South Carolinians, nearly four million dollars to increase starting salary for prison officers, and funds to assist South Carolina's agriculture industry.

Combatting the Opioid Epidemic

Nine opioid prevention-related bills passed out of committee this past week and head to the House floor for a vote. Included in these bills is enhancement of the Prescription Monitoring Program, improvements to decrease counterfeit prescriptions being used to obtain opioids illegally, community distribution of opioid overuse antidotes, and a new limit for initial prescriptions of opioid prescriptions to five days for acute pain and 14 days for post-operative pain.

Back in School

My 'State House to the School House Tour' took me the East Aiken School for the Arts Elementary Friday morning. Great kids! Great fun!


Legislative News in Brief


Tick-Tock on Daylight Savings Time
Sunday morning we turn our clocks ahead one hour and greet daylight saving time (DST). Legislation has been filed in both the House and Senate to end that practice in SC. The Senate focused this past week on a Resolution creating a study committee that would look into the impact of SC not taking part in changing clocks twice a year.

Bringing Back the Electric Chair
A bill that would effectively make all executions in SC come by electric chair got key approval in the state Senate. SC has not executed an inmate since 2011, largely because pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying lethal injection drugs. This legislation (S.872) would require any inmate who chooses to die by lethal injection would to instead get the electric chair, if no drugs are available. The Senate approved the bill in a 26-12 vote.

Top Cop Against Arming Teachers
In response to better protecting school students, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel told a state Senate committee that he does not think arming teachers is the answer. Keel instead said he favors assigning more student resource officers (SROs) in schools.

SC Telephone Privacy Protection Act
The House voted approval of a bill to replace current provisions for regulating unsolicited consumer telephone calls with updated and enhanced consumer protection provisions relating to telemarketers. H.4628 establishes provisions governing the conduct of telephone solicitations that include requirements for a telephone solicitor to provide identifying information, contact information, and the option to be added to the telephone solicitor's in-house 'do not call' list.

Beachfront Management
The House approved the Beachfront Management Reform Act that makes revisions to the limitations placed on the development of oceanfront property and other coastal areas. The legislation (H.4683) includes provisions for how DHEC is to evaluate oceanfront areas that incur extraordinary erosion due to the impact of a storm system or of an event named by the National Weather Service.

Meeting Job Needs of SC's Manufacturers
If the legislation passed by the House becomes law the door would open for SC's Technical Colleges to offer an "Applied" Baccalaureate degree in manufacturing. H.4931 calls for the degree to be approved first by the Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education and then the Commission on Higher Education.

Removing Abandoned Boats
The House approved and sent the Senate H.4976 allowing local governments to remove abandoned watercraft if the SC Department of Natural Resources does not exercise its authority to remove watercraft abandoned in the state's public lands and waterways.


Aiken County News

Honoring National Lab Director
CSRA community leaders gathered Friday evening for a gala honoring Terry Michalske and his wife. The event was hosted by USCA. Michalske is retiring after seven years of leading the acclaimed National Laboratory located at the Savannah River Site. Aiken legislators honored him with a House-Senate Concurrent Resolution for his highly successful leadership.



Career Fair at USCA
USCA invites businesses to participate in 2018 Career Fair, Wednesday, March 28th from 1:00-4:00 p.m. in the Student Activities Center Gymnasium. This event provides an opportunity for companies to meet and talk with USC Aiken's students and alumni about their organization and employment needs, including full-time, part-time, internship, and co-op positions. The Career Fair continues to be one of the best ways for a company to maintain a presence on the USC Aiken campus. Contact USCA for more information: 803-641-3440.

Aiken Makes Plans for Memorial Day
Planning is underway for the 2018 Memorial Day Parade, slated for Saturday, May 26, at 11 a.m.,downtown Aiken. The community is encouraged to make plans now to participate in the parade. Veterans and military service organizations; area businesses; civic, community and youth organizations; schools; churches; and local bands are invited to be part of the parade honoring the sacrifices and service of military members and their families. Participation is free, but participants must register. Entrants need to register by May 11. For more information or to register, visit www.aikenmemorialdayparade.com or e-mail, aikenmemorialdayparade@gmail.com.

Disabilities Day at the Statehouse
Wednesday was the annual 'Disabilities Day' at the SC Statehouse. Aiken County Representatives warmly welcomed Ralph Courtney along with staff and clients from Aiken's 'Tri-Development Center'.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Tuesday was Pastors Day at the Statehouse. Pastors from across the Palmetto State were there to pray for us and with us. GOD’s presence has never more been needed in government than it is today. We are blessed by the leadership of the Nehemiah Network at Palmetto Family Council in organizing Pastors Day.

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me. ______________________________________________________________________________________________

March 3, 2018: The Time for Talk is Over!

 

In the aftermath of the Parkland school deaths, experts came together this week in South Carolina to discuss solutions to curbing school violence. These are smart, highly experienced, people from multiple disciplines with varying perspectives.

 

It was strikingly refreshing that the talks were not bogged down by the knee-jerk gun rhetoric flamed by the political Left and Right as well as the hysteria of the ‘Lame-Brain-National-Media-Propaganda-Machine’. Instead, these experts circled around real solutions that will better protect our students.

 

Problem Has Been Studied; Time to Fix It!

 

SC’s top law enforcement officer, SLED Chief Mark Keel, said, “We’ve studied this enough. We have many good recommendations. It’s time we start implementing.” Keel pointed out that the General Assembly studied solutions to school violence in 1999 and 2011 and the State Department of Education did another study in 2016.

 

Additionally, following the 1999 Columbine school shooting the Secret Service studied 37 U.S. school shootings and concluded that schools were placing false hope in physical security, when they should be paying more attention to the pre-attack behaviors of students. Zero-tolerance policies and metal detectors "are unlikely to be helpful," the Secret Service researchers found.

 

Former SLED Chief Robert Stewart agreed with Keel, “We don’t need to talk anymore; we need to do.”

 

Keel and Stewart were two of many who participated in a ‘Summit of Law Enforcement, Educators, and School Crisis Experts to Discuss Best Practices to Keep SC Schools & Children Safe’. The forum was called by Governor Henry McMaster.

 

McMaster told those gathered he wants every K-12 public school in SC patrolled by an armed law enforcement officer — a Resource Officer in every school. Every panelist agreed.

 

 

The Problem is Bigger than Schools

 

Panelists agreed this is not just a school problem; they called for ‘community solutions’. Some addressed the need for schools to partner with faith-based organizations and other groups. There was discussion of the breakdown in family structure, the lack of respect for others and how those discipline and attitude problems are brought to school. One pastor in the audience passionately called for good people to step forward and mentor students and serve as role models.

 

Mental Health is a Major Focus

 

State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman recommended staffing every school with a mental health counselor. It is estimated about half of the public schools in SC have mental health experts on staff. Panelists were strong in their opinion that these professionals are needed to address the growing social and emotional problems students bring to school. High on the list to stem violence is training every teacher on how to recognize red-flag behaviors from students before they turn violent. Spearman said, "So when they see anything suspicious, they will know what to do, how to report it, and who to go to.”

 

Whatever it Costs

 

Gov. McMaster included $5 million in his budget proposal in January to put 75 school resource officers in the state's poorest schools, saying at the time his goal was to eventually put a certified officer in every school. There are more than 1,200 schools statewide.  Asked about the additional costs of having a Resource Officer in every school, McMaster responded, "Then we'll ask for more."

 

I agree. It’s time to move swiftly with practical solutions. SC ranks 24th in the nation in school funding per pupil. There is enough money to secure our schools and increase the number of mental health, so let’s re-prioritize and drop the political hysterics of “We don’t have enough money!” Unquestionably, public safety is the #1 priority of government and keeping kids safe is paramount.

 

There is No One Solution

 

Earlier in the week the House Education Committee on which I serve heard from a spokesman for SC’s School Resource Officers. Kevin Wren called for full funding to have a School Resource Officer in every school saying, “SRO’s are a proven and effective way to help increase school safety and climate, forge connections and relationships with students, and help deter a pathway to violence and crime. Among his many recommendations he also called for mandating school safety and crisis management for all teachers and administrators. His testimony was both thoughtful and deep as he drilled down on practical solutions. I invite you to view the hearing at this link: House Education Committee.

 

Bottom line from this week: As I have previously stated, it is clear that one solution is not the end all; all potential solutions should be considered. For certain, we all need to work together to find those practical and meaningful solutions to protect students at school.

 

 

Legislative News

 

Real ID is Rolled Out in SC

For those planning to board a commercial airplane after 2020 or enter a federal building or military installation, your REAL ID is now available. Wednesday, Governor McMaster and SCDMV Executive Director Kevin Shwedo kicked off the Real ID program at the Statehouse. The gold star on your new driver’s licenses or state identification card will make you compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. The Real ID can be purchased at all SCDMV branches statewide for $25. More than 1.2 million South Carolinians have already submitted the needed information to DMV and they can obtain their REAL ID online.  To be eligible to purchase a REAL ID, the SCDMV must have on file all of the following:

 

  • Proof of Identity (Government-issued birth certificate or valid US Passport)
  • Proof of Social Security Number
  • Two Proofs of Current, Physical SC Address
  • Proof of All Legal Name Changes

 

Remember, you do not have to rush to the SCDMV to change your card. Unless your driver’s license or I.D. is expiring there’s almost no reason to wait in line to change your card right now. You have until September 30, 2020. To read FAQ’s for REAL ID and view real-time wait times for all of the state’s locations at www.scdmvonline.com.

 

House Votes to Require Vision Screening for All Driver’s Licenses

Drivers renewing their South Carolina licenses may need to pass a vision test once again, under legislation passed by the House this week. New drivers still have to pass the screenings, but the House voted to once again reinstate the rule for drivers renewing their license.

 

Proposal Chops SC Income Tax to Super Low Rate!

The special House Tax Committee on which I serve voted unanimously to file legislation next week to replace the SC’s multiple income tax rates with a single, flat 4.85% tax rate. Currently, SC’s income tax rates ranges from 3% to 7%. The committee's goal is to accomplish major reform while conforming SC’s income tax collections to the new federal tax code. Our neighboring states are moving forward on similar paths. The Georgia House passed its sweeping tax cuts that reduces their state income tax rate from 6 to 5.5 percent by 2020. This proposed plan would make SC far more tax competitive than its neighbors.

 

Flexible Teaching to Meet Student’s Needs

The House took a major step toward giving SC’s public schools the flexibility needed to truly meet students where they are and ensure mastery of key concepts and skills. It’s called ‘Competency Based Education’. I served on a special education committee that studied the approach and visited schools to view CBE in action. The bill (H.4596) creates a pilot program for competency-based education in which students benefit from greater flexibility in time, pace and delivery, advancing to higher levels of learning by demonstrating mastery of core knowledge and skills instead of merely moving from one subject to the next whether they are ready or not.  This approach provides the foundation for personalized learning where each student's educational experience can then be tailored to meet their unique strengths, interests and needs. After receiving unanimous approval from the House, the bill was sent to the Senate for consideration.

 

House Rejects Senate Nuke Legislation

The House took up a Senate resolution relating to the proposal by Dominion Energy to purchase SCANA. In the resolution, the Senate extended the amount of time the Public Service Commission has to review the Dominion-SCANA acquisition bid. However, the Senate did not address the most glaring issue ratepayers are facing every month – the 18% nuclear surcharge SCANA is forcing its customers to pay for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear energy project. Ratepayers are now paying $37 million a month for a nuclear plant that was never built. The House believes this is unacceptable and therefore altered the Senate resolution by completely eliminating the nuclear surcharge SCANA is charging its customers until the PSC can make a decision on the merger. The altered resolution has been sent back to the Senate for approval. 

