Bill's Straight Talk -- Legislative News


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:

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

Aiken County News


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.



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.


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.




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.



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.



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.



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, 




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



• $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,


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



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?)


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 or e-mail,

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'.


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


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:


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.




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.

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: (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.


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.



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.

• 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%.

• 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.


• 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).



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.



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 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.



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.



June 8, 2017: Spending Your Tax Dollars


The SC General Assembly returned to the Statehouse this week to vote on the nearly $8 billion state General Fund budget that goes takes effect July 1. Differences between the House and Senate versions were hammered out over the past three weeks by a conference committee.

The Good News

Unlike Congress, South Carolina legislators deliver the annual budget on-time with no need to pass a 'Continuing Resolution' to keep government functioning because of disagreements. Even better, SC's budget is balanced (we don't spend more than we take in) and we tuck away the maximum amount allowed in the 'savings fund' called the Reserve Account.

Budgets Bumpy Road in the Senate

There was one major sticking point - opposition to a provision that strips SC's Commission on Higher Education (CHE) of its ability to review the bulk of public colleges' building plans.

The Senate initially voted 19-23 to reject a budget clause suspending the Commission's authority to say yes or no to public colleges' plans for athletic facilities and all other construction projects that aren't new academic buildings. The agency says those represent about 80 percent of all proposals it reviews.

While the universities argue they want relief from the review process because it's overly burdensome, CHE officials contend that increased tuition and fees help support the building spree that's currently going on across many campuses.

The Senate's initial vote put the budget in limbo. If it had held, legislators would have been forced to restart budget negotiations. Faced with the possibility of having no budget before the fiscal year's July 1 start, senators overturned their vote and approved the budget compromise 40-2.

Opposition in the House

In leading the opposition to the proposal in the House, I objected to budget negotiators suspending state law by a proviso that couldn't be voted on separately. If they want to change critical state policy they need to file legislation like any other legislator so it can be properly debated.

Reporters quoted my remarks when I said, "When they (CHE) did their job, they got stripped of their authority." I warned, "Tuitions could rise rapidly. It's an unwise approach." I also called on Gov. Henry McMaster to veto the budget clause and reinstate CHE's authority.


As Chairman of the House Higher Education Sub-Committee, I have come to appreciate CHE's role and challenges. In 2015 I chaired nine hearings examining legislation that would have created a state Board of Regents. Experts repeatedly told us CHE was best positioned to accomplish the mission set out by the legislature 50 years ago - to coordinate SC's 33 public universities and colleges. The Commission is responsible for assuring a balance between student and taxpayers interests while promoting quality, access and efficiency.

Despite the Commission's recent efforts to challenge construction costs, campus building construction has skyrocketed. Over the past decade, the state's public colleges have completed $3.7 billion worth of construction. Tuition costs have also shot-up at an unsustainable rate. SC ranks #1 in the southeast and #8 nationally in cost of attendance at our public colleges and universities. Another study ranks SC as the 7th least affordable state in the nation for higher education.

The cost for a SC student to attend USC or Clemson is roughly $26-$28,000 per year. The average SC family income is $48,000 a year. Families are already being priced out of college educations while out-of-state students are flocking to our flagship universities. At USC's Columbia campus nearly half of the students are from out-of-state.

We need now, more than ever, an agency that works every day on our higher education system. CHE is our agency to coordinate across and to monitor our 33 educational instructions.

In the end, the House voted 100-9 to approve the budget deal worked out last week by a six-member panel.

Aiken County Scores

Aiken County got a win in this state budget. It will receive approximately $2 million in reimbursement for expenses resulting from the ice storm clean-up in February 2014. The federal government reimbursed counties and municipalities about 80% of their expenses. This is in addition to the $4.1 million appropriated two years ago by the legislature to the local governments in the 22 counties.

Budget Highlights

Overall, the state budget totals $27 billion. The General Fund is the smallest portion of the total budget. Other funds include fees and fines, but a bulk of that is pass-through monies for college tuition. The federal portion is money allocated from the federal government to various programs and passes through the state treasury.


Specifically, the General Fund budget that was approved, totals nearly $8 billion. Here are the highlights:

• Funding for K-12 schools statewide increases by roughly $140 million over last year's spending plan including:
           $29 million for new school buses
           $60 million to increase the state's per-pupil funding to $2,425 a student
           $56 million for school repairs in low-income districts in the state
           $19 million to Charter Schools because of student growth
           $12 million for K-12 technologies

• $10 million in additional funding the state colleges & universities
• $68 million in Hurricane Matthew cleanup costs
• $150 million for the state's underfunded pension system
• $10 million boost to the local government fund
• $25 million to cover state employees' health insurance increases
• $45 million to Medicaid Maintenance of Effort
• $9 million for Mental Health Telemedicine
• $25 million for DSS Child Support System
• $16 million for DHEC Dam Safety Program
• $3 million for MUSC to begin development of adult burn unit
• $5 million for Correctional Officers hiring rate and retention
• $6.7 million to DMV to implement federal Real ID program
• $5 million for coastal beach renourishment
• $3 million for PARD funds to be distributed to counties & towns

If you wish to review the detailed budget summary, it's online (click here).

What's Next?

The budget goes to the governor where he may use his line item veto to strike specific allocations. The legislature may return later this month to consider those vetoes. In the meantime, I continue to return to the Statehouse in the off-session to attend hearings for committees on which I serve: the Legislative Oversight (Investigating) Committee and the Tax Review Committee.

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



Memorial Day Aiken-Style


Aiken County celebrates Memorial Day in a BIG way. The Aiken parade features 140 units and the Aiken Memorial Day Celebration draws a large crowd. I was please to once again be invited to speak at the 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.



May 26, 2017: Remembering What?


This past week family and friends gathered here in Aiken County to honor an American patriot and a hero of a long-ago war.

Aiken County's James "Boots" Beatty, 96, was presented the Bronze Star that was authorized in 1944. However, he was never notified. Seven decades later Congressman Joe Wilson presented the Bronze Star and I honored "Boots" with recognition from the S.C. House of Representatives.

Boots' remarkable story was unknown for decades. He was one of the original military 'tough guys' in World War II. He served in the famed Devil's Brigade, our county's First Special Forces Unit and the forerunner of Army Rangers, Delta Force, Navy Seals, etc. The recognition was a surprise arranged by his loving family who didn't know of his special service until they discovered it six years ago because he never told them. (To learn more read news reports in The State and the Columbia Star)

It was most certainly a day to remember the heroes of the 'Silent Generation' and say THANK YOU to one for his service.

Memorial Day - Did You Know?

Did you know that Decoration Day had always been on May 30th until it was designated a federal holiday in 1967. Then, in 1971, Memorial Day was assigned to the last Monday of May.

That made it a three day weekend and, regrettably, less about honoring the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price for their county and more about a three-day weekend, filled with mattress sales and backyard bar-b-ques.

How far we've come! In the years just following the War Between the States the day was observed by holding church services (which were filled) and not by going to stores (which were closed). Now, as with so many customs of our culture, Memorial Day's observance has been almost entirely reversed. And in that reversal, the day's original and highest meaning has been lost to many.

Aiken Remembers!

Aiken County is a special place. We remember our fallen on Memorial Day each year with a huge downtown parade and an official ceremony on Monday.

Memorial Day Parade

The City of Aiken is the site of the annual Jaycee's Memorial Day Parade - one of the few in the South Carolina - tomorrow (Saturday, May 27th) downtown Aiken - 11:00 am. 140 units will be participating. It's a wonderful opportunity to display your patriotism, to remember the fallen, to say "thank you" to our veterans and to teach our children and grandchildren about love of country. I'll see you there.


Memorial Day Recognition Ceremonies

There are several Memorial Day ceremonies held around Aiken County. Most prominent is the ceremony sponsored by the Marine Corp League held Monday, May 29th, 11:00 am at the Aiken County Veteran's Park, 1435 East Richland Avenue. North Augusta conducts its ceremony at the same time Monday at the North Augusta Veteran's Park on Georgia Avenue. I'm humbled and honored to be asked to address the Aiken ceremony. I hope you will join your friends and neighbors in a few minutes of honoring those that have given their lives in service to our country.


State Considers Water Controls for Aiken & 6 Other Counties South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced late today it plans to proceed with potentially naming seven Western S.C. counties (including Aiken) a 'Capacity Use Area'.



Their review indicates that water level declines in the aquifer systems have been influenced by an increase in population, public water supply use and agricultural activities using groundwater as well as a series of long-standing droughts. Those have combined to reduce the recharging of the aquifer systems. A capacity use designation would allow DHEC to issue permits for wells so they can coordinate and work with users of groundwater resources to more effectively manage groundwater. There will be a series of public hearings in the coming months resulting in a recommendation that needs the approval of the DHEC Board. (Here is a link to the DHEC just-released report.)

Unfinished Business

The S.C. General Assembly ended the first year of its regular session on May 11th. But there is unfinished business. House-Senate negotiators have been working to finalize the state budget which takes effect July 1. The House is scheduled to return to session June 6th to consider the budget compromises and take up legislation that has come from other conference committees. We'll likely return again later in June to consider any Gubernatorial vetoes.

FOIA Bill Signing
Governor Henry McMaster is scheduled to sign into law the enhanced Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation this coming Wednesday, May 31th, at 9:30 a.m. in a Statehouse ceremony. Many of the citizens who fought tirelessly for this legislation over the past seven years are being invited to attend.


Feds Commit to Deepening Charleston Harbor
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has named the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project one of six new starts in their 2017 work plan and have allocated $17.5 million in construction funding. Gov. McMaster called it a major breakthrough and said, "This will supercharge our already vigorous economic growth opportunities. Our competitive edge in the world's economy just got stronger."

Who's Bigger?
Columbia is no longer the most populous city in South Carolina. The latest census report says that "honor" goes to Charleston with 134,385 people - that's 76 more people than Columbia.

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, 2017: FINALLY!


It's often said, "All good things come in time." That's not necessarily true in the rigorous legislative process, but I'm pleased to report that after seven years of battling through the legislative process government transparency in South Carolina is about to receive big improvements.

FOIA - Let the Sunshine In!

I initially filed legislation during my first term in office to significantly enhance SC's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Seven years later the latest version of the bill is about to become law. The House voted unanimously to accept a Senate amendment sending the bill to Gov. Henry McMaster. He says he'll sign it.

Ground Zero for FOIA Reform

It all began in Aiken County. In 2010, opponents of a school bond referendum filed FOIA requests with the school district and they went unanswered until long after the vote was held. That bond referendum was soundly defeated. Citizens of Aiken County haven't been alone in their fight to know what government is doing. During years of committee testimony at the Statehouse we heard from citizens from across the state about their difficulties in getting their FOIA requests fulfilled. For certain, many school districts, towns, cities and counties fulfill FOIA requests in a timely and cost-effective way, but others are egregious in snubbing citizens, refusing to comply and, in some cases, also charging them outrageous fees.

New Rules for FOIA

This legislation closes many loopholes in SC's open records law. The deadlines for responding have been strengthened. Public bodies have had 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request, but that can include simply acknowledging receipt. There hasn't been a timeline for actually providing the information, essentially allowing requests to be ignored indefinitely.

This bill requires a yes or no decision within 10 business days, and a month to actually provide the information in most cases. It also caps costs so citizens can't be gouged with exorbitant fees for searching or copying records. These were all the fixes initially sought by citizens who wanted improvements in FOIA.

The Compromise

In the past couple of years the legislation was enhanced when we proposed the creation of an FOIA hearing officer in the Administrative Law Court. That would have allowed for an inexpensive and speedy way for citizens to resolve FOIA disputes without necessarily hiring a lawyer. However, again this session, the same senator who managed to kill the FOIA legislation last year, blocked it this time unless everyone agreed to her position. Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Walterboro Democrat and lawyer, insisted on the elimination of the FOIA court. With just one hour left in the regular legislative session Thursday, we urged our House colleagues to accept her amendment rather than risk the bill dying again. Bright Matthews amendment does call for FOIA disputes to be expedited in Circuit Court with an initial hearing to be held within 10 days. That's an improvement over the current legal remedy which is slow and expensive.

Hat's Off to the Transparency Champions

Many people deserve praise for this legislative victory. Foremost, Rep. Weston Newton, a huge proponent of open government, picked up the battle with me last session and again this year; we cosponsored the legislation. He's my hero! Sen. Tom Young helped shepherd the bill over the Senate hurdles as did Sen. Chip Campsen. However, my greatest praise goes to those everyday citizens (i.e., Jane Page Thompson, Alberta Wasden, Kim Murphy and so many more) who fought alongside us every step of the way. At last, SUCCESS!

Swift Action Hikes Your Gas Tax

Typically, the legislature moves slowly. Not during the final week of this year's regular session. Monday, the Senate voted by a large margin to approve a bill to increase the SC gas tax 71%. Tuesday, the House voted to 99-20 to send it to the governor. Within hours, Gov. McMaster vetoed the legislation. The next day, the House and Senate easily cleared the two-thirds margin needed to override the governor allowing the gas tax increase to become law.

Gov. McMaster opposed H.3516 because it would raise the gas tax 12 cents per-gallon by 2023. McMaster believes legislators could have found the new money by other means. He said, "If we would simply reform how (the state Department of Transportation) spends your tax dollars to be responsible and accountable, we'd have plenty of money and this gas tax would be totally unnecessary."

Budget analysts estimate the proposal will raise an additional $630 million annually once it is fully phased in after 2023.

The measure also lift the current vehicle sales tax cap from $300 to $500 and create a new biannual fee for owners of hybrid or electric vehicles and a $250 fee for out-of-state residents who seek to register their vehicle in the state for the first time. It also creates new tax credits for SC residents to claw back what they spent in new tax money.


(Read Lt. Gov. Bryant's Op-Ed in today's Aiken Standard)

My Opposition

I opposed the enormous hike in the gas tax and stood with the governor as did two other Aiken area legislators: Sen. Tom Young and Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey.

In my view, it's far too easy for legislators to reach into people's pockets and raise their taxes rather than truly fixing SCDOT. Most citizens have little faith that their increased taxes will actually be used to fix roads and bridges and this bill fell far short in significant reform of SCDOT. The tax cuts in this roads bill are too little and not truly meaningful. Frankly, many legislators who supported the tax hike were bemoaning privately that the bill is "not a pretty baby". The people of South Carolina deserve better.

Frenzy to the Finish Line

Sine Die (Latin meaning "without a fixed day") Adjournment occurred this past Thursday at 5:00 pm and marked the end of this year's general legislative session. For a bill to have become law this year, it would have needed to pass both legislative chambers by Sine Die. This always adds increased pressure in the final week of legislative session.

While my House colleagues and I passed many significant pieces of legislation this past week, there are far too many for me to summarize in this newsletter. I have placed a detailed summary of this past week on my website. I invite you to look it over by clicking on this link:  Final Week in Review

We still have more legislative work ahead of us. We return to the Statehouse May 23rd to take final actions on the state budget which a House-Senate conference committee is hammering out. We will likely return another week later to process any gubernatorial vetoes.

Back in the Classroom

I began this past week by joining the SC House ad hoc committee on 'Competency Based Education' in touring three Sand Hill schools in Lexington School District 4. We learned how the Montessori method of teaching is individualizing learning in the early childhood classes and into the primary grades. The CRISIS in public education demands we change our techniques and unbridle students to learn at their own pace. What we saw in those schools what appears to be a one approach to build on for the 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.

May 8, 2017: Flurry to the Finish Line


There is a flurry to the finish line as we enter the final week for the SC General Assembly's first year of the 122nd session. Topping the list of legislation is the controversial plan to raise the state's gas tax 71%, along with other fees, to provide long-term funding for road improvements.


Road Funding - Compromise Reached


A legislative conference committee reached a deal they hope will get a road funding measure over the finish line this week. The House-Senate panel of six legislators agreed to a 12 cents per-gallon gas tax increase proposed by the Senate, but they dropped their plan to eventually index the tax each year to keep pace with future inflation. Critical votes will be cast in the House and Senate this week because the conference committee agreement needs the approval of a two-thirds vote in each body to eventually override the veto promised by Gov. Henry McMaster.


The Plan


Among the areas agreed on: increasing the state's current sales tax cap on new vehicles from $300 to $500, creating a $250 fee for new residents seeking to register their vehicles in SC, and no increase in license fees. Committee members also agreed to tax rebates which were used to sway some Senate Republicans to support the measure. Here are the specifics:



  • Creates a long-term funding stream for roads by increasing the motor fuel user fee by 2 cents/gallon over the next 6 years, not exceeding 12 cents/gallon.
  • Eliminates future automatic tax increases by not indexing for inflation.
  • Creates an Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure all new revenue collected from the motor fuel user fee is used only for existing infrastructure needs.
  • Does not increase or change fees for SC's driver's license applications or renewals.
  • Increases funding for County Transportation Committees to repair rural and secondary roads.
  • Captures revenue from alternative energy motorists. The roughly 44,000 hybrid vehicle owners in SC would pay a $60 fee every two years while the state's 460 electric-vehicle owners would pay a $120 fee every two years.
  • Established a road use fee to capture revenue from out of state truckers.
  • Raises the cap on motor vehicle sales tax to $500.
  • Creates a $250 registration fee for out-of-state vehicles coming to SC.
  • Incents road construction industry to return to SC with responsible infrastructure investment.
  • Provides $640 million in new annual revenue for infrastructure maintenance needs when fully implemented.

Tax Relief

  • Offers a refundable income tax credit equal to the motor fuel user fee increase that must be reauthorized prior to 2023.
  • Enhances already existing College Tuition Tax Credit for every SC tuition-payer to enhance workforce development.
  • Contains a non-refundable Low Income Tax Credit for working families.
  • Increases the maximum income tax credit from $210 to $350 for dual income household joint filers.
  • Reduces SC manufacturer's property tax burden by $35 million using a phased-in approach over 6 years.

Governance and Reform

  • Gives Governor control of the DOT Commission with a clear line of authority and at-will removal.
  • Requires General Assembly to approve all 9 Highway Commission appointees.
  • Highway Commission organized to reflect regional representation with 7 Congressional districts and 2 statewide at-large members appointed by the Governor (adds 1 member to current structure).
  • Strengthens DOT's control over project authorization and financial decisions by the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

What Do You Think?

I represent the nearly 40,000 residents of House District 86, a sprawling rural area covering about two-thirds of Aiken County. Prior to casting my vote on the roads bill this week, I want to hear from constituents. If you live in HD-86, please email me by replying to this newsletter. If you live elsewhere, write your Representative or Senator via the ‘Contact Your Legislator’ form at





Paving is underway on I-20 in Aiken County! Drivers have been tolerating the rough road during the grinding process to prepare for the new paving. SCDOT reports that one lane mile is being paved each night so work is done with the least traffic congestion. It will take several months; there are 120 lane miles to be paved.



Crop Dusting Legislation Proposed

Recently, students at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary, Hwy. 78 in Aiken County, experienced a "strange odor" while a crop dusting plane was operating nearby. One student with respiratory problems was taken to his doctor. There's no state law that prohibits aerial spraying near a school. Last week, I introduced legislation to correct that. H.4277 would prohibit aerial spraying within 1,000 feet of a school during regular operating hours and during extracurricular activities including athletic events.   Fines would range from $1,000 to $5,000 and potential loss of their aerial spraying permit.



The State newspaper has produced a series of in-depth stories about the controversies surrounding the Aiken County mega-farms. In the latest installment, reporter Sammy Fretwell reviews the legislation in the works dealing with various water issues and my aerial spraying bill. (Story link)


State House to the School House Tour

My 'State House to the School House Tour' took me to East Aiken Elementary School of the Arts. It was a lively, hour-long Q&A session with 3rd graders about state government. They're a smart group of kids fueled by enthusiastic teachers and great leadership!



Family Values

There is no recognition I more treasure than being named a "Champion of Families" by the Palmetto Family organization. This past week, Speaker Jay Lucas and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant presented the award to legislators for their voting record in defense of family values.  With the intense cultural war being waged on families and religion, I'm proud to stand in defense of Godly values. 



Legislative News


Industrial Hemp OK'd

A bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp in a South Carolina pilot project has been sent to the governor after winning House approval. Hemp is controversial because it is a close relative to marijuana, but does not possess the chemical properties that make a person feel "high." Under this plan (H.3559), the program would allow up to 20 farmers to apply for permits to grow up to 20 acres of hemp for the project's first year with the program expanding over three years.



The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3240, a bill that provides for SC to honor valid out-of-state permits to carry concealable weapons held by residents of other states that recognize and honor valid SC permits, so long as the out-of-state permit holders are at least twenty-one years old or are military personnel of any age.


Lt. Gov. Job to Change

The House returned S.107 to the Senate with amendments. The bill eliminates the lieutenant governor's only two real jobs: president of the Senate and director of the Office on Aging. His/her job duties would be spelled out by the governor, much like the President and VP. Starting in 2018 the governor and Lt. Governor will run for election as a team.


Night Hunting

The House returned S.443 to the Senate with amendments.  The legislation makes provisions for a night hunting program for coyotes, armadillos and feral hogs in order to reduce the populations of these animals. 


Restricting Animal Ownership

The House approved a bill (H.3531) that imposes restrictions on the ownership of large wild cats, non-native bears and great apes as a means of furthering conservation efforts for the welfare of vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species while protecting the public against the potential safety risks posed by holding these wild animals in captivity. 


Burial Expenses

The House gave final approval to H.3879, that increases burial expenses payable under worker' compensation laws for accidental workplace deaths by setting the maximum amount payable to families at $12,000, rather than the current maximum of $2500 for such funeral expenses.


Revising Elections

This legislation (H.3150) revises provisions for special elections by requiring that general elections be held for uncontested municipal races. This bill eliminates an exception that currently allows a general election not to be conducted to fill a municipal office when only one person has filed for the office and no one has filed a declaration to be a write-in candidate.


Name Change

The House approval S.444 that replaces references to an "automotive three-wheel vehicle" with the term "autocycle" in order to conform state law to standard manufacturers' definitions widely adopted by states. 


Crime Victims

The House amended and returned to the Senate S.289, the "SC Crime Victim Services Act" which restructures the state's various crime victim services and funds by consolidating them in a division of the Attorney General's Office.


Police & Mental Health Issues

The House amended legislation (S.173) requiring law enforcement officers to incorporate mandatory training in mental health issues that covers such topics as responding to situations where individuals are experiencing a mental health or addictive disorder crisis. 


Pyramid Schemes Prohibition

The House amended and approved (H.3883) revising the way SC laws address money-making schemes where payment is based primarily upon recruiting others into the operation rather than selling products or services.  The legislation designates a pyramid promotional scheme as an unfair trade practice, entitling victims to obtain legal relief under the provisions of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.


Picture of the Week

One of the joys of being a parent is to see your son or daughter advance their education. Our son, Ryan, received his MBA from USC-Aiken this past week. This is Ryan's second Master's degree; his first is in counseling. I was fortunate to be asked to participate in his Master's hooding ceremony at USCA.



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 1, 2017: GOOFY!


When asked about the roads tax hike legislation passed by the state Senate last week, I told WRDW-TV News 12, "Government does some really goofy things and this is the goofiest gas tax hike I've ever seen."

Even Sen. Majority Leader Shane Massey seemed to agree. He said, "The bill that we passed is not a pretty baby there's no question about that, but I think it's important to continue the conversation." (News 12 story link)

The Senate Roads Plan

For certain, the Senate version is far from ideal. It's clear from their comments that many in the Senate agree with that assessment. What does their bill include? Senators voted to amend the House bill to increase the gas tax 71% -- 12-cents a gallon over six years instead of 10-cents in the House version. Senator's also doubled the driver's license fees while other fees have been increased. The total price tag is $800 million a year in additional taxes and fees.

To appease Senators who sought tax reductions to partially offset the gas tax hike, they voted to include a wealth redistribution element more commonly known as the "Earned Income Tax Credit" and provide tax credits for college students. The tax plan would have government return to motorists the first $150 million in new gas tax in the form of a rebate. That's like laundering your money (the significantly "Goofy" part of their plan).

House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill was critical of the Senate's tax credits for SC drivers who save their receipts and claw back additional gas tax money they paid. Simrill argued the $150 million set aside by the Senate for tax credits would be roughly half of all additional gas tax money raised in the bill's first year.

Additionally, the Senate's revisions almost completely removes the DOT governance model contained in the House version.

The Senate passed the plan after sitting down state Sen. Tom Davis who had filibustered a gas-tax increase the last two years. Davis, who opposes increasing the gas tax has advocated for the Transportation Department to be a cabinet agency.

In keeping with the legislative process, the bill now heads back to the House where this week we will begin debate the merits of these Senate changes and work out the policy differences between the two plans.

I was one of 18 Representatives who opposed the original House bill. Fixing our roads isn't debatable. How we fix the roads is debatable. If we're going to raise taxes to fund roads we also have the ability to offer meaningful tax relief to everyday, hardworking South Carolinian's who can ill afford more taxes. When it comes it fixing roads, for many citizens, reforming DOT is their #1 issue. I have heard from many who want the legislature to be bold in reforming DOT to make it transparent and accountable. They want to be able to trust the tax money is being spent wisely to improve our roads. The current legislation falls far short on both fronts.

Gov. Henry McMaster has threatened to veto any tax increase, but now the Senate has joined the House in votes that would eclipse the two-thirds vote needed to override his veto.

A Fix for the Public Employee Retirement System

In a break of good news, the Governor also signed five new pieces of legislation, chief among them a bill to bring 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 SC's struggling retirement system. The legislation is aimed at reducing an estimated $21 billion gap between what the state has promised future retirees and what it expects to earn through investment returns. In signing the bill into law Gov. McMaster wrote, "Unfortunately, the only means available today to immediately begin reducing the State's unfunded liability is to increase employee and employer contributions."

McMaster blamed the $21 billion liability on poor investment performance since the 2008 recession, too-lenient retirement eligibility standards until 2012 and continued cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). He said he was disappointed lawmakers did not take steps towards transitioning to a "defined contributions" plan, such as a 401(k).

I agree with Gov. McMaster that we need to transition to a 401k plan, but we must do so carefully to keep our longtime promises to government employees.

Public Employee Benefits Authority Chairman John Sowards said the liabilities needed to be settled before any talk of reform, since it involves money already promised to future retirees.