 

Nixing Costly Environmental Stall Tactics

The House voted overwhelmingly (86-30) to shorten the amount of time radical environmental groups can hold up construction of important state infrastructure projects and business development projects in court. Under current law, environmental groups have a history demanding taxpayers and private businesses give so-called “land trusts” millions of dollars before dropping the court cases that hold up construction. An environmental group recently forced taxpayers of the state of South Carolina to pay several million dollars to their aligned groups in order to end the delays to bring Boeing to SC and deepen the Port of Charleston. Without these forced payments, an environmental group could have thwarted the recruitment of Boeing and the deepening on the Port of Charleston. The new law passed by the House and Senate will limit a “stay” to 90 days. Governor McMaster has announced he will sign this important reform bill.

 

Poultry Legislation Passes

The House gave final approval to legislation (H.3929) that will provide more certainty and fairness in the DHEC permitting process for the development of new poultry farms. The bill helps our growers in determining where to place new houses and gives DHEC an objective standard for which to determine the permit application. It also ensures that individuals who are truly affected by a proposed permit have a say in the DHEC process. The bill was sent to the governor for his approval. (Factoid: Over 800 family farms have an $11 billion economic impact through the poultry industry in SC.)

 

 

Aiken County News

 

Aerial Spraying Town Hall

 

Dozens of Aiken County residents took advantage of the opportunity to learn from experts about pesticides and aerial spraying this week. Clemson pesticide regulators held a Town Hall meeting at Oakwood-Windsor School at my request. Many residents have concerns over the ‘crop dusting’ by the large farms in the Windsor area. (WRDW-TV story) (Aiken Standard story)

 

Skipper Perry Bridges

 

Former State Representative “Skipper” Perry must have been smiling down from his Segway as a huge crowd of Aikenites turned out for the ‘Blessing of the Bridges’ named in his honor. We’re told the two York Street bridges are the first wooden bridges built by SCDOT in a hundred years (they are actually steel and wood). That was essential in keeping the re-constructed bridges in the character of historic downtown Aiken. Later, the Aiken Delegation honored Perry with House and Senate Resolutions at Aiken’s ‘State of the City’ event. The Late Rep. Perry would have loved the celebration!

 

 

And Finally, my Pictures of the Week

 

My 'State House to the School House Tour' took me to Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary School where I answered questions about state government from awesome third graders. Great fun!

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me. _________________________________________________________________________________________

February 25, 2018: Slashing SC's Taxes

 

This week's legislative update is 'Super Charged' - big news with so much to report I'm going to try to reduce my writing to summaries where possible. There are many links available if you would like more detailed information. Here goes...

Proposal Chops State Income Tax to Super Low Rate!

"Reformity" is a strange, made-up word - a combination of "conform" and "reform". Unless the SC's income tax laws are 'conformed' to reflect the changes in the new federal tax law, South Carolinians could pay $180 million more in state income taxes in 2019. The proposed 'reform' would bring a flatter and fairer tax rate that would attract new manufacturers, businesses and residents to SC.

The special House Tax Committee on which I serve unveiled its plan to replace the state's multiple income tax rates with a single, flat 4.85 percent tax rate. Currently, the income tax rates ranges from 3 percent to 7 percent and reaching the top rate comes quickly. The committee's goal is to accomplish major reform while conforming to the new federal tax code. Our neighboring states are moving forward on similar paths. The Georgia House passed its sweeping tax cuts that cuts their state income tax rate from 6 to 5.5 percent by 2020. SC's proposed plan would make SC far more tax competitive than its neighbors.

Proposal Cuts SC Sales Tax in HALF!

The Special House Tax Committee also unveiled reform legislation it is mulling over that would cut the states sales tax rate in half from 6% to 3%. To accomplish that all the 80 plus sales tax exemptions would be eliminated. Those exemptions for special interests have been piling up for 80 years resulting in the state exempting more in sales tax than it actually collects. It is not fair for government to pick winners and losers. Nearly every sensible tax expert believes the best policy results in a tax code that is broader, fairer and flatter.

The new proposal won't go anywhere this legislative session; it's intended to be a conversation starter. It will be reintroduced next year where the House Ways & Means Committee will, hopefully, dedicate itself to thorough debate. It's fully expected there will be push-back from every special interest group. After all, each will be unhappy if their favorite sales tax exemption is eliminated. The proposal calls for the sales tax to be levied on all services, most of which are not taxed now. Among the proposed exemptions to be eliminated are those for agriculture, groceries and utilities. It is easy to loose site that while we would be paying tax on items that are now exempted, the state sales tax rate would be HALF - a flat 3% - broader, fairer and flatter.

Budget Highlights Revealed

House budget writers have finalized their proposed state budget for next Year. They have chosen to prioritize education funding, retirement benefits, tax relief, and opioid abuse prevention. Specific budget additions include a 2% teacher pay increase, $32 million increase in education funding, $50 million for higher education capital project needs, a 1% pension contribution increase for state employees, $600 million in tax relief, and $11 million for opioid abuse prevention measures. These budget priorities will be voted on by the full House during the week of March 12.

Good News for USCA!

USCA's Penland Administration Building has received initial budget approval to receive $3.5 million in state money to replace its antiquated HVAC system that is more than 40 years old. Now that it has been included in next year's State budget it has an excellent chance of winning approval from the House & Senate. USCA has been requesting funds for four years. The ancient HVAC system is a health hazard to students and staff. To install the new HVAC the roof will have to be removed. Hooray to USCA & Chancellor Sandra Jordan for perseverance.

Ethics Reform Does Not Start & Stop at the Statehouse

I filed legislation this week that would extend SC's ethics laws to every city hall, county council and school district across the state. These government bodies, which are closest to the people, conduct business with the least required transparency. This legislation (H.5005) requires that individuals or entities paid or paying to lobby elected officials or employees of a political subdivision of the state to register with the State Ethics Commission. Currently citizens have no way of knowing who is being paid to lobby to raise their school millage rates, change zoning laws or obtaining easements across their backyard. Local lobbyists operate without any public disclosure. Anybody who is paid to lobby county councils, city councils, school boards or anything else should be required to register as a lobbyist - just like at the Statehouse.

More legislative News in a Moment........

In the midst of all this legislative news, allow me to inject a "Good News" local celebration. The Annual Battle of Aiken is in full swing this weekend with cannons roaring. I helped open the battle Friday with a ceremony recognizing the generosity of 'General' J.W. Osteen who donated his log cabin and replica schoolhouse which has been moved to the site of the reenactment. It was my honor to present, J.W. with a Resolution from the SC House of Representatives recognizing his lifelong efforts to preserve SC history.



Legislative Fallout from School Shooting

It took less than a week for some SC legislators to file bills in response to the Florida school shooting that took 17 lives. Here's a round-up:

 

• A freshman Democrat representative is proposing legislation that would ban the sale of "assault weapons" in SC. Rep. Wendy Brawley (D-Hopkins) said her proposal would make schools safer. Her legislation (H.4975) would also ban high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.


• A group of Republican Representatives is proposing the creation of 'School Protection Officers'. These individuals would receive specialized training from the SC Criminal Justice Academy. This legislation (H.4972) would allow teachers and school employees to carry concealed weapons following the specialized training and school district authorization.


• A group of bipartisan legislators is calling for 'Active Shooter Drills' to be conducted at least once a month in every school. The bill (H.4966) calls for the drills would be separate from fire drills.


School Metal Detectors

The House approved and sent the Senate a joint Resolution (H.4810) creating a temporary School Metal Detector Study Committee to examine whether it is in the public interest to require the installation and use of metal detectors at all public schools. The committee would consider the costs, benefits and feasibility of school metal detectors.

Developments in Nuke Financial Meltdown

Fallout from the failure to construct the two nuclear reactors at V.C. Summers continued this week. In brief...

• The House received a Senate resolution that extends the period of time the SC Public Service Commission has to review a proposal by Dominion Energy to purchase SCANA Corporation. While an extension of time to review an acquisition bid may be merited, the House believes the main priority of the legislature should be addressing the existing 18% nuclear surcharge SCANA forces its customers to pay every month for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. The House has taken the position that the nuclear surcharge should be reduced to zero while the acquisition bid is being reviewed. Concerns about existing language of the Senate resolution will be addressed next week by the House Judiciary Committee.


• SC's electric co-ops announced that they will sue Santee Cooper in an effort to keep the state-owned utility from charging co-op customers more for the failed nuclear construction project. The co-ops have 1.5 million customers and they are on the hook to pay about $2.8 billion of Santee Cooper's $4 billion nuclear debt.


• Santee Cooper will soon begin working to preserve expensive equipment and parts at the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear construction site in Fairfield County. They plan to spend about $16 million per year to make sure the unfinished twin nuclear reactors and their components - worth billions of dollars - don't go to ruin.


• SCANA reported this week that the nuclear failure last year has been costly to the company. SCANA reported a loss of $119 million in 2017 compared to earnings of $559 million in 2016.


• The SC Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is investigating thousands of apparently-fake emails sent to legislators that called on them not to undermine a proposed merger between the utilities SCANA and Dominion Energy. The email surge came as the House moved to block Dominion from continuing to use customers' power bills to pay back debt on a failed nuclear project should its SCANA purchase be approved.

Article V COS Derailed by House Committee - AGAIN

To say the legislative process can be daunting and frustrating is an understatement. This week's hearing to consider the Article V Convention of States Resolution (H.3233) ended with no vote because time ran out. This has happened repeatedly over the past five years since I first filed the legislation (Dec. 2013). Mark Meckler, the leader of the National Convention of States Action, testified to a standing room only hearing of a House Judiciary Sub-Committee. He debunked all the myths about an Article V COS put forth by those who wring their hands, worry and do nothing but obstruct progress. In my remarks, I reaffirmed to the committee this process is the only legal and lawful method to limit the federal governments overreach. A recent poll of SC voters shows 66% favor a Convention of States. Twelve other states have approved this Bipartisan Resolution and many more are proceeding, but in our SC, a few legislators continue to block its path forward.


Refining DUI-E Legislation

The joint House committee considering my legislation to curb distracted driving held its third hearing this past week working to refine the legislation. There were several technical refinements suggested to improve the bill (H.4480). I encouraged the committee to have a 120 day education period after the bill is signed into law and then another three months where only warning tickets are issued. Given the epidemic of phone usage by distracted drivers, time is needed to prepare citizens for full enforcement.


More Super-Charged Action - Legislative News Briefs

 

Opioid Abuse Prevention
The House passed legislation (H.3820) requiring instruction in grades 9-12 on prescription opioid abuse prevention with an emphasis on the prescription drug epidemic. The bill passed 107-1, and will now be taken up by the Senate.

Controlling Opioid Dosage
The House sent the Senate a bill (H.4492) that provides new dosage limitations on prescriptions for scheduled II controlled substances, including opioid painkillers.

Opioid Screening for Minors
The House approved legislation (H.3819) that requires anyone under 18 years of age to satisfy a set of requirements (including, assessing whether the minor has suffered from a mental health or substance abuse disorder) before the first prescription for an opioid analgesic may be issued.

Cannabis-Derived Oil Treatment for Inmates
SC House budget writers are proposing to launch a prison pilot project that would treat some inmates with an oil derived from the same plant as marijuana. The proposal is to offer cannabidiol (CBD) oil as a form of experimental therapeutic treatment for volunteer inmates. The hope is that CBD oil would be less expensive than drugs currently used.

Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect
Under legislation (H.4705) passed by the House, the category of those who are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect would be expanded to add firefighters, camp counselors, scout leaders, school or college administrators, coaches, and clerical or non-clerical religious counselors who are licensed counselors or holds themselves out as counselors or regularly counsel others.

Human Trafficking
Legislation (H. 3329) revised the criminal definitions for human trafficking and provides more stringent penalties that apply when a victim is under the age of eighteen. This bill passed the House and is now in the Senate.

Screening Students for Dyslexia
Screening for Dyslexia would become mandatory in SC's public schools in a bill (H.4434) passed by the House. The bill calls for developing a universal screening process to screen for identifying students who may be at risk for problems in reading, math, writing, and social-emotional development.