                                               Aiken County News

The spotlight was on Aiken in the S.C. House of Representatives. We honored the South Aiken High School 'Lady Thoroughbreds' Swim Team for capturing the 2016 Class AAAA State Swim Championship last fall. The ladies were led by first year Head Coach Holly Rickman, who was also named 'Coach of the Year' by the SC Press.


Wagener HS Military Ball
It was a delight to participate in the Wagener-Salley HS Army JROTC 12th Annual Military Ball Saturday evening and deliver the keynote address. While the news is filled with stories of teens throwing their lives away, we need to recognize and appreciate that these ROTC cadets are the best and are learning the qualities of discipline, teamwork, self-reliance, dedication, patriotism and leadership. It was a very special evening and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience their military ball and honor the cadets.

Run United
Great success and a huge turnout for Saturday's Annual 'Run United' in downtown Aiken that raises money to support Aiken County's United Way. Hat's off to Aiken Electric Coop for being the organizing sponsor. I had a blast honoring the winners.


                                                    Legislative News

Ryans's Law
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3790, a bill enacting "RYAN'S LAW" that expands requirements for health insurers to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder treatments so that these requirements apply not only to the State Health Plan and larger group health insurance plans, but also to health insurance policies for small employers and individuals.

Financially Unstable School Districts

The House agreed with Senate amendments to H.3221 and sent it to the governor. This legislation calls for the State Department of Education (DOE) to work with school districts to develop and adopt a statewide program for identifying fiscal practices and budgetary conditions that, if uncorrected, could compromise the fiscal integrity of a school district.

Probate Court Revisions

The House approved S.415 that provides for comprehensive Probate Court revisions to bring greater statewide uniformity to the probate process, reduce costs for filing probate actions, and enhance protections for the disabled.

Surveyors Immunity

The House approved S.342 that establishes conditions for affording surveyors immunity from legal liability while volunteering their services during natural disasters and other declared state or national emergencies.

Autism & Driving
The House returned S.344 to the Senate with amendments. The legislation allows for the option of including an Autism designation on a driver's license. This voluntary program allows an autism symbol to be included on driver's licenses so as to reduce the likelihood of law enforcement officers misinterpreting movements and behavior during traffic stops and other interactions.

Drug Help without Penalties
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3818, a bill establishing conditions under which someone is exempt from prosecution for certain drug and alcohol-related offenses while seeking medical attention for a drug or alcohol-related overdose or assisting someone else to obtain medical treatment for an overdose.

Lady Gamecocks Honored
The 'National Champion' USC Lady Gamecocks basketball team was honored by the S.C. General Assembly this past week in the House chamber. We were also treated to inspirational remarks by Coach Dawn Staley.


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 24, 2017: Time Running Out for Roads Fix


Normally my legislative updates focus primarily on actions of the SC House of Representatives, but this past week all eyes were trained on the Senate where the fate of the House-passed infrastructure package (a.k.a. the “roads bill”) resides.  


Calling Out Senators


The legislative week started with about 75 House members gathering in the Statehouse lobby to publicly request the Senate take action to fix our roads and bridges.  House Speaker Jay Lucas called on the Senate to "Pass the damn bill." Lucas was referring to a plane that flew over last weekend’s RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton head, towing a sign that read “FIX THE DAMN ROADS.”


Time is Running Out


The Senate began debate hours later but have not reached consensus on a pathway forward.  As it stands now, the Senate is again set to take up the roads bill debate this week. Time is running out; we’re in our 15th week of this session and only nine regular days of session remain under normal circumstances.


Many Republicans in the Senate say they will not back a plan to increase the gas tax unless it also includes an offsetting income tax cut or revamps that reduce the legislature’s influence construction project decisions. Conservatives in the Senate GOP voiced displeasure with Senate leaders’ decision to raise the tax 12 cents per-gallon (larger than the 10 cents approved by the House) and removing House language that revamped the state Department of Transportation.


Gov. Henry McMaster reiterated his opposition to the bill adamantly telling reporters in a Statehouse press conference that he would veto any gas tax increase that reached his desk.


At the end of last week’s debate, Senate President Hugh Leatherman told Senators “We finally got started on the roads bill this week”.  Leatherman gave senators marching orders to be prepared to move forward this coming week with the proposed legislation saying they may need to work nights.


Around Aiken County


Back to School

My 'State House to the School House Tour' went to Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary Friday. Third graders study state government and for those schools that aren't able to bring students to the Statehouse on a field trip, I bring it to them by showing them a video and answering all their questions.



Aiken GOP Convention

Aiken County Republican Party faithful gathered recently for their Annual Convention. For my part, my remarks focused on President Trump's many successes and the need of the faithful to fully support his initiatives (particularly in the relentless onslaught from the 'Lame Brain Leftist National Media').


Legislative News


Seat Belts on School Busses

House members debated then turned back a proposal to eventually require seat belts on all new school busses in SC. There was concern about the cost ($6,500 per bus) and the potential new requirements for drivers to be responsible for each student during an accident. The bill was referred back to committee.


School Stadium Restrooms

The House concurred in Senate amendments to a bill (H.3792) that establishes minimum standards for the numbers of restroom plumbing fixtures available for men and women at middle school and high school stadiums as a means of relieving public schools from the financial burden placed upon them by current requirements.


Deadly Flu in SC

Another teenager recently died from flu complications in South Carolina, the second teen to die this year. DHEC Director Catherine Heigel testified before the House Legislative Oversight Committee on which I serve. She reported a total of 59 people in the state died from the flu through April 8. That’s a 51 percent increase over the same period last year.


Recyclers Bill

The House approved legislation (S.181) that provides recycling companies with the same protections afforded suppliers of virgin materials under SC’s Hazardous Waste Management Act.  The revisions are in keeping with changes adopted at the federal level under the Superfund Recycling Equity Act. 


Liquor Sales Permitting

The House approved and sent the Senate legislation that revises the permitting of liquor licenses from being issued to businesses located within certain distances of churches, schools, or playgrounds. H.3549 would allow a permit for on‑premises consumption of alcoholic liquor to be issued to a business so long as the local school board of any school located nearby does not object.   


Halting Development

SC property owners currently have the right to block land development near their home by issuing what’s known as an “automatic stay,” which halts construction until a judge can hear the dispute. Under a bill passed by a House panel, developers could resume construction after 30 days if a judge does not rule before then. The Senate approved a different version of the bill earlier this year with a 90-day limit. The measure has been a top priority for legislative Republicans who argue stays are abused by conservation groups to block permits as soon as they are approved by state regulators.


Curtailing Regulations

Gov. Henry McMaster announced a new Executive Order requiring the 16 agencies McMaster controls as governor to only propose regulations in response to “fact-based” needs, be fair to all involved and not an “unnecessary burden,” beneficial to all South Carolinians and which build “goodwill among businesses and communities.”


Cybersecurity Threats

Concerned about the potential threats to state infrastructure and sensitive information, Gov. Henry McMaster signed a new Executive Order designed to strengthen the state’s cybersecurity efforts. McMaster’s order creates the South Carolina Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (CIC) Executive Oversight Group, which will implement a statewide plan recommended last year by a working group set up under then-Gov. Nikki Haley. Details of that plan remain confidential.


Paying for Power Plants

Legislation has been filed in the House to prevent utility companies from increasing residential electric rates to pay for building power plants. The bill makes changes to the state’s Base Load Review Act (BLRA) which allows utilities to increase rates to pay for new power plants that are uncompleted, under construction, are not completed and not generating electric. SCANA, parent company of SCE&G, hiked electric rates nine times since 2008 to help pay for the project at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Facility in Fairfield County.


Honoring a S.C. Public Servant

It was my privilege to lead legislators in honoring Gary Glenn, who just retired as Executive Director of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. Gary, a retired Colonel in the Army Reserve, has dedicated more than four decades of service to the Palmetto State at various state agencies. I presented him with a House Resolution.


Welcome to the House

I never know on any given day who is going to show up in front of my desk on the floor of the SC House of Representatives. Last week, we welcomed U.S. Sen. Tim Scott – a 'Conservative Champion’ for SC – and a former member of the SC House.


Reality Check – Education Facts

We use the ACT in 11th grade to determine college and career readiness. A score of 21 indicates a student is ready. However, the average ACT score at Clemson is 29 and 27 at USC.  In 2016, Aiken County students averaged a score of 18.1, which means our ‘average student’ in Aiken County is not ready and falls short for meeting the standards to get into Clemson or USC.


Just as concerning, we use 4th grade and 8th grade NAEP scores to compare student achievement nationally. NAEP is the "nation's report card." A random sample of students statewide is used, so these results are not specific to Aiken County. However, they demonstrate the urgent need for improvements in public education:  


  • 33% of our 4th graders are at or above proficiency in reading (39th)
  • 36% of our 4th graders are at or above proficiency in math (39th)
  • 28% of our 8th graders are at or above proficiency in reading (41st)
  • 26% of our 8th graders are at or above proficiency in math (41st).



In two weeks I will join a few other legislators in touring public schools in Lexington County that are piloting new trends in education and finding success.

Picture of the Week


Major Political Announcement! Granddaughter Avery visited the SC House of Representatives this past week and I took the opportunity to announce her candidacy for Governor 2050. She'll be 42, the perfect "youthful" age to lead SC into the second half of the Century. I told my colleagues that it's most unlikely I'll be there for her inauguration, so I wanted to be present for the kick-off announcement! 




April 10, 2017:  Legislative Avalanche at Crossover Deadline


It’s called the ‘Crossover Deadline’ — this past week was the final opportunity for either the House or Senate to approve new legislation that originated in its own chamber in order to be taken up by the other with the possibility to become law this year.  A lot of bills won approval. Here’s the top of the list.


Gun Rights Advances

After hours of debate, the House passed H.3930 allowing the carrying of a firearm either openly or concealed, implementing what is often called “Constitutional carry” or “permit-less carry” in SC. Constitutional Carry allows law-abiding citizens to open carry a hand gun without government permission. The legislation continues SC’s CWP program which allows reciprocity with other states. It also prohibits open carry in those places where CWP holders are forbidden to carry (schools, hospitals, churches, government buildings or posted sites). The bill faces stiff opposition in the Senate. SC is one of only 5 states that prohibit open carry of hand guns.


Arming First Responders

In other gun legislation, the House approved a bill (H.3566) that allows EMS personnel and fire fighters to be armed with a handgun while rendering aid in crisis situations.  They will need to have a CWP and receive a week of training at the Criminal Justice Academy. The bill allows them to possess firearms on school premises while they are responding to a campus shooting or other emergencies.


Securing the Future of the Public Employee Retirement System

It was no surprise the state retirement system suffered during The Great Recession. The market decline coupled with poor management decisions resulted in unprecedented losses to the retirement system which had to be addressed.  I am pleased to report that this past week the House and Senate passed a conference report (H.3726) now on the governor’s desk, bringing solvency to the system nearly every public employee depends upon. State Retirees Association President Wayne Bell said the changes are good news for the roughly 312,000 current and future retirees who are part of the plan. He said, “We could not have planned a better bill.”


Work Zone Safety

The recent hit & run deaths of two SCDOT workers in Aiken County prompted the filing of legislation to toughen up penalties for driving violations that endanger highway workers. Two weeks after the bill (H.4033) was introduced by Aiken County legislators it won approval by the House and was sent to the Senate.  The legislation establishes an array of penalties for violations, including a fine of not more than five thousand dollars when the driver causes a highway worker to suffer great bodily injury.  


Governor’s $1 Billion Road Fix

Gov. Henry McMaster wants lawmakers to borrow up to $1 billion to fix South Carolina’s crumbling roads. In a letter to legislators, the governor advised lawmakers to change a House proposed $500 million borrowing plan for higher education and state agencies to handle maintenance and technology needs and instead spend that money on roads.


Public School Performance Ratings

A single public education accountability system was approved by the House and sent to the Senate.  H.3969 creates one report card with one overall rating for each school’s performance. Schools will be rated Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory to measure a school’s performance, such as academic achievement, student growth or progress, graduation rate, English language proficiency, and college and career readiness. I was one of a group of legislators that argued in favor of A-F grades for schools – the rating overwhelmingly favored by parents for its clarity.


A Foothold for the Hemp Industry for SC

The House passed legislation to test the viability of the hemp industry in SC. The bill (H.3559) establishes a three-year pilot program to explore the cultivation of industrial hemp. Fifteen permits will be issued annually and the crops will be heavily monitored by law enforcement. Hemp is used to make a variety of commercial and industrial products including rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation and biofuel.  Currently, 15 states have legalized industrial hemp production, and about two dozen others have introduced legislation to authorize the growing of industrial hemp.


Aiken County Scores in Senate Budget

Aiken County is in line to finally be reimbursed about $5 million for the 2014 ice storm costs if the Senate has its way. Aiken Sen. Tom Young engineered the funding proposal as an amendment to the Senate’s version of next year’s state budget. House budget writers refused to include the reimbursement in their draft of the budget saying the more recent flood and hurricane funding took precedent. It’s far from a done deal; as always the two versions of the budget need to be hammered out.