Abortion Challenge
A bill which would effectively ban abortions in SC advanced to the Senate floor. It's going to likely be filibustered by opponents. Proponents say the goal is to have the potential law's constitutionality challenged and brought to the U.S. Supreme Court for an updated ruling since its landmark Roe v. Wade decision essentially legalized abortion in 1973.

Dismemberment Abortion Ban Moves Forward
A Senate medical panel has advanced legislation that would ban a type of abortion that opponents criticize as exceptionally cruel. 'Dismemberment abortion' requires a physician use forceps to break apart a live fetus in order to remove it from the womb. Instead, they prefer providers find another method to stop the unborn infant's heart first. The House passed this legislation last year.

Military Priority Registration
The House approved a bill (H.4078) that makes provisions for the state's colleges and universities to give enrollment priority to military-related students, including active-duty members of the uniformed services, reservists, members of the South Carolina National Guard, and honorably discharged veterans. This is essential because they can't afford to miss signing up for required classes because of the time limitation on their GI Bill.

DMV Eye Exams
As part of the Real ID legislation the requirement for eye testing to get a driver's license was removed. The House approved a bill (H.4672) that reinstates vision screening requirements in order to renew a driver's license a driver can either pass a vision test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles or provide a certificate of vision examination form executed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. If passed by the Senate it would take effect after October 1, 2019.

SCDOT Commissioner Change
The SCDOT Commissioner for the 2nd Congressional District, John Hardee, will not be reappointed to his position. Aiken County is in his District. Gov. Henry McMaster did not re-nominate Hardee, son-in-law of Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman. Hardee's four-year commission term expired last week. Instead, McMaster recommended former Lexington lawmaker John Burris, the president and owner of a real-estate and construction firm. On a personal note, I have appreciated Commissioner Hardee's attention to road issues in Aiken County; he has been very responsive.

Hospitality & Tourism - Big Biz for SC

Tourism is a $21.2 billion industry according to a latest report from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. The latest figures show for the calendar year 2016 are up 4.7% from 2015.
According to the report, the tourism industry supports one in every 10 jobs in the state and generates $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. The analysis of data for 2017 is not complete, but there are indications of even greater growth for last year.

Aiken County News

REMINDER - Aerial Spraying Town Hall Tuesday
Agriculture aerial spraying has become a hot topic in Aiken County in recent years. I have requested the state's pesticide regulators to conduct a Town Hall to educate citizens on pesticide regulations. The Clemson University Department of Pesticide Regulation has scheduled the session for this Tuesday, February 27th, 6-7:30 p.m., at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School. While all questions will be answered, you are encouraged to email questions in advance to: dprhelp@clemson.edu.

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.
_________________________________________________________________

February 17, 2018: Getting Real about School Violence

 

Americans grieve for the tragic loss of life from the recent Florida school shooting. Precious young lives ended in a senseless massacre perpetrated by a troubled youth. Our prayers go to the families who lost loved ones in their most difficult hour.

 

This terrible event calls for soul-searching by each of us. Foremost, let's acknowledge that evil exists and always has. No measures taken by man can completely protect us in our open and free society we so cherish. It's clear there were signs of the shooters intention on social media and elsewhere. While most of us are reluctant to meddle, for the safety of all we need to heed the advice of law enforcement: "If you see something, say something."

 

What Can Be Done?

 

Unquestionably, public safety is the #1 priority of government. Regrettably, both nationally and in South Caroline, as the Florida school tragedy was still unfolding, some politicians and media-types reflexively resumed their clarion call for gun control. While gun control is their top priority they ignore the other very real culprits. 

 

The malady shared by nearly every shooter is mental illness. How willing are we to pay to modernize our mental health system to identify and help those people who pose the greatest threat to others?

 

Following the Florida shooting, a 'Teacher of the Year' at a Florida middle school bravely posted on social media calling on parents to "step up" when it comes to their kids' behavior. The middle school teacher said over her almost two decades as an educator she has seen an increase in violence and a lack of compassion by students. In my view, she targeted real societal ailments when she wrote: 

 

"Until we, as a country, are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available mental health care, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support when schools are trying to control horrible behavior at school, lack of moral values, and yes, I'll say it - violent video games that take away any sensitivity and compassion for others' lives, as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream up in each other's' faces and not value any other person but themselves, we will have a gun problem in school."

 

Legislatively, the solutions to keep students safe are complex and expensive and no single response insures complete safety. In South Carolina, there are currently bills pending in the legislature to address several issues. One calls for armed Resource Law Enforcement Officers in every school. Another would require metal detectors in every school. Still others address student bullying.

 

There are a host of practical solutions that could be put in place by local school boards that don’t need legislative or Congressional approval. Among those are more intensive training for teachers and administrators to respond appropriately to active shooters. Some suggest changing requirement for schools to better focus on skipping fire drills because daytime school fires rarely occur. The fire drill time and effort might better be applied to practicing active shooter drills. Sure, that's scary and some school leaders and parents would prefer to avoid the issue, but it's evident that is a better response to today's dangers. 

 

Others have suggested arming and training volunteer teachers to carry concealed weapons and serve as the first line of defense before police arrive. (That's similar to assigning Federal Air Marshals to random commercial flights in 1970 to eliminate the then-epidemic of airline hijackings.) Still others suggest our retired military be trained to serve in schools that don't have Resource Officers.

 

It is clear that one solution is not the end all; all potential solutions should be considered. For certain, we all need to work together to find practical and meaningful solutions to protect students at school.

 

Legislative Headlines

 

Improving Utility Oversight

 

The House passed legislation (H.4377) to reform the Public Service Commission (PSC) by a vote of 108-1. The legislation (1) strengthens ethical standards to limit outside utility influence (2) requires stricter questioning of parties by commissioners before making a decision (3) provides ability to inspect utility construction sites and (4) staggers the election terms for current commissioners. 

 

The PSC is the agency authorized by the legislature to regulate utility companies and set power rates. Indeed, the PSC is also the entity responsible for approving nine SCE&G rate increase adjustments used to fund the VC Summer project. The reforms adopted by the House this week give the PSC a more defined role with the goal of preventing another massive debacle in the future.

 

Dominion Wants Ratepayers to Continue Paying Higher Rates

 

Dominion Energy says its deal to purchase SCANA is contingent on it being able to continue charge those customers’ higher rates to cover stockholders who invested in the ill-fated V.C. Summer nuclear reactors. Dominion’s CEO Thomas Farrell’s explanation to a Senate panel was not well received when he admitted Dominion stockholders would receive some earnings as part of the deal, but said he did not know how much specifically over the 20 years the company wants to continue the higher rates. Dominion is pledging to give SCANA customers a $1,000 rebate. One Senator said that like giving folks some money up front so that they then are on the hook for 20 years.

 

School Choice Moves Closer to Becoming Permanent Law in SC

 

The House also gave initial approval to legislation granting permanent status to Exceptional SC, a program that allows students with exceptional needs to receive an education that meets their needs. If approved by the Senate, the bill (H.4077) makes permanent what SC has been doing by annual budget proviso the past few years. This new step gives certainty to the program so parents, students, and donors know it’s going to be there next year and the year after without fail. Currently, the program exists as a tax credit capped at $11 million annually. Throughout this process, we learned of additional donors above the $11 million level who have expressed interest in participating in the program. The next step is to increase the $11 million tax credit, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to accomplish this in the future.

 

Conservation Bank Wins House Approval

 

The State Conservation Bank, which helps secure financing for land to be bought or preserved for conservation, will cease to exist June 30th unless its authorization is renewed. The House took a major step forward this week by approving the reauthorization and sending the legislation to the Senate. It has not been smooth sailing for the Conservation Bank. Last year an audit found a majority of the bank’s money was used to preserve land not open to the public. The bill (H. 4727) passed by the House revamps the agency by making it permanent, like other state agencies, in exchange for less funding each year. The Conservation Bank has protected more than 300,000 acres since its creation 14 years ago.

 

Guaranteeing Free Speech on Campus

 

The House Higher Education Sub-Committee I chair took on the hot topic of guaranteeing free speech on the campuses of our SC public universities and colleges. I encouraged robust debate and we heard from national experts that testified that we must not allow students and faculty to be denied their Constitutional right to free speech for the fear someone will be offended or they will hurt someone’s feelings. We will hear more testimony next week. Both the Post & Courier and The State reported on the hearing.

 

DUI-E

 

With two public hearings under their belt, a House joint sub-committee will again take testimony next week on the distracted driving legislation aptly named DUI-E (Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device). I filed this bill because distracted driving is at epidemic levels. Every expert testifying has cited the deadly statistics and citizens have come forward to tell how a distracted driver took the life of a loved family member.  (To learn more view WRDW News 12’s Special Report)

 

Doubling the penalty for Killing Police Animals

 

Next week the House will take up a bill that would double the penalties on anyone who tortures or intentionally kills police animals. A Committee advanced the legislation that would increase the maximum prison sentence from 5 years to 10 years and double the fine to $10,000. The proposal is named “Hyco’s Law” after an Anderson County K-9 that was shot and killed while chasing a suspect.

 

Governor McMaster Visits Aiken

 

Governor Henry McMaster made two stops in Aiken this past Monday. I joined him on his tour of ASCO Valves. Economic development is at the top of the Governor’s ‘To Do’ list so it is instructive to tour the ASCO plant to see firsthand how the valves that drive the world are made. ASCO is expanding their facility in two phases and adding highly trained employees. Following the ASCO tour Gov. McMaster spoke to the Rotary Club of Aiken where I had the pleasure of introducing him. During his address he answered questions about the nuclear financial meltdown where he said there may be a better deal than Dominion to buy SCANA.

 

 

Looking Ahead

 

SC Tax Reform Needed Urgently

 

President Trump’s sweeping federal tax reform will benefit many South Carolinians, but unless the state conforms the way it handles the state income tax many could be paying more to the state. At issue is whether SC will conform to match the provisions of the new federal tax law. Conformity sounds like a no-brainer, but there are repercussions to doing so (as reported by state financial analysists).

 

While state officials sort out strategy, tax expert Dr. Rebecca Gunnlaugsson, one of SC’s foremost independent economist and advisor to the Palmetto Promise Institute, offered her analysis on how state lawmakers can take advantage of some federal changes, hold citizens harmless from others, and move South Carolina closer to fundamental tax reform that makes our code competitive, sustainable and fair by making rates lower and broader.

_________________________________________________________________

 

February 11, 2018: Dying to Talk & Text

 

South Carolina leads the nation in highway fatalities based on population. We are labeled as having the 3rd worst drivers and we're #10 for distracted driving. Topping this week's legislative report is news of more support for cracking down on distracted driving.

DUI-E Legislation Gets Expert Support

The need for an enhanced distracted driving law was made clear during testimony before a House Committee this past week. A spokesman for the SC Department of Public Safety said it currently takes a confession on the part of a motorist to write them a ticket for texting while driving. That was further illustrated by the fact that State Troopers wrote only 877 texting tickets last year while they wrote 116,000 for seat belt violations because if they see you don't "Click It" they "Ticket It" (and consider that seat belt compliance in SC is around 90%). My proposed DUI-E bill (H.4480) uses the same principle - no hands on the cell phone; if you are seen with a phone in your hand while driving you would be subject to ticketing.

 

Testimony also came from SC's Insurance Director Ray Farmer who mostly blamed distracted driving accidents for average vehicle insurance rate hikes of 9 percent in 2016 and 9.5 percent in 2017. Farmer said, "We're addicted to our phones; it's like driving blind." Rick Todd, President of the SC Trucking Association, testified that safety is the paramount concern of professional truckers and his association fully supports the DUI-E legislation. DMV Director Kevin Shwedo said his agency is also 100% behind the distracted driving legislation. SC's largest motorcyclist group, ABATE, was represented by Bill Fuller who testified that a motorcyclists worst fear is distracted drivers. ( Link to Video of the Committee Hearing)

WSPA-TV in Spartanburg produced a compelling story of a wife who lost her husband to a distracted driver. (View News Story)

Motorcyclists Know What It's Like
Thank you, ABATE! This large SC statewide, motorcycle group distributed their magazine to legislators this past week featuring their enthusiastic support for my DUI-E (Driver Under The Influence of Electronics) legislation. This edition features an article I wrote entitled 'A Motorcyclists Worst Fear - Distracted Drivers!

Nuke Update
The bipartisan House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee met again this past week to further discuss the future of electric cooperative ratepayers who rely on Santee Cooper for their electricity. The Committee's main concern, and my main concern, continues to be the protection of all ratepayers. The fact-finding meeting lasted several hours as representatives from the electric cooperative industry discussed their current status and future trajectory. As with SCE&G ratepayers, Santee Cooper also passed on VC Summer costs to electric cooperative ratepayers. While each power bill might vary depending on the service region, electric cooperative ratepayers, as a whole, pay about 5% off their total electricity costs in VC Summer fees. The House has approved a bill that would prevent SCE&G from charging customers for the unfinished nuclear reactors if it merges with Dominion Energy.

Combating Scammer & Spoofers
The House Labor Commerce and Industry Committee finalized plans to vote next week on a bill tocombat telephone scammers and spoofers. For those not familiar, using local phone numbers to disguise the true geographic location of the caller is a technique called spoofing. These scammers target the elderly and in some cases even use social media to mine information then used to confuse unsuspecting victims. The new bill set to be voted on next week would set regulatory penalties and allow state enforcement authorities to investigate and fine people who break the anti-spoofing law.

Animal Protection
The Senate unanimously passed legislation (S.841) that includes basic restrictions on dog tethering and minimum standards of care in animal shelters. It also requires convicted animal abusers to pay for the cost of caring for their animals while their cases are prosecuted, which can cost county shelters and non-profit agencies many thousands of dollars a year. The bill was sent to the House for consideration. I am eager to see this legislation become law!

Protecting Industry from Nuisance Suits
The House agreed with the Senate and gave final approval to legislation (H.3653) that shields industries from facing 'nuisance lawsuits' from new neighbors who moved to their property after the industrial site was built then complain about smell or noise from their operation. The industrial facility would have to be in compliance with its state permits from being sued by neighboring landowners. Most legislators believe that if an industry is already playing by the rules, then it should not be sued by someone who does not like what they are doing. It is hoped the law can improve the state's appeal to new companies. It has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

Nixing Local Bag Bans
Some SC counties and cities have taken steps to ban plastic bags or Styrofoam containers. But for many legislators the issue is much larger. They contend the state has the sole legal authority to regulate commerce. In floor debate supporters of the legislation argued the law is clear - local governments do not have the authority to regulate commerce. Local bans would lead to a crazy quilt of regulations that would be detrimental to business and manufacturers. Others argued local governments should be able to settle the issue without state interference. The bill (H.3529) nixing local bans passed the House 73-41 and was sent to the Senate.

The "State of SCDOT"
SC's Secretary of Transportation, Christy Hall, presented her "State of SCDOT" report for 2018 saying SCDOT is currently at its highest level of construction of the past decade while more and more projects are being planned and designed. The new revenue generated by the passage of the Roads Bill last year amounts to about $150 million in 2018. Currently, SCDOT has approximately $3 billion in road and bridge work on the streets. This figure represents three times the level work the agency was able to provide just a few short years ago. The plan is to double the paving program by incrementally increasing it each year to match the phasing in of the gas tax increase. Each county will see a dramatic increase in these projects over the next 10 years. Secretary Hall's presentation of the 2018 State of SCDOT can be found here: SCDOT Presentation.

Gas Tax Credit - KEEP RECORDS AND SAVE
Are you saving your receipts to offset the hike in the state's gas tax? The new SC income tax credit went into effect January 1st. Want to know more? The SC Department of Revenue provides an overview and a link to FAQ's at this link: Claiming New Motor Fuel Income Tax Credit.

Aiken County News

Aerial Spraying Town Hall
Agriculture aerial spraying has become a hot topic in Aiken County in recent years. So much so I have requested the state's pesticide regulators to conduct a Town Hall to educate citizens on pesticide regulations. The Clemson University Department of Pesticide Regulation has scheduled the session for Tuesday, February 27th, 6-7:30 p.m., at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School. While all questions will be answered, you are encouraged to email questions in advance to: dprhelp@clemson.edu. (Reference 'Aiken Pesticide Meeting'.)

 

Aiken County Ground Water Town Hall
A large crowd of interested citizens heard about water usage in Aiken County Thursday evening. During their public hearing, DHEC officials explained why this seven county area is being considered for designation as a Capacity Use Area. That designation would allow DHEC to monitor and regulate ground water usage in light of a modest decline in the aquifers in the past couple of decades. They emphasized there is no water crisis, however, the Capacity Use designation would assist in helping aquifers in this area rebound as they have in other parts of SC.

 

Legislators Promote SRS Pit Production
The Aiken County Legislative Delegation joined together this past week to support relocating plutonium pit production to the Savannah River Site. The Delegation sent a letter was to National Nuclear Security Administration leaders. Plutonium pits are grapefruit-sized triggers for nuclear weapons. They have not been made since 2011 and have historically produced at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The Trump administration NNSA has been directed to produce a minimum 80 pits per year by 2030. A 2017 NNSA analysis shows two possible solutions: revitalizing the New Mexico lab or bringing pit production to SRS. With it would come billions of dollars of investment in SRS and 800 permanent jobs.

Back to School
Every year I make the rounds of elementary schools in the House District I serve. I call it 'The State House to the School House' Tour. Friday morning brought me to Aiken's award-winning Chukker Creek Elementary School. I had the good fortune to team up with Sen. Tom Young and I had a blast answering questions of 135 third grade students as part of their S.C. history curriculum.

 

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE
It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

________________________________________________________________________________

 

February 2, 2018: It's All About You! Distracted Driving to Energy

 

Another fast action week at your South Carolina Statehouse. Topping the list of issues: efforts to curb distracted driving, protecting ratepayers in the nuclear financial meltdown and a new approach to the horrible litter problem.

 

Hang-Up & Drive!

A Joint House Subcommittee began taking testimony on the DUI-E legislation I sponsored. No one spoke against the bill. Legislators heard from several people who lost love ones due to distracted drivers using their phone to text or talk. Their tragic stories could just as easily be the stories of each of our families; in a moment of distraction behind the wheel a life can be snuffed out.

AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright testified that the stricter rules are needed to address an "epidemic" that takes thousands of American lives each year. "It's become more of a traffic safety issue than drunk driving," Wright said. "To change behavior, you have to create stiffer penalties for drivers. We've seen this historically with seat belt legislation and drunk driving."

Under the proposed legislation (H.4480) driving under the influence of an electronic device, or DUI-E, would be punishable by a $100 fine on first offense. Additional tickets would cost $300 plus 2 points on a driver's license, bringing potentially higher insurance costs too. I led off testimony by saying, "South Carolina's current texting ban doesn't work." The $25 fine, which never increases, "is hardly much of a fine, but worse yet, it's unenforceable."

The House panel took no vote. Time ran out with many more people wanting to testify. Another hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday. The hearing received extensive news coverage. Here's a sampling:

Post & Courier Story
The State Newspaper Story
The Aiken Standard Story
Charleston's News 5

Huge Step Forward for Nuke Relief

In a nearly unanimous vote the S.C. House passed a bill repealing the Base Load Review Act and ending payments by SCE&G customers in paying for the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project. The Ratepayer Protection Bill (H.4375) drops the 18% nuclear surcharge on SCE&G customers' bills to 0% while giving direction to the Public Service Commission to keep rates as low as possible while the SCANA merger is evaluated. It also repeals the Base Load Review Act and guarantees that no future projects can recover costs under the law abused by SCE&G.

Provisions Included in the Ratepayer Protection Bill:

o Repeals the Base Load Review Act
o Defines the terms "prudent" and "imprudent"
o Removes the nuclear premium and drops the rate from over 18% to 0%
o Authorizes the PSC to set an interim rate
o Suspends automatic stay


House Speaker Jay Lucas said, "Since last August, the House has worked diligently to develop a responsible plan forward that protects ratepayers and prevents them from paying for a failed nuclear project. Our members followed through with our commitment to halt SCE&G from recouping more of its customers' hard-earned dollars for the failed VC Summer nuclear project. Setting the nuclear premium rate to zero percent provides South Carolina ratepayers with immediate relief while private sector business negotiations continue before the Public Service Commission. As this innovative approach works its way through the legislative process, I am hopeful the Senate will act quickly in an effort to protect ratepayers from corporate greed."


Reducing Litter by Reducing Fines


I receive lots of complaints about litter in Aiken County. Justifiably so; litter is an unsightly problem that mars the beauty of the Palmetto State and it is getting worse. The House this week passed legislation that seems counter intuitive - increase enforcement of SC's littering laws by reducing the fine against it. The legislation came from law enforcement because they believe the state's current fine structure is so high that some officers are hesitant to enforce it. The bill (H.4458), which passed 98-14, creates a fee structure that is based on the amount of litter involved. For instance, tossed litter under 15 pounds could lead to a $25-100 fine. Litter up to 500 pounds could lead to $200-$500 fines or up to 30 days in jail. The sentence would increase after a second violation. More than 500 pounds of litter could spark a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail. The bill also lets judges sentence violators to community service - picking up litter. The measure was sent to the Senate.

Energy Secretary Visits SRS

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he believes the potential for growth of the missions at the Savannah River Site is substantial and that SRS is vitally important to the security of our nation. Perry, the former Texas Governor and two-time presidential candidate, is on a 2-day tour of SRS, his first visit to the site.

 

 

Secretary Perry told CSRA community leaders this morning that SRS is a core for this community to grow and prosper and that the facility provides a strong economic base for our community. In a side conversation, Secretary Perry told me he is fully committed to removing nuclear waste from SRS. He concluded his message to community leaders saying, "Our mission is to make sure our country is defended while guarding our taxpayers’ dollars. I consider SRS a partner in the accomplishment of this mission."

Back to School

Members of the SC House Education Committee went back to school this week. We visited the elementary and high school in Denmark then traveled to Orangeburg to see firsthand the innovative High School for Health Professionals. It was a remarkable comparison between schools in economically challenged areas. The Denmark schools strive for success with limited resources and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers. The High School for Health Professionals is an amazing Charter School that boasts a 100% graduation rate with 100% of the 2017 graduating class accepted to college or the armed forces. Its motto: Think Big! Think Boldly! Think Beyond!

 


Legislative News Briefs


Nuisance Suits: The Senate voted approval of legislation that shields industries from facing nuisance lawsuits in SC due to smell or noise from their operation. H.3653 would protect an industrial facility that is in compliance with its state permits from being sued by neighboring landowners who moved to their property after the industrial site was built.


Death Penalty Bills Advance:
Two bills designed to address carrying out the death penalty in South Carolina are headed to the full Senate. One allows electrocution as a form of execution. The other is a shield law that protects the identities of drug companies who provide drugs for lethal injection. A number of states across the country that have implemented shield-type laws.


Deadly Cell Phones: Because the federal government has yet to permit the jamming of cell phone signals inside prisons, smuggled cell phone can be used by inmates to continue their criminal activities from their jail cells, or worse, target retribution on prison guards and their families. A bill (S.804) advanced in the Senate that makes providing cell phones to inmates a felony. It would also increase the penalties for inmates who possess a cell phone or those who provide them inside correctional facilities.


Abortion Bill Delayed: A Senate panel voted to delay a bill that could possibly ban all abortions in SC. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-4 to postpone action on legislation known as the "Personhood Bill" (S.217). The legislation would define life as beginning at fertilization and give legal status to that life the same as any other SC citizen. Committee members expressed concerned the proposal would ban all abortions - including those where the mother's life is considered at-risk.