Closed Primaries

I joined others in filing legislation this past week calling for closed political primary elections in SC. H.4115 provides that a person not be allowed to vote in a partisan primary election unless the person has registered as a member of that party. Closed primaries are designed to prevent partisan elections being hijacked by opposing parties. The tally for closed primaries: 27 states on the Democratic side and 29 on the Republican side.


We Pause to Offer a Salute

We salute Lt. Ben Harm who is retiring after nearly two decades of service at Aiken Public Safety. Since I was locked into a great gun debate on the floor of the House of Representatives, my wife, Donna, attended Ben's reception on my behalf at APS to present him with recognition from the SC House honoring his years of dedicated public service. THANK YOU, BEN!


Other Legislative News



New Vehicle Child Restraint Rules

Children up to eight years old would need to be secured in at least a booster seat while riding in a car under House legislation (H.3864) passed last week. Current state law only mandates the restraint seats for children until age six. Current law has not been updated since 1983 and does not meet what’s recommended by manufacturers and pediatricians.


Women’s Health

The House passed a bill requiring health insurance plans to cover a 12-month prescription of birth control bills for women.  Sponsors argued the bill (H.3809) would give women easier access to contraceptives and prevent unintended pregnancies by allowing women to get a year’s worth of pills at once.


SC Pregnancy Accommodations Act

The House approved legislation (H.3865) that enhances state laws that combat pregnancy discrimination, promote public health, and ensure full and equal participation for women in the labor force by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including accommodations for lactation, that allow employees to remain on the job.  


Protecting Infants from Alcohol & Drugs

The House approved legislation (H.3823) that adds physicians, nurses, and medical or allied health professionals to the list of those who are required to report instances of suspected child abuse or neglect by mandating a report to DSS whenever they encounter a child, under one year in age, who is diagnosed with medical issue from alcohol or a controlled or illegal substance.  


Abusing Prescription Drugs

Legislation (H.3824) was approved by the House that establishes a protocol for conducting a review a patient’s controlled substance prescription history, as maintained in the prescription monitoring program, before a practitioner issues a prescription for a Schedule II controlled substance.


Educating Medical Pros on Substance Abuse

A series of bills have been introduced to curb opioid abuse. The House approved (H.3821) a bill requiring public and private colleges and universities to develop mandatory course work on the prescription and monitoring of controlled substances for medical professionals. The coursework must aim at reducing a patient’s addiction to opioids and other controlled substances.


Pharmaceutical Substitutes

The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3438 and sent it to the Governor. This legislation establishes a protocol authorizing Pharmacists to substitute interchangeable biological products that have been approved by the FDA.  Such substitutions may only be made when a practitioner’s prescription provides authorization.  


Criminal Expungement
The House passed legislation (H.3209) that would allow individuals to seek expungement of their criminal records for minor offenses. Eligibility for this program would require a person to have a clean record for at least the past three years and possibly five depending on the conviction. The bill was sent to the Senate.  


Locksmith Integrity

For far too long, a few bad actors have been taking advantage of the locksmith profession. Citizens depend upon legitimate locksmiths to safeguard their businesses, homes – and the most important of treasures – their loved ones. No longer will South Carolina be the Wild, Wild West for locksmiths. Legislation unanimously passed the House that requires locksmiths to pass a state and national criminal background check as well as examination to become licensed. The bill heads to the Senate.


USCA Gets Green Light for Doctoral Degree

USC-Aiken would be allowed to offer doctoral degrees in Nursing Practice in legislation (H.3793) approved by both the House and Senate and sent to the Governor. Several other universities were also given permission to seek approval of doctoral program from the Commission on Higher Education.


Property Tax Relief

Legislation (H.3093) was approved by the House provides that when a homeowner receiving the four percent property tax assessment ratio dies, the property shall continue to receive the special owner-occupied assessment rate until the deceased’s estate is closed.


National Guard Vets Recognized

SC National Guard veterans would be recognized on their driver’s license, as our other veterans, in legislation (H.3297) passed by the House and sent to the Senate. A Guardsman would have had to serve for at least 20 years.  


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 3, 2017:  Slow Track for Gas Tax Hike


The pace of legislative progress has quickened in the SC House of Representatives; the same can't be said for the state Senate. Topping legislative news this week...


Gas Tax Hike Detours to Senate Slow Track


Senate maneuvering looks eerily similar to last session when attempts to raise the gas tax were filibustered and died. This past week the Senate failed to gather enough votes to fast-track a plan to increase the states' gas tax by 72 percent (12-cents a gallon) as the primary source for funding road improvements. 18 Republican Senators rejected fast-tracking the bill by setting it for special order. It failed to reach the required two-thirds vote in a 23-18 defeat. The chief opponent of raising the gas tax, Sen. Tom Davis, said the proposal is irresponsible and regressive by hurting the people who can least afford to pay it. Davis and others first priority is to reform the structure of the Department of Transportation to remove legislative influence.


And We Pause for...........State of Champions!


With the Lady Gamecocks' 67-55 win over Mississippi State last evening they captured the Women's National Basketball Championship and brought great pride to USC and all of South Carolina. It is the Lady Gamecocks first national title in program history. With that win they finished their magical season 33-4. Hats off to the USC Men's basketball team that made it to the Final Four before losing to Gonzaga. Gonzaga's coach Mark Few summed up USC when he said, "South Carolina played with the heart of a lion." The Lady Gamecocks' National Basketball Championship bolsters South Carolina's claim to be the "State of Champions" with Clemson's National Football Championship and Coastal Carolina as the reining National Baseball Champions. 



REAL ID Bill Heads to Governor


On a vote of 100-3 the SC House approved Senate amendments to Real ID bill (H.3358) and sent it to Gov. Henry McMaster for signing.


What This Means to You: Department of Motor Vehicle Director Kevin Shwedo tells me once the bill is signed into law then accepted by the federal government, SC will have 3 years to implement Real ID. That will be Sept. 30, 2020. That timetable should give us ample time to avoid long lines at DMV. In the meantime, your current driver's license (without the Real ID star) will be compliant with Homeland Security requirements and allow you to use as an ID to fly on commercial airlines and enter federal facilities. DMV is facing tremendous challenges in implementing Real ID. 


Director Shwedo says it will take most of this year to accomplish the needed computer programming, so it will likely be next January before Real ID's can start being issued to those who want one (remember, it's your option whether you want to get a Real ID because it's not required). DMV will soon post Real ID FAQ's on their website which will help guide you through the process. Homeland Security requirements and allow you to use it as an ID to fly on commercial airlines and enter federal facilities. DMV is facing tremendous challenges in implementing Real ID. Director Shwedo says it will take most of this year to accomplish the needed computer programming, so it will likely be next January before Real ID's can start being issued to those who want one (remember, it's your option whether you want to get a Real ID,  it's not required).


Anti-Dismemberment Abortion Act

The House of Representatives passed the Anti-Dismemberment Abortion Act (H.3548). We listened to many hours of debate by a handful of liberal legislators on the floor in order to get it done and the majority of Republicans and Democrats ultimately prevailed in its passage. This law restricts what many people view as the immoral procedure of dismemberment of a living fetus and imposes appropriate penalties for any abortion provider that is found guilty of engaging in the gruesome practice.


Grading Public Schools

After several hours of debate by the House Education Committee, the school grading system favored by school administrators won. Their lobbying efforts beat back the common sense and understandable school report card grading system of A-F (the one favored by nearly every parent I have heard from). Administrators believe A-F grades stigmatize schools; they pushed for word descriptions. In my view, public education is in crisis in SC (we're #50 in the latest performance rankings) and some seem more worried about image and self-esteem. I favor "truth in labeling" so real problems can be identified and remedied with real solutions?


Aiken Champion Honored

We honored a Champion among all champions in the SC House of Representatives. Frelicia Tucker
is Wendy's High School HEISMAN Trophy Winner. She received the prestigious award this past December. The ESPN awards presentation was the culmination of national competition from more than a thousand nominees representing every state. Frelicia is Aiken HS's valedictorian and will head to Rice University on a full scholarship.



Student Shadows Visit Statehouse

We had special visitors at the Statehouse this week. Our Aiken County student shadows spent Wednesday in the House and Senate. These students were selected to represent each of our seven high schools. It was my pleasure to spend time with them and educate them on the legislative process.



Fast & Furious


Only three legislative days remain until the crossover deadline. In order for a bill to have a chance of becoming law this year under normal circumstances, it must receive initial passage in at least one legislative chamber (House or Senate) by the end of next week. The House spent long hours of debate to move bills to the Senate to beat the deadline. Here's a summary of key legislation approved by the House:


Protecting SCDOT Workers

A proposal that would toughen penalties for speeding in a roadway work zone and create a new criminal charge for endangering the lives of highway workers easily cleared a House committee and heads to the House floor for a vote. The measure (H.4033) was introduced less than two weeks ago by Aiken legislators after a hit-and-run driver killed two state DOT employees who were working along a road in Aiken County earlier this month.


HOA Reform

Reform of Home Owner's Associations is long overdue. The House voted unanimously in a bipartisan manner to ensure HOA's operate with added transparency, accountability and fairness. Under this legislation (H.3886), home sellers must tell home buyers at the time of sale if a property is regulated by an HOA. Additionally, this bill adds homeowner protections by allowing more disputes to be settled in lower courts, avoiding the need for expensive legal bills in some cases. The bill requires any HOA to give public notice prior to raising any yearly fees on association membership.


Behavioral "Crimes" in Schools

The House voted to create a study committee that will review SC's laws on 'disturbing schools'. Some have complained that classroom behavior has been over-criminalized. The panel of legislators will recommend ways to redirect misbehaving juveniles away from the criminal justice system and more towards school-centered discipline.


Background Checks for Realtors

The House approved legislation (H.3041) to enhance criminal background check requirements for licensing real estate agents both when a license is issued and again when renewed. The SC Realtors Association pushed for this legislation after the arrest of an Upstate Realtor on multiple murder charges.


Second Chances

The House approved legislation (H.3789) affords eligible youthful offenders who successfully complete military and job training programs the opportunity of having nonviolent criminal offenses expunged from their records.


Safe Children's Act

The House passed (H.3125) that codifies a comprehensive set of best practices for Department of Social Services (DSS) protocol and interventions in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.


Expanding Drug Take-Back Programs

Under legislation passed by the House drug take-back programs would be expanded. The bill (H.3817) allows pharmacies and certain others to register as collection centers for unused prescription drugs as a means of preventing substance abuse by keeping opioids and other dangerous prescription drugs out of the wrong hands.


Safe Produce

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture would have the authority to oversee a new federal safety standards program for certain farm produce in legislation (H.4003) passed by the House. The program ensures that large farmers are handling and packaging produce in accordance with these national food safety standards. 


Streamlining Elections

Municipal elections in SC would have to be held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in each even-numbered year, the same time when general elections for federal, state, county officers must be held. The legislation (H.3150) establishes a new Uniform Election Procedures Act to apply to municipal elections.


Other News...


School Choice Progress

Legislation was introduced by members of the SC House this past week that would enshrine a valuable and popular school choice program into permanent law (H.4077). South Carolina's Educational Credits for Exceptional Needs Children (ECENC) helps students with special needs attend credentialed independent schools. Parents can choose either tuition tax credits or scholarships funded by Exceptional SC, which relies on tax-credited donations from individuals and corporations.


Bonding Program Moving Forward

A plan that would borrow nearly $500 million through bonds to finance a massive list of maintenance, repairs and upgrades at SC's public colleges and other state facilities is headed to the floor. The proposed bond bill (H.3722) comes two years after a previous effort failed when former Gov. Nikki Haley threatened a veto. Topping the proposed funding is $30 million for new school busses. USC-Aiken would receive $3.5 million for desperately needed repairs to its Penland Administration Building.


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 27, 2017: A Win for Government Transparency


Highlighting legislative action in the SC House of Representatives this past week was a vote to improve the transparency of government.

Freedom of Information Passes House


Seven years in the making, legislation to enhance SC's FOI Act received a unanimous vote by Representatives. H.3352 strengthens citizens' access to government proceedings and public documents.  The legislation adjusts time frames for responding to FOIA requests to require more prompt compliance from public bodies. It also limits the fees that government bodies may charge for complying with FOIA requests so they don't exceed the actual cost of the search and retrieval and copying fees for documents must not exceed prevailing commercial rates. The bill also creates the Office of Freedom of Information Act Review within the Administrative Law Court to quickly decide disputes regarding FOIA requests. 


I first filed the initial FOIA legislation in December 2010, a month after taking office and I have championed this legislation every session. We were close to the finish line last year, but that bill was blocked from receiving a vote by the full Senate. Please tell your Senator you want them to support this FOIA legislation and give it final approval before we adjourn May 11th.


FOIA - Removing the Legislative Exception


When the original FOI Act was enacted in 1974 legislators excluded themselves from complying. That should change. Moments after the FOIA enhancement bill won House approval Wednesday, I filed a bill (H.4034) to remove that legislative exemption. To the credit of the General Assembly there is a great deal of transparency. House and Senate sessions are televised as are many committee hearings. The House and Senate Dashboards allow you to see everything a legislator sees during House debate in real time. Additionally, every committee posts presentations, reports and budgets on the Citizen Interest Page. It's time to officially remove the legislative exemption and this bill would accomplish that.