Right-to-Carry Delayed: The Senate Judiciary Committee ran out of time in their meeting this week to fully consider a bill that would enact constitutional carry. S.449 would allow law-abiding adults to legally carry a firearm without first needing to obtain a Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP).


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

____________________________________________________________________________________

 

January 27, 2018: Putting South Carolina First 

 

South Carolina's nuclear financial meltdown continues to dominate the legislative session. This week the House of Representatives passed two bills in a package of reform legislation created in the wake of the failed construction of two nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer.

 

Advocating for Ratepayers

 

The House voted to create a new position that would advocate for consumers in issues involving power utilities. The proposed 'Utilities Consumer Advocate' would be in the Attorney General's Office under the bill (H.4379) that was approved 114-1 in the House. Supporters say the new office would partially replace the functions of the current Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), which was intended to act as a neutral analyst in utility issues that appear before state regulators. ORS has come under heavy criticism for not warning the public about the increasingly-tenuous position of an ill-fated nuclear construction project. The legislation is now in the Senate.

 

In the second reform approved by Representatives this past week dealing with the aftermath of a failed nuclear construction project, the House voted 104-5 to replace a board which helps pick the state's energy regulators. H.4378 eliminates the legislative-controlled Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC) and replaces it with a new Utility Oversight Committee that would include the general public and members appointed by the governor.

 

Governor Puts SCANA Acquisition in Doubt

 

In his first State of the State address Governor Henry McMaster dealt a blow in the deal to sell SCANA. He forcefully told legislators he wants the Base Load Review Act of 2007 (BLRA) eliminated. Virginia's Dominion Energy has proposed buying the utility but only if it can continue to charge electric customers higher rates under the BLRA for the next twenty years. His statement drew a standing ovation from legislators. He also said he wants to sell Santee Cooper so customers won't have to keep paying for the failed nuclear project.  

 

SC's New Prosperity

 

Governor McMaster used his State of the State address to proclaim that South Carolina is at the dawn of a new prosperity. He proposed tax cuts of two-billion dollars plus over the next five years to stimulate economic growth.  

 

"We must act. We must heed the lessons of history," he said. "We must respect the right of the people to their own money, for their own purposes, according to their own priorities."

 

The governor also focused much of his speech on education programs.

 

"Just as we cannot have a thriving economy without an educated workforce, we cannot have a productive educational system without economic growth," he said. "When a school district prospers, the schools in that district prosper."

 

DUI-E to Get First Hearing

 

So many people want to testify in favor of the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUI-E) legislation that I sponsored that a series of hearings are planned starting next Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. In an unusual step, the bill (H.4480) will be heard by a Joint Subcommittee consisting of the Transportation and Motor Vehicles Subcommittee.  

 

If you wish to testify 'for' or 'against' this important legislation, please contact me and I will help make those arrangements. Legislators want to hear from all factions so we make the best decisions for constituents. 

 

Citizen Statehouse

 School Choice Rally

 

Students, parents, teachers, administrators and other advocates of school choice joined forces to rally at the state capitol. The number of students in charter schools, magnet programs, online education, and home school has increased significantly during the past decade in SC and nationwide. In their call for more flexibility in learning, State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said, "Every student is a little different and every student needs a little different way of learning." The rally was part of National School Choice Week. Many other states are leading the way in innovative school choice programs while SC lags. 

 

 

 

Legislative News in Brief

 

School Hotline

The House approved legislation (H.3920) establishing requirements for public schools to post a toll free hotline for reporting child abuse, neglect and exploitation to the Department of Social Services.  

 

Good for Kids Health

The House approved legislation (H.3699) that removes prohibitions from sharing with foster parents, or other caregivers, the medical, mental health, and other known, or reasonably obtainable, information about children necessary to provide them with adequate care. This disclosure requirement applies to abuse and neglect cases, placements, or adoptions.  

 

Kinship Foster Parents 

The House approved a bill (H.3701) that requiresthe SC Department of Social Services (SCDSS) to inform relatives of children who are placed with them about opportunities to become licensed foster parents. The legislation sets forth the responsibilities of kinship foster parents and makes provisions for kinship care to be monitored by SCDSS.  

 

Protecting Student Athletes

The 'Uniform Athlete Agents Act of 2017' (H.3068) won approval in the House. The legislation updates protection of student athletes and makes extensive changes to the elements of the athlete-agent relationship. The NCAA and SC colleges and universities support this measure.

 

Judges Seek Pay Hike

SC Judges are asking for a 20 percent pay hike for all state judges at a cost of an additional $6.3 million a year. If approved in next year's state budget, the pay hike would mean more than 100 judges in the state's appeals, circuit and family courts also would see substantial boosts to their salaries, which now range from about $137,000 to $149,000 a year. SC's judicial salaries remain low compared to other states. Two years ago, an effort to give judges an 11 percent raise failed in the Senate.

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

 

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

__________________________________________________________________

 

January 20, 2018: SC's Nuclear Fallout Fiasco


The wintry weather that hit parts of SC this week curtailed legislative action because of potentially dangerous road conditions hampering Upstate legislators from traveling safely to the Capitol. Gov. Henry McMaster delayed for a week his first State of the State address. It has been rescheduled to next Wednesday (1/24) at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised on ETV.

Article V Supporters Rally at Statehouse

Snow and rain didn't stop the 'Citizen Patriots' from across SC converging on the Statehouse Wednesday. It was 'Capitol Day' in support of the Article V Conversation of States Resolution. I joined former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint in leading the Statehouse rally. The grassroots activists then met with individually with their Representatives and Senators to gain support for the only legal and lawful way to rein in an out-of-control federal government that is spending each of us, our children and grandchildren deeper in debt while robbing us of our personal liberty with mounds of regulations and restrictions. Our nation's Founding Fathers gave us the Article V solution - it's time to use it! The State newspaper wrote about Sen. DeMint's advocacy for Article V. (news story) (Picture gallery from Statehouse rally)

 


 

SC's Nuclear Fallout

Center stage at the Statehouse this week was the President and CEO of Dominion Energy, Tom Farrell. He made the legislative rounds testifying before both House and Senate committees about his company's proposed $14.6 billion acquisition of SCANA. His reception was less than warm and he was met with some skepticism.

Farrell made it clear to both committees that the acquisition would be called off and Dominion would walk away if the General Assembly voted to repeal the controversial Base Load Review Act (BLRA), which allows recovery of the costs of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear reactor project through ratepayers. He also painted a grim picture of SCANA's future if the Dominion merger does not go through, saying that the company could face bankruptcy and SCANA would become the weakest utility in the United States. Farrell said Dominion would have to be able to continue to recover costs from ratepayers, though his company's offer would lower those costs.



Farrell told the House members he knew of no other option and believes his company's offer is the best deal.

"It's like an election," Farrell said. "You have to vote for somebody. You have to look at the alternatives and realize there's nothing there. There is no satisfying solution, no silver bullet. We are trying to find a balance for our shareholders and ratepayers, but nobody is getting out of this unharmed."

The BLRA, passed in 2007, allowed SCANA, parent company of SCE&G, to receive nine rate increases during the decade-long construction of the twin nuclear reactors. The BLRA continues to allow SCANA to recover costs associated with the project through $27 a month on the average SCE&G customer's electric bill.


There is a belief by many legislators that the only way to stop customers from paying any more for the V.C. Summer project is to repeal the Base Load Review Act, but legal challenges are expected. Legislators in support of the repeal of the BLRA continue to focus on SCANA's actions over the course of the decade-long project. They cite the company's failure to develop a legitimate construction schedule and to disclose a critical audit that highlighted significant problems with the nuclear project more than a year before it was cancelled. Bottom line, the state needs to figure out if SCANA violated the law by not disclosing that type of information to lawmakers, the state's utility regulators and the public.

Dominion's proposed merger is projected to reduce the average SCE&G customer's rates by 5%, or more than $7, a month. In addition, a write-off of more than $1.7 billion of existing V.C. Summer capital and regulatory assets would eliminate all customer costs related to the project over 20 years. That's far faster than the 50-to-60 year period proposed by SCE&G that would have reduced annual rates by 3.5%.

Construction stopped on the reactors in Fairfield County in July after SCE&G and Santee Cooper poured $9 billion into the project before abandoning it after the contractor, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy in April.

The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval from SC's Public Service Commission and their counterparts in North Carolina and Georgia. Farrell expressed confidence in receiving that approval and said Dominion expects the stock-for-stock merger to close by the third quarter of 2018. Meanwhile, SCANA petitioned the SC Public Service Commission for expedited approval of the merger.

STATEHOUSE NEWS

New School Busses: State education officials immediately moved to buy new school buses after the Senate voted unanimously to join the House in overriding Gov. McMaster's vetoes against using surplus lottery funds to pay for school buses. After the vote, state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said her office would use the $20.5 million to buy more than 200 badly-needed buses to replace aging, fire-prone vehicles. That means 210 old and dangerous school buses will be taken off the road.

Shielding Execution Drug Companies: Legislation was introduced in the House this week aimed at protecting the identities of companies that provide the state with execution drugs. The bill (H.4629) would make drug suppliers part of the execution team, thereby, providing protection to companies so they will be less reluctant to sell drugs to the state, knowing they'll be used for an execution. SC's supply of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013. The state has not conducted any executions since 2011, in part because of no available drugs.

AIKEN COUNTY NEWS

Town Hall on Crop Dusting: Aiken County has been the epicenter in SC for complaints about aerial spraying over the past year. Windsor area residents frequently report what they believe to be illegal over-spraying. One pilot has been fined $1,000 for a single violation. I sponsored legislation (H.4277) to further restrict aerial spraying near public schools. This week I met with Clemson PSA officials who are responsible for enforcement of regulations and investigating violations of aerial spraying. They agreed to my request to conduct a public Town Hall in the Windsor area to educate residents on crop dusting laws and the swiftest methods to report potential violations. The Town Hall will be held in mid-February. I'll keep you posted on the date and time.

Water Hearing - Mark Your Calendar: DHEC will hold its final public meeting concerning the proposed Capacity Use Area for ground water in Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Lexington and Orangeburg Counties. The public meeting will be held at Aiken Electric Cooperative, 2790 Wagener Rd, on Thursday, February 8th, 6:00-7:30 p.m.

Back The Blue! Join us this evening (1/20) for lots of fun while supporting a great cause. The famed Harlem Wizards will be challenging local celebrities in the 'Battle for the Badge' at USCA's Convocation Center. Proceeds will help fund the Memorial Wall honoring our local public safety officers who gave their lives to safeguard our community. It all starts at 6:00 p.m. this evening. Tickets can be purchased online. (Click here)

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.
_____________________________________________________________________________

January 13, 2018: It Just Doesn't Add Up!

This week the SC General Assembly reconvened the second year of the 122nd session. We face a host of legislative challenges; much to accomplish and only a few months to do it. I remain optimistic we have enough time, talent and wherewithal to tackle the challenges and opportunities facing our great Palmetto State.

Now that we are back in session I will be reporting to you weekly providing a round-up of the most significant legislative actions and issues. Your time is valuable, so I make every effort to write concisely and provide web links so you can dig for more information if you're inclined. Newsletters may get lengthy because of the volume of topics, but writing concisely will hopefully allow you to scan for items of interest to you. Here goes...

'Nukegate' - SC's Nuclear Financial Meltdown

The single issue that dominated Statehouse discussions was last week's announcement of the proposed merger between SCANA and Virginia-based Dominion Energy. SCANA's utility company, SCE&G, and its state-owned partner, Santee Cooper, sent shockwaves throughout SC and across the nation last summer when they abandoned construction of the V.C. Summer nuclear reactors. Until that moment they had contended all was going well even though there is evidence they knew years ago the reactors would never be completed. Ratepayers are on the hook for billions in debt. Citizens have helped fund construction through numerous rate hikes they see on their monthly utility bill.

Dominion has proposed refunding about $1,000 to the average residential customer. But as I told the Aiken Standard, the gift comes with strings - the average residential customer has already paid $1,400 and will still be paying an additional $5,700 over the next 20 years under Dominion's proposal. (Read Aiken Standard article - Aiken legislators: Dominion Energy's proposed refunds not adding up)

Looking Ahead

 

Next Wednesday (17th), the House reconvenes the Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee where it will question for the first time from Tom Farrell, Chairman, President and CEO of Dominion Energy. Appearing this week before state regulators, Farrell said the SCANA merger hinges on Dominion being able to continue charging ratepayers to pay back massive debt on an ill-fated nuclear project.

Numerous bills have been introduced relating to the abandonment of the nuclear project. All the bills were given a favorable report by the House Judiciary Committee and await debate on the House floor. It's likely that next week we will debate the bills aimed at improving state government's role in protecting ratepayers:

• H.4377 - Public Service Commission (PSC) Reform
• H.4378 - Public Utilities Review Committee Reform/Utility Oversight Committee
• H.4379 - Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) Reform/Utilities Consumer Advocate


The fallout from this financial debacle is enormous, complex and has many moving parts. Investigations continue on many fronts including the FBI. In my view, Dominion's proposal to purchase SCANA is likely not their best offer. There are likely other potential suiters who are closely watching developments. It's going to take time for issues to clarify, but going forward the General Assembly must be certain that millions of SC ratepayers receive the protections they deserve.


The Governor's Budget Vetoes


On the first day of the House session we considered Governor Henry McMaster's line item budget vetoes. Typically, we vote on those in June prior to ending the yearly session, but not this time.


• Topping the list, the House overwhelmingly overrode the Governor's veto thereby providing over $20 million dollars for the immediate replacement of 250 run-down, dangerous school buses. This is a huge step toward keeping our students safe. The Senate still has to vote to override next week. It's time for the state to privatize school busses; SC is the only state to run its own school bus system.


• The House failed to override the governor's veto of $4.9 million going to community health centers, which included AIDS prevention programs. This is a worthy expenditure and I voted to override.


• The House also upheld the Governor's veto blocking expansion of birth control coverage for dependents of those on the state health plan. I voted to support the program believing it would save the state money in the long-term.


Motorcyclists Support DUI-E


The first day of the legislative session saw the annual 'Lobbying Day' invasion of the Statehouse by ABATE motorcyclists from across SC. I had the honor of speaking with them at their kick-off breakfast where they enthusiastically supported my DUI-E (Driving Under the Influence of Electronics) legislation (H.4480). Later they visited with their legislators asking them to support the crackdown on distracted driving.

 


AAA Backs SC DUI-E Bill

This week the DUI-E legislation received the support of AAA of the Carolina's. AAA represents 600,000 highway users across SC who, in membership surveys, have voiced concerns about the dangers of distracted driving. AAA reports motorists who use hand held electronics are roughly two to eight times more likely to be involved in a crash. This week, Georgia legislators filed legislation similar to SC's proposed DUI-E legislation. However, it carries stiffer fines from $150 to $900 for repeat offenders. Highway fatalities in Georgia by a third from 2014 to 2016. (Learn more in AJC story)


Article V Capitol Day Rally


This coming Wednesday (Jan. 17) citizens from across SC will converge on the Statehouse to demonstrate to legislators their support of the Article V Convention of States Resolution. Former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will lead the gathering calling on the General Assembly to pass the Resolution to pass legislation making SC the 13th state to call for a convention of states. Be a part of history and help us add South Carolina to the growing list of states that are ready to utilize Article V's lawful and orderly process to solve the structural problems that Washington DC clearly is not interested in addressing. (Learn More Here)


Legislative Briefs


Auditing School Districts: The House passed a bill (H.4036) that allows the Legislative Audit Council to conduct financial and forensic audits of school districts that may be in financial trouble.


Licensing Motorcyclists: The House passed legislation (S. 456) intended to stop people from riding motorcycles for an extended period on a beginner's permit. The bill was supported by motorcycle groups as a safety measure.


Battling the Opioid Crisis: The House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee unveiled its opioid report. (Read Report)  Its 39 recommendations ranged from making opioid education mandatory in college for health professionals to encouraging more treatment clinics across the state.

Just Plain Killers: SC has launched a new opioid public awareness campaign (justplainkillers.comPainkiller are "Just Plain Killers") that includes television spots to air statewide and a website that includes information for people who are seeking help for someone who needs it. It is federally funded. 550 people died in SC from prescription overdoses in 2016.


Able to Work? Gov. Henry McMaster ordered SC's Medicaid agency to seek a federal waiver that would allow it to create new work requirements on certain adults who receive Medicaid. Also this week the Trump administration announced it would make it easier for states to implement the requirements for able-bodied, working-age adults.


Off-Shore Drilling:
Gov. McMaster announced this week he will seek a waiver from the federal government against drilling for oil and natural gas off the SC coast. Our neighbor, Florida, was granted a waiver. Last week, the Department of the Interior announced a plan to allow exploration for oil and natural gas along the southern Atlantic Ocean's continental shelf.


Aiken County News


Crop Duster Fined: SC regulators have fined a Georgia crop duster $1,000 for illegally spraying chemicals at a mega-potato farm near Windsor. The fine by Clemson University's PSA follows complaints last year by Aiken County residents about chemicals drifting from a plane being used to spray crops. Spraying chemicals during windy conditions is illegal. As last year's session drew to a close I introduced legislation (H.4227) to limit aerial spraying in the vicinity of schools while they are in session.


Bonus Section: Savanah River Site Stemming Retirement Silver Tsunami


With nearly 550 new hires in 2017 and an average age of employee that has dropped by six years to 48, the multi-year effort by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) to address anticipated retirements has begun to bear fruit.
SRNS has put a strong emphasis on informing, inspiring and rewarding the workforce as they build for the future, focusing not only on new hires but also retention of employees and supporting them as they grow.


Over the last four years, more than 1,900 new workers have been hired, with 83 percent coming from the local area near Aiken and SRNS plans to hire 2,000 employees within the next five years.


Many key improvements, including a more efficient security clearance process and market equity adjustments for engineers and scientists, have helped attract some of the best and brightest from the region to SRS, earning SRNS recognition as the "Workforce Innovator of the Year" by the SC Chamber of Commerce.


SRNS has also streamlined the hiring process, ultimately reducing "time to hire" by 50 percent. In addition to the development of employees, SRNS is focused on the creation of future pipelines through partnerships with local technical colleges and universities.


SRNS invested in the region's developing workforce by giving $550,000 for an endowed engineering professorship to the University of South Carolina Aiken. During the development of the Industrial Process Engineering Program four-year degree program, the university and SRNS helped identify current and anticipated workforce requirements and how the program might meet those needs in the region. The program has three dedicated faculty members and an initial class of students who will graduate in May 2018.


In addition, SRNS has worked with Aiken Technical College (ATC) to offer the Radiation Protection Technology Program, a two-year, 70-credit hour program that leads to an associate's degree in applied science. The program supplements students' previous education by providing the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to evaluate a work site requiring radiological controls. Students become certified Radiological Control Inspectors after completing 180 application hours through on-site internships at SRS.


ATC also offers the Nuclear Fundamentals certificate program, which was also developed in conjunction with SRNS. The program prepares students for entry-level positions in the nuclear industry. A mix of applied chemistry, physics and engineering classes provides a strong foundation for employment in today's nuclear facilities. Students who graduate from the program could qualify for a career in nuclear operations at SRS or another major nuclear facility in the region.


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

January 4, 2018: What are YOU Thinkin?
Convention of States and The Governor's Race Polled

It's clear that South Carolinians know our bloated federal government is out of control and Washington D.C. politicians and bureaucrats continue their overreach into our lives and personal liberty. They are spending America into bankruptcy and continuing to put forth mounds of federal regulations that put a stranglehold on businesses and citizens despite the best efforts by President Trump to restrain the federal government.

New Poll: Two-Thirds of S.C. Voters Favor Convention of States

A mega-survey was commission by Convention of States Action. The month-long survey polled nearly 2,200 S.C. voters representing every county and balanced for gender, demographics and political viewpoints. It's a cross section of Palmetto State voters with a margin of error is only +/- 2.10.

Voters were polled separately on their views of congressional term limits, federal spending limits, and limiting federal power. After being confronted with these individual issues, voters were then asked about a Convention of States relating to these particular issues. The results:

S.C. voters disapprove of the U.S. Congress by 83%, only 10% approval rating:

By a nearly 3-to-1 margin S.C. voters favor limiting federal spending:


Nearly 80% of S.C. voters favor term limits for the U.S. Congress and federal judges:


Two-thirds of all S.C. voters favor the call for a Convention of States:


 

(More on COS Poll)

Join the COS Statehouse Rally January 17th

Former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will lead citizens from across S.C. as they gather at the Statehouse in Columbia on Wednesday, January 17th, to demonstrate their support in favor of the Convention of States Resolution and call on the General Assembly to pass legislation making S.C. the 13th state to call for a convention. (Rally details here)

I have been the primary sponsor of the Article V legislation in the House since 2013 where its progress has been stalled by a few. Given these survey results that show two-thirds of S.C. voters favor getting control of our federal government, I call on my fellow legislators to heed that call and represent the citizens who elected them by voting to pass the Article V Convention of States Resolution.

Commenting on the survey, Convention of States Action President Mark Meckler said, "With so many states having acted already, this polling now demonstrates that it is time for the South Carolina legislature to act on the Convention of States resolution immediately. The excuse of alleged 'division' among constituents has been definitively laid to rest. The vast majority are in favor. The burden is now squarely on the legislature to act quickly and decisively to be the first state in 2018 to make the call.

Robert Cahaly, Senior Strategist and Pollster at The Trafalgar Group said, "This survey confirms what we expected. The Convention of States questions demonstrate that frustration with the way Washington does business has resulted in a growing number of Palmetto state voters embracing constitutional remedies that go around congress for needed reform."

(To learn more about COS click here)

South Carolina Governor's Race Polled

As part of the South Carolina voters' survey of the Convention of States proposal, questions were asked about the governor's race. It is the most extensive survey done thus far on the 2018 gubernatorial election with 2170 respondents. The results:

SC Governor's Race - GOP Primary

39.83% Henry McMaster
11.19% Kevin Bryant
10.46% Someone Else
7.41% Catherine Templeton
3.04% Yancey McGill
28.06% Undecided

SC Governor's Race - Democrat Primary
25.93% Phil Noble
19.19% James Smith
19.38% Someone Else
36.50% Undecided

The survey was conducted by The Trafalgar Group (TFG), widely recognized as the most accurate polling firm of the 2016 election cycle, correctly forecasting the results in key battleground and other states (PA, FL, NC, MI, OH, CO, GA) and exactly predicting the Trump Electoral College margin of victory (306-232). The results and information of their polls have been featured in thousands of U.S. and global news stories, television networks, and high-profile polling web sites like Real Clear Politics.

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.
______________________________________________________________________________

December 13, 2017: Introducing DUI-E

 

One issue I have been focusing on in recent months is distracted driving. We all witness distracted driving nearly every time we're on the road; drivers weaving from lane-to-lane, drifting off onto the shoulder of the road, speeding up and slowing down thereby impeding traffic, running red lights and stop signs and all sorts of erratic and dangerous driving behavior. There are countless heartbreaking stories of innocent victims and their families whose lives have been changed forever by someone focused on their phone rather than focusing on driving.

Introducing DUI-E

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI-A) kills and injures drivers, passengers and unsuspecting, innocent victims. Our laws are intended to severely punish people who drink and drive with steep fines and jail time for repeat offenders.

DUI-E (Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device) is every bit as dangerous and deadly, if not more so than driving drunk (at least intoxicated drivers usually have their eyes focused on the road because they know they are impaired). Experts say drivers who text are 23 more times likely to have an accident.