Protecting SCDOT Workers


Aiken County legislators led in the filing a bill aimed at curbing unsafe driving at SC Department of Transportation work sites. The bill (H.4033) would impose stiff penalties for reckless driving in the vicinity of DOT and other roadside workers. The legislation was prompted by the recent hit & run in Aiken County that killed two DOT workers and injured a third. A similar bill was filed in the Senate. Both bills are expected to move forward quickly. (Aiken Standard story)


Bond Bill Coming


A House budget panel released its first draft of repair and maintenance projects that could be covered by a nearly $500 million borrowing plan. More than half of the money raised through bonds would go towards colleges and universities, which say they have a massive backlog in repair and maintenance needs. The plan also included $30 million to buy new school buses, plus more than $200 million to various other state agency capital needs. The measure must pass the overall House and Senate. A similar plan derailed last year after Gov. Nikki Haley threatened a veto due to the large amounts of borrowing involved.


Battle Lines Have Formed: School Administrators vs. Parents


This Tuesday the House Education Committee (on which I serve) will again debate the way our public schools will be graded. The bill (H.3969) creates a "Report Card" for public schools using the scale: Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average & Unsatisfactory. Most parents I hear from favor the A-F grading scale that's much more understandable. Parents want to know how good their schools really are. I conducted a poll on Facebook last week and 98% of 126 people responding favored the A-F grading scale. This past weekend, the SC Association of School Administrators (SCASA) issue a 'Call-To-Action' to their members to persuade Representatives voting on this issue to essentially go against parents and approve the word descriptions. I favor the A-F grading scale.


Honoring a World Champ

We honored a WORLD CHAMPION in the SC House of Representatives last week. Aiken son Camden Riviere was presented a House-Senate Resolution celebrating his accomplishment of winning the title of Real Tennis World Champion in 2016. (The sport is also known as Court Tennis.) His parents, Rhett and Chris Riviere, of Aiken, proudly joined Camden for the presentation. I read the Resolution from the House floor while Aiken Legislators joined the family in the House balcony for the ceremony.



Advancing Computer Education

The House approved the SC Computer Science Initiative (H.3427) to expand access for all students to computer science learning experiences that support literacy, math, problem-solving, and technological skills, and advance productivity in every discipline, industry, and profession. 


Advancing Pro-Life

For more than two decades, SC House Republicans have led the way on pro-life reforms aimed at protecting the innocent lives of the unborn who cannot advocate for their own life. This year is no different. The South Carolina Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act (H.3548) sponsored by Rep. Lin Bennett cleared a second and final committee vote and now heads to the floor for a full vote of the entire House.


Pro-Gun Rights

Also clearing an important and final second vote in the House Judiciary Committee is a bill that would allow law-abiding adults to carry a weapon openly without a permit, essentially eliminating the need to get a concealed weapons permit to carry a firearm in our state. However, this bill would also protect the existing CWP reciprocity agreements already in place with many other states for those gun owners who wish to conceal their firearm. SC is one of only five states that prohibit open carry of hand guns.  



The House gave final approval to a measure granting in-state tuition rates to veterans living in South Carolina. Those who serve our nation deserve our very best in return, and it's important we honor their commitment to our safety wherever and whenever we can. This bill (H.3034) does exactly that by making it easier and more affordable for veterans to enroll in our institutions of higher learning.


Safe Haven Extended

The House voted to extend the state's safe haven law (H.3116) to cover infants up to one year old. Current law allows a parent to give up their child up to two months old at a hospital, church or fire station without facing legal charges.


Check on Realtors

A bill that would strengthen a state law requiring criminal background checks for anyone getting a real estate license is heading to the House floor. The bill was filed late last year in response to a Spartanburg real estate broker being accused of seven murders and kidnapping in a case that's gotten national attention.


Business Rights Protection

The House approved (S.218) a bill prohibiting counties, municipalities to mandate an employer offer employee benefit. In my view, it is not up to government to demand benefits for private sector employees.


Illegal Immigration Enforcement

The House approved and sent the Senate a bill (H.3318) transferring the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit from the Department of Public Safety to the State Law Enforcement Division.


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 20, 2017: Spending Your Money


The SC House of Representatives focused solely on one issue this week - debating the state's 'General Fund' budget that totals nearly $8 billion. Months of committee hearings 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 $27 billion. 70% of that comes from specific federal government programs and through the state's 'Other Funds' budget from tuition, fees and fines. Next year's proposed General Fund budget is about 4% larger than this year's. Let's put that in perspective:

  • The last General Fund budget before the 'Great Recession' totaled $6.7 Billion (FY 2007-2008)
  • The 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 $7.9 billion. Factor in only inflation (and not population growth) to the pre-recession budget and this year's proposed budget represents a 6% real increase.
  • This proposed budget has recurring growth of 4.77%: 2.5% of this was used for Constitutional Reserve Funds, Pension Stabilization, and State Health Insurance increased costs.

Government budgets are complex, so here's a list of the key funding items in this proposed budget:

  • $22 million to fully fund SC's 'Rainy Day' Reserve Fund (totals $503 million)
  • $584 million in direct tax relief for South Carolinians
  • $100 million on upgrading K-12 schools with a high poverty index
  • $38 million in additional K-12 per-student funding
  • $19 million to cover the growth of public charter schools
  • $10 million to purchase new school buses
  • $82 million to help counties and communities damaged by Hurricane Matthew
  • $1.25 million to aid for Pinnacle Mountain fire
  • $150 million to fund Year 1 to reduce multi-billion pension liability
  • $25.4 million to cover 100% of the state employee health insurance increase
  • $45 million to bolster Medicaid's expanded maintenance of effort costs
  • $16 million to fully fund the dam safety program
  • $4 million to hire and retain correction officers at our prisons
  • $25 million toward completing a federally required computer system for tracking deadbeat dads.

Top Cop Gets No Confidence Vote

The House voted to show its displeasure with the state's public safety director by stripping his salary from next year's budget. The 76-20 vote for the amendment to eliminate Leroy Smith's position and pay. While only the governor can fire a Cabinet official, the House can refuse to authorize or fund the position. Trooper morale is low and the agency is having trouble hiring and keeping troopers. Proponents argued there is a serious problem in the Department of Public Safety and that problem is at the top.


Pension Investment Commissioners Salaries Slashed to $1.00

I appreciate the unanimous support of Representatives to my amendment to basically strip the salaries of the five Commissioners of the SC Retirement System Investment Commission who have done a lousy job of investing pension dollars. By some estimates their decisions have cost the pension system $6 billion (that's with a B!). Their collective failure is costly to EVERY taxpayer as we have to make up the shortfall.


Famed John de la Howe School Dumped from Budget
The House budget calls for the elimination of this state-run school for at-risk youth and turning its operations over to Clemson University. The McCormick County school lost its accreditation and only has about 30 students and a staff of more than 50 costing about $5 million a year. Budget language would have Clemson decide how best to reopen John de la Howe in keeping with its original mission as a place for orphans to learn agricultural skills.


Good News for Nichols

Following Hurricane Matthew I visited the little hamlet of Nichols in the PeeDee. It was ravaged by flood waters.Today, most homes remain vacant and businesses closed. Aiken County residents reached out to Nichols and sent a truck load of needed donations as well as monetary donations. This budget took the unusual step of singling out a specific town for help by allocating Nichols $700,000 of the $82 million in hurricane funding.  


The Vote

Finally, the House voted 115-3 in the wee hours of Wednesday morning to send its budget proposal to the Senate where it will be debated and amended.


In other news....


Senate Battle Lines Drawn Over Gas-Tax Hike

By a 14-7 vote this week, the Senate's budget committee approved increasing the state's gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and hiking other fees. A few weeks ago, the House voted to raise the gas tax 10-cents over five years (61% tax increase) while Senators seek a 72% increase over six years. Fourteen Republican and Democrat Senators voted for their plan; seven Republicans voted against it. That's a sure sign that battle lines are forming in the Senate over increasing the state's gas tax. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who filibustered a tax increase the past two years, has vowed to it again. He wants changes in the structure of SCDOT and off-setting income-tax cuts. Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster said he opposes raising the state's gas tax.


Get Involved - Speak-Out in Wagener-Salley-Perry

Aiken County's new Community Relations Council will be holding its first Wagener area fact gathering meeting this Saturday in the downtown Wagener Town Hall meeting room at 10:30 a.m. This Special Council was formed as a citizen group to find out where Aiken County services can be improved.  Come share your ideas.


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 13, 2017: Headwinds Ahead


The legislative move to increase SC's gas tax ran into strong headwinds this past week at the Statehouse.


Governor Nixes Proposed Gas Tax Hike


Gov. Henry McMaster dismissed the idea of raising South Carolina's gas tax saying, "Less than half of the gas tax money to date goes to fixing roads and bridges." McMaster added, "Raising taxes is rarely the answer and it is not the answer in this case."


McMaster would not commit to vetoing any legislation should it hit his desk, but reiterated his stance that people in South Carolina are already taxed enough.


Meanwhile, a Senate subcommittee approved their bill that would increase the state's gas tax by 12 cents per-gallon to help fix roads and bridges across the state. The Senate bill asked for 2 cents more a gallon than a similar bill that won by a veto-proof margin in the House. The gas tax action is now in the Senate.


Poll Shows Low Support for Gas Tax


Results of a new SC poll measuring support for a gas tax increase shows only 21 percent support. 1,200 likely 2018 voters participated in the survey by The Trafalgar Group (TFG). Commenting on the survey, TFG Senior Strategist Robert Cahaly stated, "The gas tax hike itself remains very unpopular, especially when considered alone. The gas tax increase isn't tied to partisanship as many political observers anticipated. In fact, the support for the tax increase is directly tied to income. The strongest opponents to the gas tax increase are those households making under 50k a year." 


The same SC poll also asked questions about support for President Trump and Gov. McMaster. (View all poll results)


State Budget Debate Begins Monday


Beginning Monday, my House colleagues and I will review the state budget in several days of floor debate. Funding the needs of an entire state is a daunting task; we will vote more than 200 times on every section of the General Fund budget.  This year's budget totals nearly $27 billion. (Overview of the budget )



Statehouse News Brief


It is my goal in this weekly legislative update to provide a news summary of significant developments in the General Assembly. Respecting your time, brevity is critically important. If you are interested in a particular topic, I often provide an online link so you can get more information.


Saving Our Rivers

I joined Rep. James Smith in sponsoring legislation (H.3890) that takes steps to guard the unlimited water withdrawal from SC rivers. This has become a critical concern in Aiken County with the unlimited withdrawal of water from the Edisto River by the mega-farms that have been created in the last few years. The bill is identical to legislation we filed last session that calls for the permitting of new agriculture water withdrawals and for expansion of existing registrations.


Anti-Semitism Legislation

Last year, our nation saw a drastic increase in anti-Semitic behavior among college students at colleges and universities. There was a 30 percent rise in anti-Semitism during 2016. We took bipartisan action to give our state-owned institutions of higher learning the tools they need to combat bigotry and hate while protecting freedom of speech. This legislation (H.3643), sponsored by 115 Representatives, sends a strong message that SC opposes bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.


Gun Rights

A House panel advanced a bill that allows for South Carolinians to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. The proposed law (H.3930) advanced with no opposition. The measure is similar to a bill introduced during the 2016 legislative year and is commonly referred to as "Constitutional Carry," because it allows for firearms owners to carry a weapon concealed without a permit.


Legislation (H.3240) that would call for SC to recognize all valid Right-to-Carry permits issued by other states is ready to be debated by the full House after the budget is considered this coming week. I am a sponsor of this bill.


In the Senate, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation (S.527) that would extend the amount of time for the FBI to investigate potential issues with a criminal background check from three days to five. The FBI said its system was not able to block the sale to Charleston shooter Dylann Roof - who due to a prior arrest should not have been allowed to buy the gun - because of an improperly filed police report.


Retired judges are seeking an exemption that would allow them to carry weapons anywhere in the state saying they often get threats on their lives from individuals they sentenced.


Real I.D. Wins House Approval

The House gave final approval and sent to the Senate legislation (H.3358) that would make SC compliant with the federal Real ID Act. SC is in jeopardy of losing its compliance waiver from the feds. If that happens a SC driver's license would not be acceptable identification to fly on commercial airlines or enter federal properties.


Environmental Lawsuits

Legislation that could make it harder for private citizens or conservation groups to file lawsuits that block development received a key vote in the Senate after nearly five hours of debate. Senators voted 26-6 for legislation that would limit the time lawsuits could be filed against companies after they receive necessary environmental permits from environmental regulators. Similar legislation (H.3565) is ready to be debated by the full House.


Banning Plastic Bags

A bill that would have prevented cities and counties from banning plastic bags and other containers died this year during House debate. The goal of the legislation (H.3529) is to stop a hodgepodge of local restrictions that would be highly confusing and difficult for consumers and businesses alike. The bill will be back next January.


Fight over Piping

There was a huge lobbying effort from both sides over legislation (H.3652) that opens up the procurement process for selecting the type of pipe to be used in water and sewer projects. Many cities have historically specified steel piping. This legislation requires all qualified piping material be considered while leaving the final decision to local engineers. We believe this open competition will likely drive down the cost of infrastructure projects in SC.


Birth Control

A House panel on Wednesday advanced a bill (H.3809) that offers expanded birth control options for women. A subcommittee voted in favor of a proposal that requires insurers cover a women's ability to get a year's worth of birth control at one time. The panel also approved language that would allow women to get birth control refills for up to three years before they need to go back to the doctor for a new prescription.


Moped Restrictions Approved

Every session the House passes legislation on mopeds only to have it die in the Senate. This year's bill (H.3247) establishes new requirements for registering and licensing mopeds as well as placing new safety requirements on mopeds. It would require moped operators and passengers to wear reflective vests at night.  The legislation replaces the multiple, sometimes conflicting, definitions for mopeds currently found in statutes with a single new definition for mopeds and makes other revisions to allow for greater consistency in the way that the laws governing motor vehicles, including DUI offenses, are applied to mopeds.


Realtors Legislation

The House approved a bill (H.3861) to recognize out-of-state real estate licenses from states that reciprocate. This is particularly relevant to the Aiken area where Realtors in the CSRA are working to share MLS to overcome the Stateline boundary.


Retired Educator Certificate

The House approved a bill (H.3513) creating a SC Retired Educator Certificate for former teachers. An educator who works under the retired certificate must work under a letter of agreement.  Holders of such certificates are not exempt from professional development that is required by the local school district.


The Week Ahead - Sunshine Week

It's Annual 'Sunshine Week' and the Greenwood Index-Journal editorial supports my long term efforts to increase government transparency in SC. (Read Editorial).  


SC Prayer Breakfast

A personal highlight of this past week was once again attending the Annual South Carolina Prayer Breakfast. Gov. Henry McMaster addressed the group who come together to pray for and support legislators and Constitutional Officers in their task of public service.



Aiken County Republican precincts met to organize this past week. It was my privilege to speak to those folks organizing various precincts at the Aiken County Museum. I encouraged their political activism, celebrated their involvement and urged them to get their neighbors involved. 


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 2, 2017: Whopping Tax Increase


Here's the definition of irony. Tuesday night President Donald Trump addressed Congress and the nation and among other things he called for tax cuts and tax reform. The very next day the SC House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of one of the largest tax hikes in state history.


Gas Tax Would Increase 60%


After hours of debate, the House voted 97 to 18 to hike the state gas tax by 10-cents over the next five years to raise about $600 million annually for repairs to SC roads and bridges. Beyond the price hike at the pump, the legislation also...


--  Increases the cap on the 5% sales tax on vehicle purchases from $300 to $500.

--  Creates a $250 one-time vehicle registration fee for people moving into SC. (Active duty military are exempt.) 

--  Increases the biennial vehicle registration fee for those under 65 years of age by 100 percent from $20 to $40.

--  For those 65 and older or handicapped the biennial vehicle registration fee increases 80 percent from $20 to $36.

--  Hybrid vehicles will pay a $60 biennial fee.

--  Electric vehicles will pay a $120 biennial fee.

--  The bill calls for new monies to be sent to a new Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund that could only be used for "repairs, maintenance and improvements to the existing transportation system."


Fixing SCDOT Falls Short


This legislation takes another whack at restructuring the SC Department of Transportation, but falls far short, in my view. It calls for Highway Commissioners to be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the General Assembly. Legislators from each Congressional district currently elect Commissioners. An amendment to make SCDOT a cabinet agency reporting solely to the Governor was defeated. That would have streamlined accountability and lessened political influence from legislators.


Why I Opposed this Roads Bill


Fixing our roads isn't debatable. How we fix the roads is debatable. My colleagues worked hard to craft legislation that would garner support (which it did). I applaud their efforts and their good intentions.


I represent a large rural House District populated mostly with hard-working folks many of whom just get by on limited incomes. Some rely solely on Social Security and minimal savings. For them, this legislation represents a HUGE tax increase they can ill afford. Pennies turn into dollars and squeeze family budgets. Many drive older vehicles that aren't fuel efficient. They also drive long distances to get to town or get kids to school. That's costly.


If we're going to raise taxes to fund roads we also have the ability to offer tax relief - that's what we did in the road funding legislation we passed last session. Unfortunately, it died by filibuster in the Senate. This legislation missed that opportunity. An amendment to provide income tax relief was ruled out of order during the debate. We can do better.


When it comes it fixing roads, for many citizens, reforming DOT is their #1 issue. They want the legislature to be bold in reforming DOT to make it transparent and accountable. They want to be able to trust the tax money is being spent wisely to improve our roads. This bill doesn't fully solve that challenge. (To the credit of DOT Secretary Christy Hall, much progress is being made in this area. I have a great deal more confidence in DOT than I once did.)


What's Next?


This legislation heads to the Senate. My prediction -- it will quickly be tossed aside and replaced with competing road plans. It is reported that Sen. Hugh Leatherman opposes any tax relief while other Republican senators insist that tax relief be coupled with a hike in the gas tax. Last session a similar Senate dispute detailed a roads funding bill.


And, the unknown factor is Gov. Henry McMaster. His only comments so far have been "no new taxes" and raising the gas tax is a "last resort".


The House vote to raise taxes is just a starting point and far from the ending point. Stay tuned.


Picture of the Week


The SC House of Representatives honored the Aiken Standard in recognition of its 150th Anniversary. Aiken County legislators presented a Resolution lauding the Aiken Standard’s ownership, management and reporting staff for their decades of dedication in serving our area.




February 27, 2017:  Epic Week Ahead in SC House


An epic week is ahead for the South Carolina House of Representatives. Three major items will be on the House calendar for debate and votes:


Funding for Roads & Infrastructure:  A bill raising SC’s gas tax and some other fees to eventually put an additional $600 million a year in the state's roads is teed up for debate. The proposal (H.3516) would boost the state's 16.75-cents-per-gallon gas tax 10-cents over five years, increase the sales tax cap on vehicle purchases from $300 to $500, increase registration fees to $16 every other year and raise other fees. It also would create a $250 one-time fee registration fee for people moving into the state.


Pension System Reform:  A proposal to fix South Carolina’s financially-troubled state pension system will be the focus of both the House and Senate that are both simultaneously working on separate bills based on recommendations made by the Pension Review Committee. The bills aim to shore up SC’s retirement fund, which faces a $24 billion gap between what it has promised future retirees vs. what it has on hand.


Real ID:  The House will vote on a bill to steer SC to be in line with a federal anti-terrorism law passed in 2005 that created a more uniform license called REAL ID. Federal compliance will ensure South Carolinian’s will be able to use their driver’s licenses to board commercial airplanes and enter military bases and federal buildings. Twenty two states are not yet in compliance with the federal law.


State Budget Proposed


Last week, a SC House committee produced the initial state budget. For months, the House Ways and Means Committee has been gathering operating budget requests from state agencies to produce a final budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st.


This year’s budget specifically addresses the needs of poor rural school districts in 39 counties which have struggled in the past as a result of declining revenue streams among many other challenges. It is incumbent upon our state to provide each child the same opportunities in education regardless of their geographic location; the SC Supreme Court said as much in their 2014 ruling which is the impetus for the actions we are taking today. In this initial funding proposal, $100 million has been dedicated toward repairing, maintaining, and in some cases upgrading the environments in which our students learn.


Pictures from a Busy Week


Before I report on other Statehouse news, allow me to take you on a quick visual tour.


Lady Hornets Honored at Statehouse

Aiken High School's varsity volleyball team was recognized by the SC House of Representatives this past week for winning the SC Class AAAA Volleyball Championship. It's the second state championship for head coach Malynda Young. Ladies, you make Aiken County proud!



FAA Day at the Statehouse

Lucky me! My Statehouse office received a 'friendly invasion' from the FFA students from Wagener-Salley HS. It was their annual trek to the Statehouse to learn more about government and impress upon legislators the importance of agriculture. The FFA students from Ridge Spring-Monetta HS had a special treat when House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Hiott stopped in to visit with them. These students are the best-of-the-best and our future.




Future Leaders

After their introduction to the SC House of Representatives, members of the Leadership Aiken County Class of 2017 stepped onto the north Capitol steps for a picture with Representatives Bart Blackwell, Bill Hixon, Bill Clyburn and me.




Career Ready Students

Aiken County Legislators visited the Career Development Center Friday. This specialized public school is celebrating its 50 years of success in preparing high school students with work-ready skills for the many high paying jobs that employers are begging to fill.



Honoring a Hero

Was fortunate to be in the presence of a Great American Hero. WW II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel 'Woody' Williams keynoted the Marine Corps League scholarship fundraiser in Aiken. Mr. Williams, 94, is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He spoke of his enduring love for this country and our freedom that's worth fighting for. He’s a true inspiration!



Statehouse News Brief


While the week ahead will be a big one, here’s a wrap up of other significant news at the Statehouse.


State School Chief

The House also gave key support to a bill (H.3146) removing the State Superintendent of Education from the list of partisan elected constitutional officers, instead making it a cabinet agency under direct supervision of the governor. The measure received broad bipartisan support and upon third reading will be sent to the Senate for consideration.


Prohibiting Animal Tattoos

A bill that expands provisions regarding cruelty to animals by prohibiting tattoos and piercings for pets passed the House. The legislation (H.3619) prohibits the piercing or tattooing of dogs, cats and other domesticated animals except when conducted by veterinarians for purposes of providing means of identification or supplying a medical benefit. It excludes livestock, fowl, and wild animals.


Stopping Wildfires

The House sent the Senate a bill (H.3719) expanding the State Forester’s authority to prohibit open burning to protect the public from potentially devastating wildfires. 


Inmate/Attorney Communications

The House passed legislation (H.3278) that provides that an inmate in a state, county, or municipal detention facility shall have access to legal counsel when requested and a detention facility must make a reasonable effort to accommodate an inmate’s request for an in‑person meeting with legal counsel.


Solar Eclipse School Calendar

The House approved a joint resolution (S.338) allowing an earlier start date for the upcoming school year so schools have the option to use Monday, August 21, 2017 as a learning opportunity since SC will be in the path of the largest total solar eclipse experienced in North America since February 1978.


First Steps Authorized

The House approved legislation (H.3591) permanently authorizing the First Steps to School Readiness program that provides for enhanced early childhood development, education, and family support services to enable children to reach school ready to achieve academic success. 


John de la Howe School on Chopping Block

The 220 year run for the John de la Howe School in McCormick may be coming to an end. The state-run school for at-risk youth is being nixed from the preliminary state budget. The school has lost its accreditation. It has 35 students, a staff of 45-60 and a $5 million budget. That’s $143,000 per-student!


Opioid Epidemic

Finally, legislation was introduced last week aimed at addressing the prescription opioid epidemic in our state. You may have even seen national news reports dedicated to raising awareness of the growing problem. South Carolina is not immune. In 2013, the Inspector General released a report detailing problematic trends in our state related to drug overdoses. In 2014, a task force was assembled to develop a multi-pronged approach aimed at curbing the current crisis while also focusing on future preventative measures. Like many problems, this epidemic will not be fixed through legislation alone, but the task force did make several legislative recommendations. These steps are only the beginning.



February 19, 2017: Flyin' High in South Carolina

A major highlight of this week was the celebration of the rollout of Boeing's 787-10 'Dreamliner'. Governor Henry McMaster, my legislative colleagues and I joined President Donald Trump at Boeing's North Charleston assembly plant for the celebration.

The governor expressed his joy with Boeing's massive investment in our great state and proudly introduced the CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg. Muilenburg in turn introduced the President.

Made in the USA

President Trump called Boeing's new Dreamliner "an amazing piece of art" to an audience of more than 5,000 people consisting mostly of Dreamliner production workers. He was warmly received and his remarks were frequently punctuated with the crowd shouting "USA! USA! USA!"

"We're here today to celebrate American engineering and American manufacturing. We're also here today to celebrate jobs," the President said. "This is our mantra - buy American and hire American. We want products made in America, made by American hands. We're going to fight for every last American job."

He added, "As your president I will do everything I can to unleash the power of the American spirit and get our great people back to work."

Mr. Trump also pledged to stop companies from reaching overseas, both for jobs and equipment. Our goal as a nation must be to rely less on imports and more on products made here in the USA," Trump said. "Right here in the USA."

President Trump strongly advocates for common-sense policies to get government out of the way of job creators like Boeing. I share his zeal for private enterprise and we know with world-class employers like Boeing, the future of our state remains bright.

South Carolina Reaps the Benefit of Boeing

While the Dreamliner is assembled in North Charleston, Boeing relies on a supply chain where parts are made around the world and throughout America. But few appreciate that Boeing has an enormous economic impact on South Carolina.

• There are 294 supplier/vendor locations throughout the Palmetto State supporting Boeing.
• Boeing spends $355 million annual with SC suppliers.
• The total economic impact of the aerospace cluster in SC is $17.4 billion annually with compensation for the cluster totaling $7.3 billion.

Right-to-Work at Boeing

President Trump's appearance came two days after Boeing workers voted overwhelmingly against union representation. It was a stinging setback for organized labor and strengthened SC's reputation as a strong right-to-work state. More than 2,800 of the 3,000 production workers eligible to cast election ballots, voted. Of those, a whopping 74 percent voted against unionization which was led by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). While the average total compensation for a worker in SC is nearly $41 thousand annually, the average total compensation for a Boeing employee in SC is more than $82 thousand.