 



Link to story in the Aiken Standard

 

Privilege Not a Right

Driving is a privilege that is granted; it's not a right. Driving requires testing for competency and state licensing. No one has the right to hurl a vehicle down a roadway driving carelessly while texting, emailing, posting on social media or taking selfies while putting the lives of others at risk. It's a matter of public safety. It's not okay to drive drunk (DUI-A). It's also not okay to drive under the influence of an electronic device (DUI-E)

SC's Texting Ban Doesn't Work

South Carolina's first texting ban was enacted in 2014. When first proposed it had teeth but was watered down through the legislative process to make it almost worthless. It makes law enforcement prove you're texting without looking at your cell phone. On the rare occasion they write a violation (about 1300 annually statewide) is was a mere $25 fine - hardly a deterrent.

Everyone knows legislation doesn't necessarily correct bad behavior, but laws can encourage safe behavior.

Legislation to Limit DUI-E

Today I introduced legislation that advances South Carolina's weak texting law and says to those who would put your life in danger that there is a price to pay for their electronic addiction and potentially dangerous and deadly behavior. The proposed legislation puts teeth into the enforcement of DUI-E.

Put Down the Phone & Drive!

 

• DUI-E prohibits drivers from holding a phone in either hand.
• DUI-E prohibits drivers from typing, sending or reading text-based communications.
• DUI-E first offense: $100 fine.
• DUI-E second & subsequent offenses: $300 fine and 2 points on your driving record.
• DUI-E violations will be reported to insurance carriers like all other violations.
• DUI-E violations prohibit arrest or incarceration.

 

So, what are you allowed to do under this proposed law?


• You can answer or initiate phone calls or text messages via voice commands using blue tooth, speaker phone, heads sets or some other hands-free device.
• You can adjust your GPS mapping with voice commands or by setting destinations in advance of driving.
• You are allowed to activate or deactivate a function of a wireless device (as example, your phone) with one swipe or a touch, but it still must not be in your hands.

We're Not Alone - Other States are Tackling Distracted Driving

This year Texas and Washington State passed legislation banning drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. A total of fifteen states now prohibit drivers from using hand-held electronic devises. Many other states are tackling the driving crisis. Our neighbor, Georgia, has formed a legislative study committee to look at distracted driving in their state because there were more than 8,500 distracted driving crashes in Georgia in 2014.

SC's Deadly Driving Makes Us #1

South Carolina ranks #1 nationally in traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven! In 2016, 1,015 people died in traffic accidents in the Palmetto State - that equates to one death every nine hours on our roads. So far this year more than 900 people have died on South Carolina roads. Additionally, statistics show that South Carolina ranks 3rd in the nation for having the worst drivers.

Here are the grim statistics for the Palmetto State (over the past five years - 2012-2016):


* Fatal vehicle collisions have risen nearly 17%.
* Injury collisions are up 23%.
* Property damage collisions have risen 32%.
* Total collisions have increased nearly 30%.

Distracted Driving is a Major Culprit

The majority of careless driving is caused by distracted drivers. Surprisingly, experts say a majority of all car accidents involve cell phone usage. It is not just young drivers' texting and driving, it is also mature adult drivers. At 60 mph, mere seconds of distracted activity can dramatically reduce the driver's response time to avoid an accident underscoring that statistic that drivers who text are 23 more times likely to have an accident.

It's Costing YOU!

Most South Carolinian's are discovering when they renew their auto insurance they are facing major increases in their rates. Personal automobile insurance rates have increased 20 percent on average among the top 10 insurers in recent years with some rising more than 40 percent. Insurance companies are seeing an increase in frequency and the magnitude of auto accidents in South Carolina. There are more accidents occurring and the cost of paying auto claims is rising precipitously. The economics are simple: insurers can't stay in business very long when the money being spent (claims) exceeds the money coming in (premiums).

The Ultimate Fix - Resist Driving Temptations

I stated earlier, it is impossible to legislate personal responsibility, common sense and self-restraint, but my proposed DUI-E legislation puts a price on dangerous, distracted driving. Frankly, this law wouldn't be necessary if we all would take responsibility for our actions and change our personal behavior that would save both lives and money. Each of us has the power to control our own actions. One simple decision - when getting behind the wheel - put down the cell phone!

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.
______________________________________________________________

November 4, 2017: Draining Our Own Swamp

Several current and former South Carolina legislators have been charged with corruption by a special prosecutor who has been probing the General Assembly for several years. One representative recently pleaded guilty to using his officer for personal profit. The others have been suspended from their elected or appointed position and await trial.

Good People

I know in my heart and from experience that those indicted are the exceptions. The vast majority of legislators are hard-working and well-intended; they sacrifice much to be good public servants. I'm proud to serve with the majority of my colleagues, but "Seeing one or two bad crows doesn't mean the whole flock is bad." Citizens deserve elected officials who are honest, trustworthy and ethical. When elected officials violate laws they must be held to a high standard and pay the price for their misdeeds.

Legislators Shouldn't Hide

Because of the Statehouse indictments, there are renewed calls for tightening our states ethics laws. This week in The State newspaper, Gov. McMaster said he wants to eliminate the exemption that shields lawmakers' emails and other records from open-records requests. I AGREE! That's why I filed H.4034 earlier this year. It removes the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislative exemption. Legislators should not exempt themselves from laws all other elected officials in this state have to follow. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Improving Ethics Laws

At the end of the last legislative session in 2016, major improvements were made to SC's ethics laws that impact every elected and appointed official in towns, cities, counties and state government. One major ethics reform bill makes all public officials in the state reveal their sources of private income allowing citizens to better identify potential conflicts of interest. At the state level, a new law stopped the "fox from guarding the hen house". Legislators can no longer investigate themselves; instead, independent law-enforcement professionals now investigate complaints against legislators.

We're Not Finished

 

The Ethics Reform Committee on which I served during the last session developed a package of ethics recommendations that was turned into legislation. While only two passed during the last session, they were the big ones! More bills to improve our ethics laws have been filed this session, but they are languishing in committee. Those reforms need to be debated, refined and moved forward.

 

"REAL ID" -- What You Need to Know

 

I continue to receive calls and emails from folks confused about SC's conversion to the federal governments Real ID program. There seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around. Here's what you need to know:

 

• The federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted South Carolina an enforcement extension until October 2018 so we can become compliant with the federal law.

 

• The earliest the SCDMV will be able to issue the compliant card is early next year (2018).


• Real ID is optional; it's you choice. You do not need a REAL ID to drive, vote, visit unsecure federal facilities (post office), access hospitals, participate in law enforcement proceedings, or receive benefits for which you are entitled (Veterans Affairs, Social Security, etc). You may use a different federally approved ID (such as a passport or a military ID) instead of a REAL ID to fly domestically. However, if you don't have one of those optional federal ID's you will eventually need the REAL ID to fly on commercial airlines.


Be Early - Avoid Long Lines


Bring your documents to the local DMV now. That will allow you to order the REAL ID online in the future. The SCDMV encourages everyone who knows they will want a REAL ID to bring the required documentation to any SCDMV now to avoid long lines that will surely form next year.


Approximately 75,000 people have taken advantage of this option since the SCDMV announced it in May. The SCDMV plans to allow anyone with the appropriate documents on file to order a REAL ID driver's license online once available. To qualify for online ordering, bring all of the following to a SCDMV office:


• Two Proofs of Current, Physical SC Address
• Proof of Identity, US Citizenship, and Date of Birth
• Proof of Social Security Number
• Proof of Any Legal Name Change(s) if applicable

To learn more, check out the SCDMV's website for Real ID.
___________________

On A Personal Note...

Happy Anniversary to my wife of 47 years! We celebrated with a quiet dinner and shared many wonderful notes from many of you. Thank You!

 



I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Pictures of the Week:


 

Halloween ‘Trunk or Treating’ took my wife, Donna, and I to Wagener and Monetta. Great Fun!
_____________________________________________________________

 

September 29, 2017: To Be or Not to Be – Tax Reform

On the same day President Trump announced his plans for nationwide tax reform a South Carolina legislative committee was laying the groundwork for a plan to overhaul the state's tax structure that nearly everyone agrees is unfair, antiquated and full of special interest exemptions that have been compounded over the past 70 plus years.

Political Headwinds

But just like President Trump's tax reform plan, the state tax overhaul will meet strong headwinds from special interests. Regardless, the SC House Tax Policy Review Committee, of which I am a member, is charged with sorting through SC's current tax structure with the goal of creating a broader and flatter tax code that will create FAIRNESS for hardworking SC citizens, STABILITY to fund our promises and essential government services and economic GROWTH that will create the jobs and opportunities of tomorrow.

Tax reform is not an esoteric exercise; it's about real people trying to live successful lives. It's about working class parents struggling to make rent payments and put food on the table. It's about homegrown 'mom & pop' businesses on Main Street who somehow always seem to be the ones stuck paying higher tax bills.

SC's Competitive Disadvantage

South Carolina has a tax problem; a BIG one! Our neighboring states that directly compete with us to recruit the job creators of industry and businesses are moving aggressively to increase their competitiveness by lowering and equalizing their overall tax burden.

Look no further than North Carolina where in 2013 the legislature passed a comprehensive tax reform package that simplified their tax code, lowered rates and broadened the tax base. The results over the past four years have been stunning. More than 350,000 jobs have been created and NC's economy has jumped from one of the slowest growing in the country to one of the fastest growing. Survey after survey cites NC as one of the best states in which to run a business.

SC has been impressive in recruiting industry, but those companies moving in are given huge tax breaks while our existing businesses face an exorbitant tax burden.

SC's Perfect Storm


I stated in this week's tax hearing that unlike private businesses that are nimble and rein in problems before they get too big; government often waits for a crisis to solve big problems (i.e., crumbling roads, unfunded pension liabilities, etc.). The tax problem is here, but it has not yet been declared a crisis.


INCOME TAX:
• The number of SC's who pay state income tax has decreased. Today, 42% pay nothing.
• 41% of taxpayers are subject to the Southeast's highest marginal rate of 7%.

SALES TAX:
• The percent of taxable retail goods has declined to only 34% of sales from 48% in 2003.
• Since implemented, the state sales tax has doubled to 6% with local sales taxes adding on an additional 3% to 5% making us look more like NYC.

 

PROPERTY TAX:
• The number of properties subject to the full millage rate has plummeted due to discounts secured for special interest.
• A residential renter or small business owner can pay 3 times more property tax than a homeowner.
• Per-person property taxes have increased 31% in real dollars since 1993.

 

These tax issues are compounded by SC's growing population that is far outpacing national population growth. That means the need for more government services, infrastructure and education demands.



Window of Opportunity

After a year of work, our Tax Policy Review Committee decided this week to move forward in drafting legislation that would lower taxes and broaden the tax base.


This is only a starting point. The committee will work through the fall testing these concepts in a new and innovative tax modeling program that was developed in concert with the Palmetto Promise Institute. The modeling will allow us to instantly see the implication of various scenarios and make alterations. The goal is to finalize the proposed tax reform legislation by the start of the legislative session in January allowing for rigorous debate.

In closing, I'm reminded of what Speaker Jay Lucas stated when he created our committee a year ago:

     "Our outdated tax code needs a dramatic transformation in order to promote economic competitiveness and increase the size of our citizens' paychecks. Achieving this difficult task is long overdue, but necessary to ensure our tax code is fair for our taxpayers."

Want to Learn More?

I invite you to review the entire tax reform presentation presented to the committee this week: (FUNDING SOUTH CAROLINA'S FUTURE)

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.
_____________________________________________________________________________

August 28, 2017: Not in South Carolina!

 

Time flies; summer is drawing to a close and fall will soon arrive. With each passing year the months seem to zoom by faster. Time, not material things, is our most valuable personal asset and moments to make memories should never be squandered. Today I am writing about "memories" - the history of our ancestors and those who strive to erase history.