Remembering Rep. Joe Neal

This past week the legislative session was marked with sorrow as we lost a friend and colleague, Representative Joseph H. "Joe" Neal, of Hopkins. An ordained minister, Rev. Neal was first elected in 1992 and fondly remembered as a "gentle giant" and "friend to all." His hallmark was a voice of distinction and his passion for the people of our state will remain etched in the hearts of those who knew him. Please join me in praying for the family, parishioners, and friends of Rep. Neal who mourn his death and celebrate his legacy.

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 11, 2017: Vote Coming on Gas Tax


Finding a permanent funding stream to repair and upgrade South Carolina’s road system is the top priority of the legislature (as it has been for the last several years).  This week’s developments…


Gas Tax Hike a “Last Resort”

Gov. Henry McMaster met privately with House Republican legislators. He told us he views any hike in the gas tax as a “last resort”. McMaster’s opinion is important because if he were to veto legislation raising the gas tax, it would take a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override the veto. Some viewed his remarks as not ruling out a gas tax hike, but just labeling it a “last resort”.


Governor Asks Feds for Road Bucks

In a letter to President Donald Trump, Gov. McMaster requested that the president include two South Carolina projects in his national infrastructure plan. (Read letter) Emphasizing SC’s unique position as an economic driver in the region, the governor requested an appropriation of $5 billion from the plan to address state-specific infrastructure needs. Additionally, he asked for a $180 million allotment to fulfill the federal share for the deepening of the Charleston port to 52 feet.


Gas Tax Bill Heads for House Vote

A bill raising SC’s gas tax and some other fees to put an additional $600 million a year in the state's roads is on its way to the House floor. The proposal (H.3516) was unanimously approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would boost the state's 16.75-cents-per-gallon gas tax 10-cents over five years, increase the sales tax cap on vehicle purchases from $300 to $500, increase registration fees to $16 every other year and raise other fees. It also would create a $250 one-time fee registration fee for people moving into the state. The bill creates the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure 100% of revenues go directly (and only) toward fixing our roads and bridges and will not be used for new roads. Even if this legislation makes it through the House, it again faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.


Statehouse News Brief


While road funding news dominates, here’s a wrap up of other significant news at the Statehouse.


Painful Pension Solutions

State government, as well as counties, cities and school districts around the state will likely have to pay more into the state retirement system over the next six years, under a bipartisan proposal recommended by a joint House-Senate study committee on Wednesday. The Joint Committee on Pension Systems Review unanimously recommended the state and its employees should contribute more to the beleaguered pension system, which faces a $20+ billion gap between what it has on hand and what is promised to future retirees. The recommendations will now be introduced in the House and Senate as separate bills.


CWP Expansion

A House sub-committee advanced legislation (H.3240) that would allow concealed weapons permit (CWP) holders in all other states to also carry in SC. Our state currently recognizes concealed weapons permits (CWP) from 23 other states that have similar requirements to get a permit.


Real ID Legislation Starts Moving

A House committee unanimously approved legislation (H.3358) that would bring SC in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. If our state doesn’t comply with the federal requirements, SC’s driver’s licenses and ID cards won’t be accepted to board airplanes or enter federal installations and military bases. SC has had a waiver for more than a decade, but that will likely run out unless legislation is approved. Converting current driver’s license to be REAL ID compliant is an expensive a complex process which we are trying to minimize. Stay tuned.


Enhanced Government Transparency

Legislation that would significantly enhance the cost and ease to use the SC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cleared a final committee vote and heads to the House floor for a vote. This bill (H.3352) enhances those laws and makes compliance easier and cheaper for both government entities and those seeking government documents alike. I have championed these improvements since I was first elected. The pro-transparency measure would streamline the current process used by citizens and the news media seeking access to government documents. After all, government at all levels belongs to you and the FOIA process is intended to ensure the business of the public remains public.


Business License Reform

Current state law allows counties and cities to levy business licensing fees if they operate within those jurisdictions. They collect more than $300 million annually. For years the business community has sought reforms to this structure to reduce the burdens placed on them. As example, we heard testimony from one business owner that has more than 75 business licenses that expire at different times. Tracking the annual renewals is costly. This pro-business reform legislation (H.3650) would allow for a central online registry for business licenses across the state cleared a key House committee and heads to the House floor for a full vote.


Vet’s Tuition Bill

For the past three legislative sessions the House has passed bills that waive the one-year waiting period for a veteran to attend a SC public college or university so they can pay in-state tuition rates and avoid the costly out-of-state tuition. Each time the bill has died in the Senate. The House is persistent. This week, for a fourth time we passed the bill (H.3035) on a vote of 109-4 and sent it to the Senate.


Clean Energy

A bill aimed at attracting investment to SC’s clean energy industry passed the Senate. The Senate voted 38-4 to greenlight the Renewable Energy Economic Development Bill (S.44) and send it to the House. The bill would allow land that’s currently unused or being used for agriculture to be used as a solar farm, creating tax revenue to counties. If bill becomes law, SC would be on similar footing with neighboring North Carolina and 28 other states that have enacted similar legislation.


Moped Legislation (Again!)

A House committee unanimously passed a comprehensive bill to improve moped safety and sent it the House floor for debate and a vote. We have tried to pass similar legislation in past sessions. The Senate recently passed their own version of moped regulation. (This recent Aiken Standard editorial addresses the topic.)


Regulating Dog Kennels

A bill to regulate dog daycare facilities in SC died in a House subcommittee. The bill, drafted in response to a dog’s death from overheating at a Mount Pleasant center, was scuttled after legislators (including me) heard from kennel owners about the over-burdensome proposal and its unintended consequences. In my view, lawmakers must always use restraint in punishing the masses for the crimes of a few (or one).


Nixing Exotic Animals

A proposal that would eventually phase out individual ownership of lions, apes or other “exotic” animals has been sent to the Senate by the House. The House overwhelmingly approved a bill 99-5 which would bar those who do not already own big cats, great apes, or non-native bears from buying them after 2018.


Aiken County News


Two Jobs Announcements for Aiken County!

ASCO operations in Aiken County is expanding. Emerson, ASCO’s parent company, reports it will make a capital investment of more than $8 million in its facility just north of Aiken creating 86 new jobs. Meanwhile, The Carlstar Group announced it will make significant site improvements at its Aiken facility to accommodate continued growth. It will invest nearly $7 million to expand its process and production capacity in manufacturing specialty wheels and tires. The expansion will bring 43 new jobs.


Public Education Needs Bold Innovation

I was honored to speak to Aiken County Retired Teachers. My message – while we love our dedicated teachers, we must recognize our public schools nationwide our failing to prepare all students to be work or college ready. The latest ranking of education puts America #24 compared to other nations. In my view, education is the civil rights issue of today and needs bold and innovative approaches to adequately prepare students for productive lives.



Ronnie Young for Statehouse

Aiken County Commission Chairman Ronnie Young was greeted by House Speaker Jay Lucas during his visit to the House of Representatives this week. Ronnie filed Friday as a candidate for House District 84 to fill the seat vacated by Chris Corley. He'll make that District proud again!



40th Anniversary for Lionel Smith Ltd.

Prior to addressing the Rotary Club of Aiken this past week, House Speaker Jay Lucas joined the Aiken Legislative Delegation in honoring Lionel Smith LTD on the 40th Anniversary of that celebrated downtown Aiken business. (Here’s the Aiken Standard’s report on Lucas’ speech – Speaker Lucas warns state’s roads conditions could adversely impact new business)


Proud to Serve You!

I am proud and humbled to serve as your State Representative for House District 86. Thank you for allowing me to continue in my service to you.  



February 4, 2017: Lots of Good, Some Bad, Some Not So Pretty


Legislation in the new session of the SC General Assembly is cranking up. Over the past month new bills have been considered by committees and are now coming to the full House and Senate for votes. Here's your weekly roundup of the most significant legislative actions.


Dam Failures

Responding to scores of dam failures from the 'Great Flood of 2015' and Hurricane Matthew, the SC House approved legislation that expands the types of dams that can be inspected by the state. The legislation also puts new requirements on dam owners. The bill (H.3218) has been the focus of much work by a special committee over the past six months. It increases the number of dams that would be regulated as "significant hazards" by DHEC. The law includes smaller dams if failure could cause a loss of life downstream.  Owners of the roughly 630 private dams that fall into these categories would be required to register with the state and submit an emergency action plan each year. The legislation has been sent to the Senate. 

Hollow Creek Fire Chief Glenn Poole looks at one of the three Aiken County dams ruptured during the October 2015 flooding.


State of SCDOT - Not Good

SCDOT released its 'State of SCDOT' report citing the deteriorating road conditions around the state. State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall, praised the legislature for passing laws over the last few years that allow for about $5 billion worth of road construction over the next decade. Those monies have doubled the number of roads paved. While she called those "good first steps", she estimates nearly $28 billion is needed over the next 25 years. Both the Senate and House have proposed legislation to raise the gas tax in SC. (View SCDOT's report)


You'll Decide This One

The House is debating a proposed constitutional amendment that would seek voters' approval to have the SC education superintendent appointed by the governor rather than elected. The Senate passed a similar bill this week calling for all future appointees to have experience in public school administration. Gov. McMaster supports the measure. Eventually, it will be up to YOU to decide.


Banning Drones

Flying drones near a state prison or county jail would be banned in legislation passed unanimously by the state Senate. Prison officials say smugglers have begun using drones to drop contraband over prison fences. The measure heads to the House.


Judge Positions Filled

The General Assembly convened in a joint legislative session to fill judicial seats throughout our state, including an opening on the SC Supreme Court.  My colleagues and I elected Judge George C. "Buck" James to be one of the five Justices on the Supreme Court. 


Currently, a committee comprised of legislators, citizens, and legal professionals accepts applications for open judicial positions, screens each applicant to verify their qualifications, and by a committee vote selects three finalists who vie for support among the 170-member General Assembly (both House and Senate members). My House colleagues and I are currently debating a proposal on the House floor to lift the three-person limit currently placed on the screening committee. Eliminating this would allow all duly qualified individuals, seeking to serve our state on the judiciary, to compete. This good-government legislation has passed the House in previous years.


Vets 'Ed' Assistance - Welcome to SC

Another bill making its way through the legislative process would grant in-state tuition rates to any veteran honorably discharged from the Armed Services and not require the one-year residency waiting period. This bill has amassed 68 co-sponsors from all corners of the state. Ours is a state with a rich history of honoring those who have served our nation, and this continues that fine tradition. Vets are WELCOME in SC!


Pension Problems

The SC Attorney General has released an official opinion that says the accounting system used to calculate the state pension's unfunded liability is reckless, unsound and deceives the public. Attorney General Alan Wilson believes that the system may be unconstitutional and in violation of state law. The opinion found the "open amortization" method used by the SC Public Benefits Authority violates constitutional requirements for the retirement system to operate on a "sound actuarial basis." State Treasurer Curtis Loftis deserves great credit for being the only elected official to call out the Retirement System Investment Commission members for their misguided policies. 


Attention Tiger Fans

Clemson University's 2016 football national championship is another step closer to getting its own South Carolina license plate. If approved, the DMV would produce and sell the special plates. The cost would be $70 along with the regular DMV registration fees. Scholarships at Clemson would benefit from any profits. The #1 plate is reserved for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. 


Proud to Serve You!

I am proud and humbled to serve as your State Representative for House District 86. Thank you for allowing me to continue in my service to you.  



January 29, 2017:  Hello Henry! South Carolina has a new Governor!


Video: Meet Henry McMaster


Henry McMaster, SC's Lieutenant Governor, was sworn in at a Statehouse ceremony moments after Nikki was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and resigned her job as the state's chief executive. McMaster thanked Haley for her contribution to the state and said he was "humbled, honored and deeply appreciative of being granted one of the rarest opportunities to serve the people of my state, my home and that of my forefathers." McMaster and wife, Peggy, plan to move from their Columbia home into the Governor's Mansion as soon as possible.

Statehouse Musical Chairs

Senators elected former State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, to become Lieutenant Governor. He replaces McMaster. Since the state constitution requires the Senate president pro tempore move into the vacant lieutenant governor's position, senators temporarily elected Bryant president pro tem so he could take the office. Senators then reelected 85-year-old Sen. High Leatherman as President Pro Tempore, but it came after a revolt by two-thirds of his own party. Leatherman is widely viewed as SC's most powerful elected official.


Aiken County Rep. Chris Corley resigned his seat in the House of Representatives just moments before House leaders formally began an effort to expel him. Corley was indicted on domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature and for pointing a weapon at his wife. Following the initial indictment he was suspended without pay from the House. I, along with several Aiken legislators, had been calling for Corley to resign. A special election will be held in May to replace him.

Congratulations, Skipper!

Former State Representative 'Skipper' Perry was named the Aiken Chamber of Commerce 'Man of the Year' last evening at the Chamber's annual gala dinner. U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham presented his friend, Skipper, with the much deserved honor for his decades of public service as an Aiken City Councilman, his eight years of service at the Statehouse and his many civic contributions.