 

Confederate Monuments

 

Here we go again. The call to remove Confederate monuments in South Carolina has been made by state Rep. John King (D-York) who chairs the Black Caucus in the S.C. House of Representatives. It came in the wake of the violent protests against the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we all witnessed, quickly, the 'Lame-Brain-National-Media-Propaganda-Machine' took to the airwaves and in print fanning the flames of a small minority who seem to be offended by anything connected to Southern heritage. Weak willed politicians are already caving in.

 

Not in South Carolina!

 

While other states are fighting over the removal of monuments and the movement to erase history they don't like, I don't anticipate those changes in South Carolina. The Heritage Act protects Confederate monuments across the state and requires a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly for them to be removed or changed.

 

Admittedly, the Heritage Act was altered two years ago when the Battle Flag was removed from the front of the Capitol following the senseless killing of nine people at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. And, yes, another horrific event could catapult the issue to the forefront, but short of that, there is little appetite by most legislators to alter the Heritage Act.

 

 

As depicted above in The State's editorial cartoon by Robert Ariail, South Carolina, the roots of heritage run deep and must be protected from the small minority of 'The Offended' who seem to get all the attention and would gladly erase history rather than learn from it.

 

For my part, as I did in the 2015 vote, I will stand on the side that respects our heritage. At that time, it was clear the Battle Flag in front of the Statehouse was coming down. I was part of the legislative effort to find a suitable replacement flag to honor our heritage. We did not succeed. In any further attempts to eradicate history, I will stand against those efforts.

 

Words to Ponder

 

As a member of the Legislative Prayer Caucus, I was moved by what Lea Carawan, Executive Director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, wrote following the events in Charlottesville:

 

                  "The foundational principles that helped establish our country still make it one of the most desired places to live in the world. Concepts such as all people are created equal, that our rights come from a sovereign Creator, freedom, and that every person should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are embraced by leaders and citizens from both sides of the political aisle. Most agree these truths are fundamental to the American way, and that they should cross every cultural, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic barrier.

 

                  In a time when our nation desperately needs to learn how to disagree without hate, we can use what happened in Charlottesville to promote the values and principles that are truly core to our beliefs, our faith, and to our nation. The idea that all people have value and are worthy of respect should permeate our daily lives. This is our opportunity to promote peaceful dialogue and to pray for our nation."

 

Words worth remembering.

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 

 

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

_________________________________________________________________

 

August 1, 2017: Want to Avoid DMV’s Long Lines?

 

With the passage of Act #6 of 2017, South Carolinians will have the option to purchase a REAL ID compliant license or identification card. The earliest the SCDMV will be able to issue the compliant card is early next year (2018).

 

EXTENSION GRANTED

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted South Carolina an enforcement extension until October 10, 2017. Historically, DHS has granted annual extension requests every October. The SCDMV is in the process of requesting the next extension and expects to be certified as fully compliant in early 2018.

 

BE EARLY – AVOID LONG LINES

Bring your documents now, and order the REAL ID online in the future. The SCDMV encourages everyone who knows they will want a REAL ID once one is available to bring the required documentation to any SCDMV now to avoid long lines that will surely form next year. Approximately 23,000 people have taken advantage of this option since the SCDMV announced it in May. The SCDMV plans to allow anyone with the appropriate documents on file to order a REAL ID driver’s license online once available. The SCDMV is unable to offer online ordering for Commercial Driver Licenses (CDLs) and identification cards. To qualify for online ordering, bring all of the following to a SCDMV office:

  • Two Proofs of Current, Physical SC Address
  • Proof of Identity, US Citizenship, and Date of Birth
  • Proof of Social Security Number
  • Proof of Any Legal Name Change(s) if applicable

 

The form listing the comprehensive options for each category is available by searching “MV-93” at www.scdmvonline.com. International Customers should search for the “MV-94” to learn about their documentation requirements.

 

If you applied for and received your very first SC beginner’s permit, driver’s license, or identification card during or after November 2010¸ you should not have to bring the documents listed above because the SCDMV already has them on file. You may call 803-896-5000 to check the status of your documents if you believe you fall into the category above.

 

REAL ID IS OPTIONAL

You do not need a REAL ID to drive, vote, visit unsecure federal facilities (post office), access hospitals, participate in law enforcement proceedings, or receive benefits for which you are entitled (Veterans Affairs, Social Security, etc). You may use a different federally approved ID (such as a passport or a military ID) instead of a REAL ID to fly domestically. However, if you don’t have one of those optional federal ID’s you will eventually need the REAL ID to fly on commercial airlines.

 

I trust the information has been helpful. To answer further questions, check out SCDMV’s website where you will find FAQ’s on REAL ID.

_______________________________________________________________

 

July 14, 2017: The Perfect Storm

 

The South Carolina General Assembly has adjourned and will reconvene next January to complete the second half of the 122nd Session. The recess means legislators are not at the Statehouse every week, but legislative business continues primarily through committee meetings and constituent service.


Reality Check for South Carolina


Regularly, I report to you with a digest of legislative issues. Today, my focus is on a single issue that is both deadly and personally costing you money. The issue is distracted and deadly driving.

Here are the grim statistics for South Carolina. Over the past five years (2012-2016):

        • Fatal vehicle collisions have risen nearly 17%.
        • Injury collisions are up 23%.
        • Property damage collisions have risen 32%.
        • Total collisions have increased nearly 30%.

 

Thus far in 2017, vehicle fatalities are on track to top 1,000 - a new record high.


We are All Paying More for Increased Collisions


Most South Carolinian's are discovering at renewal time that they are facing a major increase in their vehicle insurance rates. Personal automobile insurance rates have increased 20 percent on average among the top 10 insurers in recent years.


I made an inquiry to the S.C. Department of Insurance and here's their explanation:


The Perfect Storm


In the last couple of years, auto insurance rates have been on the rise statewide. This is a departure from the more stable prices seen several years ago. Unfortunately, South Carolina is facing a combination of factors that have come together in the last 18 months to create a "perfect storm" for rising auto insurance rates. What are the key forces behind this "perfect storm" scenario for auto drivers and auto insurers?


Deadly Driving


Statistics show that South Carolina ranks 3rd in the nation for having the worst drivers. The frequency and the severity of auto accidents are steadily increasing. South Carolinians are increasingly involved in auto wrecks that destroy vehicles, injure or kill themselves and/or passengers, and create traffic jams that cause even more accidents.


So far this year, over 389+ citizens have died on South Carolina roads. If this pace is maintained, lives lost last year on SC highways will be exceeded in 2017. It is not surprising that South Carolina has placed 1st in the "Fatalities Rate per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled" category and 7th in both speeding and careless driving.


Distracted Driving is a Major Culprit


The majority of careless driving is caused by distracted drivers. Surprisingly, 64 percent of all car accidents involve cell phone usage. It is not just young drivers' texting and driving, it is also mature adult drivers. At 60 mph, mere seconds of distracted activity can dramatically reduce the driver's response time to avoid an accident.


Deadly Combination: Booze, Beer, Drugs, Seatbelts & Speed


Adding to the problem is South Carolina's auto driver's tendency to drive under the influence of intoxicants. DUI caused auto accidents usually result in the destruction of property and often physical injury to drivers and their passengers. Compounding the problem is the fact that the lack of safety belt usage remains a killer. Statistics show that of the 1,000+ citizens killed on S.C. roadways last year, over 50% were not wearing their seat belts.


The old saying that "speed kills" is truer today than ever. With more people on the roads, the roads in poor condition, and law enforcement spread thin, more people are exceeding the speed limits. The faster you drive the shorter your response time, and the more deadly an accident.


Perfect Storm for Higher Insurance Rates


The current dangerous conditions on our state's highways have put considerable upward pressure on auto insurance rates. As a result, insurance companies are seeing an increase in frequency and the magnitude of auto accidents in this state. There are more accidents occurring, and the cost of paying these auto claims is rising precipitously. The economics are simple: insurers can't stay in business very long when the money being spent (claims) exceeds the money coming in (premiums). The result is a very unprofitable auto industry in S.C.


Fortunately, South Carolina's legislature took actions years ago to make the S.C. insurance market competitive and vigorous. The result has been to keep auto insurance rates moderately low. However, currently, virtually every auto insurer in the state is operating at an annual loss. If this continues, the number of insurers writing auto insurance will start to decline making the market less competitive which will further drive up premium prices. Industry-wide profit losses are not sustainable.


Controlling Your Insurance Costs


What can a good driver who is already following the rules do to control his auto insurance costs? First, shop around your insurance business. Insurance companies are looking for good drivers and will compete to get them. Second, explore incentives that insurance companies provide to good drivers.


The auto insurance market is working. Higher premium prices discourage bad driving habits, take bad drivers off the road, and at the same time encourage competition and innovation in the insurance industry. We are producing the safest cars ever produced, our state highway system is about to be renovated, more funds are being allocated to law enforcement, and the public awareness of the causes of auto accidents is on the rise.


The Ultimate Fix - Resist Driving Temptations


While there are many of us sharing the road, we alone have the power to control our own actions. This responsibility requires us to make good choices when getting behind the wheel as our decisions impact not only our individual lives but all those around us.


There are simple rules drivers can use to guide them when they are behind the wheel: put the cell phone away, do not multi-task, obey the traffic laws, do not speed, use your seat belts and never ever drink and drive. Living by these simple rules can save lives and reduce the cost of auto insurance, including property damage, medical costs, and lost productivity.


We're Not Alone - Georgia is Tackling Distracted Driving


Recently, Georgia's House Speaker David Ralston created a study committee to look at distracted driving in Georgia. There were more than 8,500 distracted driving crashes in Georgia in 2014. Their committee has been charged with looking at the effect of drivers distracted by cellphones and other technology. The committee's goal is to see whether legislation is needed to fight distracted driving in Georgia.


In my view, it's difficult to legislate common sense and self-restraint, but if we all take personal responsibility and change our personal behavior we will save both lives and money.


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

_________________________________________________________________________

 

May 31, 2017: Let the Sunshine!

 

With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Henry McMaster ushered in what he called, “a big step forward” in government transparency. The legislation he signed is a comprehensive improvement in closing loopholes in South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

 

The ceremonial signing of the bill was attended by everyday South Carolinians who have separately waged battles with local governments and school boards to obtain information to which they were entitled, but denied. Seven years ago they joined me in the legislative effort to significantly improve the FOIA that originally became law 43 years ago. Without them telling their stories of how they were stonewalled by government bodies, it is likely this legislative success would have never happened.

 

 

The reforms in this law require state and local governments, school districts, and other public entities to respond more quickly to public records requests and prevents them from charging excessive fees.

 

The law gives public bodies 10 business days to say whether they will or won't supply the requested information and, in most cases, a month more to actually provide it. If the data requested is more than two years old, agencies have 20 days to decide and 35 days to deliver.

 

Previous law gave 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, but agencies could interpret the vague wording to mean they simply had to acknowledge receipt. There was no timeline for actually providing the information, essentially allowing requests to be ignored indefinitely – a gaping loophole!

 

Legislature Prefers Shad to Sunshine

 

Referring to the bill he signed into law, Gov. McMaster said, “This is a good law. The people ought to know what's going on in government and why it's going on." He added, “But it doesn't go far enough.”

 

McMaster said he also wants legislators to apply the law to themselves. Currently, legislators' correspondence and other records are exempt from public disclosure.

 

I agree. Why should 170 people, the Members of the General Assembly, be the only elected officials in South Carolina to be exempt from government transparency? The answer – because they write the laws. It’s a new day and time to modernize.

 

The next step in pulling back the veil of secrecy in the legislature is passage of H.4034, a bill I filed with Rep. Weston Newton to eliminate the FOIA legislative exemption for legislators. It is my hope that with you writing your Representative and Senator with your support, they will get behind this initiative and let the ‘sunshine in” on the General Assemble.

 

Here’s a Gallery of Photos from the FOIA Signing Ceremony

 

 

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

It is my honor to be of service to you. If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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