Statehouse News in Brief

If you have newly subscribed to my Legislative Updates, allow me to explain my intent. It is to keep you informed about the significant happenings at the Statehouse by reporting weekly while we are in session. I try to be brief while providing web links for those who want to dig deeper into legislation or background stories. Think of me as your "inside-the-statehouse reporter" with special access

DJJ Under Fire
Less than a day after a blistering audit revealed inadequacies at the SC Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) the director of that agency resigned and Gov. McMaster announced a law & order replacement. The Legislative Audit Council report found the agency, which runs the state's juvenile prisons, to have under trained staff and is ineffective in responding to violent incidents at the state's main youth prison. There was one major riot at the main DJJ facility and there have been two deaths in their system. On Thursday, DJJ officials appeared before our House Oversight Committee. During the grilling of the DJJ staff, legislators were clearly appalled at the extent of problems inside the agency and called for immediate changes. The resignation of the director came one day later.

First Step Forward for Government Transparency Bill
Improvements in SC's Freedom of Information Act are on a fast-track. H.3352 won quick approval from a House sub-committee and should be before the House in a couple of weeks. This is the 7th year I have pushed for this needed legislation. It's time!

Crackdown on "Liquor-cycles"
The Senate unanimously passed legislation (S.197) that would charge drunken moped drivers with DUI. A quirk in state law does not treat mopeds as vehicles, meaning drivers are not violating state DUI laws when they operate while intoxicated. Moped drivers are also able to continue using mopeds after their driver's license is suspended for DUI. The proposed legislation also would raise the age to drive a moped from 14 to 15. It would also require moped drivers register with DMV and follow the same traffic rules as other vehicles.

Vets Tuition Bill
Next week the House will vote on a bill (H. 3035) that allows military personnel who have been honorably discharged to receive in-state tuition at our public colleges and universities by effectively removing the non-resident 12 month waiting period to receive in-state tuition.

Appointing State School Chief
A proposal that would make the state Education Superintendent a position appointed by the governor, changing it from the statewide elected office it is now advancing in both the House and Senate.

Computer Curriculum Advances
We don't often see a bill sponsored by two-thirds of all House members. The SC Computer Science Initiative would increase access to computer science experiences for all K-12 students. H.3427 won committee approval and will be debated by the full House next week.

Animal Cruelty Penalties
Legislation to increase the maximum jail time and fines for those who hurt or kill police dogs and horses is moving forward. A state Senate panel has advanced bill (S.06) which would increase the maximum prison sentence for hurting or killing police animals from 5 years to 10 and the highest fine from $5,000 to $10,000.

Curtailing Drones
A bill that would ban drones from flying near the state's prison and jails received approval from a Senate Committee. S.176 is aimed at stopping smugglers who have flown drones over prison fences to drop contraband on the inside.

No Local Minimum Wage
A Senate committee is sending a bill (S.218) to the full Senate. It would stop local governments in SC from unilaterally raising the minimum wage. Large cities in other states have instituted wage hikes that have exceeded the federal or state minimum wage.

Reforming Taxes
The House Tax Reform Committee on which I serve resumed meetings that left off before Christmas. We continue to plow through the best ways to create a flatter and fairer state tax system which includes income, sales and property taxes. There is some good news on this front - legislation to streamline the county and municipal business tax system is in the final stages of being crafted. Its passage would be welcomed by businesses large and small who are burdened by filing with every city and county in which they do work.

Water Concerns
Wagener resident Doug Busbee was one of many Aiken County residents to testify before the House Legislative Oversight (investigating) Committee. The committee is reviewing DHEC. Busbee's testimony focused on DHEC's questionable interpretation of the Surface Water Act which could lead to the removal of an excessive amount water from the Edisto River in Aiken County by the new mega potato farms. The committee will purse the questions posed by Busbee and others to ensure DHEC is correctly interpreting and enforcing the law.

State of Nuclear
Legislators heard from representatives from the Savannah River Site and others about the state of nuclear in SC. This was our second annual Statehouse briefing. Most impressive was the report on SRS' National Laboratory and the many facets of its mission.

First Act - School Choice
In his first proclamation as Governor, Henry McMaster proclaimed January 22-28, 2017 as South Carolina School Choice Week. House Republicans have led the charge over many years to do away with antiquated one-size-fits-all approaches in education, pushing instead for increased school choice options. One such program that has seen wide success is 'Exceptional SC', our state's tax credit scholarship program for children with exceptional needs. It has raised just over $9.2 million in donated tax credit funds for scholarships and awarded scholarships to 1,342 students at 114 schools.

Tracking Road Projects
Want to know about SC road projects? Here's the new SCDOT Project Viewer. This user-friendly feature on the SCDOT website gives you an easy way to see active projects in your area or around the state.  (Web Link)

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, 2017: Increased Gas Tax Proposed


A prescription to fix South Carolina’s deteriorating roads was put forth this week by SC House Republican leaders. The plan (H.3516) would raise the 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax by 10 cents – increasing it by 2 cents a year over five years. When fully phased-in, the increases proposed would raise about $600 million a year to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.


The Plan


The legislation includes:


-- Increasing the sales tax cap on vehicle sales to $500 from $300.

-- Enacting a $60 fee for hybrid vehicles and a $120 fee for electric vehicles. Both fees, for vehicles that use less gas but still use S.C. roads, would be paid every two years.

-- Requiring motorists who move to South Carolina and register their vehicles in the Palmetto State to pay a $250 fee


These proposed increases are in addition to fuel taxes currently allocated to road improvements. When an increase in the motor fuel tax failed last session the legislature allocated monies that enabled SCDOT leverage $4 billion in borrowing to turbocharge road repairs.


Business Endorsements


The SC Chamber of Commerce was quick to endorse the tax plan. Chamber CEO Ted Pitts said, “This is the type of comprehensive infrastructure plan that South Carolina’s residents, workers and businesses need our policy makers to implement.  This funding proposal diversifies the sources of revenue, provides a long-term sustainable solution, and adequately captures out of state trucks and motorists who use our roads.  It does all this in a responsible, phased in approach.” 


“The South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads’, a non-partisan organization made up of business leaders from around the state, was quick to support the plan.  “This legislation is a significant step in the right direction that we fully support, and we will continue to endorse any bill aimed at fixing our state’s crumbling roads and bridges,” said SCFOR President Bill Ross.

Political Realities


The prospect of raising taxes – the second lowest in the nation – is politically difficult. Republicans dominate the legislature where a basic GOP political tenet is “no new taxes.”


House Speaker Jay Lucas, a chief sponsor of the funding bill said, “For far too long, South Carolina’s taxpayers have been the ones to solely foot the bill to repair our crumbling infrastructure. This legislation removes that burden and appropriately places it on every motorist who drives on South Carolina interstates and highways.”


A key player in the mix is soon-to-be Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster, who has the power of the veto, has not said whether he supports increasing the state’s gas tax.

SC's Tax Code is Out-of-Whack and Unfair


The new House road funding plan does not include tax cuts to balance the proposed fuel tax increase. Last session, House legislation proposed a cut in state income taxes to accompany that proposed gas tax hike.


South Carolina’s tax structure must be central to this road funding discussion. Our tax laws are antiquated and unfair. They reward some and punish others. In particular, taxes are extremely harsh on businesses, both small and large, making it difficult for them to prosper and grow.


I serve on the special House Tax Policy Review Committee. Our charge is to review SC's current tax code and submit suggestions for reform. In establishing the committee, Speaker Lucas stated, "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.  He added, "We want a broader and flatter tax code that will help continue to spur job growth and provide greater opportunities for South Carolina families."


I couldn’t agree more! Revising our tax code is a daunting task, but it is an integral part of this discussion on how best to provide funding to fix our roads.


Time to Be Bold


Finally, while we all want better roads, I hear the outcry from many citizens who oppose any tax increase. They want state government to be more efficient. That’s a justifiable request. Government must always strive to spend taxpayer’s money wisely.


In my view, it’s time to be bold. The structure of state government desperately needs remodeling. We must challenge the way government business is done; eliminate the unnecessary and properly fund the vital functions of government.


It’s clear that the more money government collects, the more it spends. Since the low point of the ‘Great Recession’ (2009-10), the total state spending budget has increased 34 percent to $26.4 billion. As part of that, the General Fund budget which funds schools and regular state government functions has increased 45%, from $5.2 billion to $7.6 billion.


There is good news. State government is leaner today. At its peak, SC state government employed more than 41,000 people in 1996. Today, there are about 34,000 employees – a 17% decrease. Meanwhile, the state’s “customer” base has grown significantly. During the same 20 years our state’s population has increased an estimated 31% to nearly 5 million people.


Tell Me What You Think


My social media postings this week on the proposed tax hike quickly garnered hundreds of comments. I welcome your opinion. Send me an email at: I anticipate and avalanche of emails, so I won’t be able to respond individually, but I promise to read and take to heart every comment as we proceed with this debate.



January 14, 2017: Legislative Biz Plan for 2017


Most of us greet the New Year with enthusiasm; it's a fresh start. Those are my sentiments as we returned to the SC Statehouse this past week for the 122nd legislative session. I'm optimistic we have the time, talent and wherewithal to tackle the challenges and opportunities facing the great Palmetto State.


House Republicans Business Plan


This week, House Republicans issued a 'Business Plan' for 2017 focusing on the growth of existing and future jobs.


Since voters gave Republicans control of the SC House in 1994, the most significant legislative achievements originated in the Caucus Agenda. There is a long list of REFORMS: workers' compensation, property taxes, illegal immigration, campaign finances, DOT, ethics, and elimination of the Budget and Control Board, among many others. We have a history of accomplishing our agenda quickly and thoroughly. We plan to do that again this year with this business plan: 


Education Reform: Legislation is being written to correct our state’s education system which does not currently afford every child the same equally proficient education. We will fix the law so every child in South Carolina receives a 21st Century education no matter what zip code they live in. By doing so, we ensure each child is prepared for life in the workforce.


Retirement Solvency: It’s no secret our state’s retirement system needs a major course correction, and quickly, as it must continue to meet the needs of our public employees. Our state’s greatest assets are the people who serve the public each and every day; from law enforcement to our teachers. We owe them an adequate retirement, and the promises made to public employees will be kept.


Fixing our Roads & Bridges: We are re-doubling our efforts this year to once again pass a meaningful DOT reform/funding bill to address our crumbling infrastructure.


Workforce Development: SC employers have been telling us there is a shortage of skilled workers to fill job openings. We will engage our K-12 education system to give parents the option for students to receive the specialized training necessary for a career in technology, manufacturing, or another field requiring analytical thinking skills.


Real Tax Reform: I serve on a special House committee tasked with updating our existing tax code. The committee is currently designing a proposal that will move us further from an income based tax code while simultaneously moving toward a consumption based tax code. The goal is a flatter and fairer tax code for all taxpayers.


My Personal Agenda


While I fully support the House Republican Caucus Biz Agenda, every legislator has critical issues of personal interest. Here are two of mine:


Saving America: My highest priority is passage of legislation (H.3233) calling for an Article V Convention of States. In my view, this is the single most important vote to be cast by any legislator. Curbing the power of the federal government is critically important to the long-term survival of America and only state legislators have the constitutional authority to do so. Those running Washington D.C. will never limit their own power, will never pass an amendment to balance the national budget, put term limits on themselves or allow states their rightful constitutional authority; it is up to States to corral them. (Learn More)


Government Transparency:  Government at all levels belongs to the people who have a right to know what's going on. That's why I again pre-filed legislation (H.3352) to reform the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to allow greater access to the disclosure of public records. This will be the seventh year I have fought for this legislation. It came very close to passage last session, but was held up by one senator. It died in a House-Senate conference committee in the final hours of the session last June. I believe this legislation to enhance SC's FOIA has a good chance of passing this session. The Aiken Standard reports on the legislative agenda of members of the Aiken County legislative delegation: (Link).


Saying Farewell


Gov. Nikki Haley gave her final State of the State address this week saying "Ladies and Gentlemen, the state of our state is blessed." A confirmation hearing on her nomination as United Nations Ambassador is scheduled for next week. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will be our next Governor. To view the brief video excerpts of her address click here. The Aiken Standard reviews her six year tenure in this editorial (click here).



Real ID Okay


South Carolinians will be able to use their driver's licenses to fly on airplanes, and enter military bases and federal buildings. Our state has been given an extension until June 6 to meet the federal ID requirements of the Real ID Act intended to make secure, modern identification consistent across the country by linking the information the person used to get a driver's license. The extension gives the state more time to work with federal officials. Hopefully, it will be easier to work with the new Trump administration.


In YOUR Service

As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia.  If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please don't hesitate to contact me. 



December 5, 2016: Taking Cues from Trump


The S.C. General Assembly gets back to work tomorrow. This week the House and Senate go through the ritual of getting organized for the 122nd session by electing leadership and a couple of special committees while members receive their committee assignments and find out what desk on the floor that will be their home base for the next two years.

In my view, that's where routine business should end.

Look North to the Washington Whirlwind

A whirlwind is about the sweep into Washington D.C. President-Elect Donald Trump is already taking over the inside-the-beltway political system. He's unorthodox. His critics accuse him of being un-presidential in style and tone. Good! I predict he's actually going to get things done in a town with a mindset that little is actually accomplished. Congress has exemplified the place where good ideas for fixing what's wrong get buried

Donald Trump will get things done while the political elites protest, "That's not the way we do it."

Rush Limbaugh said it well: "I don't think either party has any idea what's headed their way. Their business is to remain mired in process. They call it deliberation, thoughtful, reasonable deliberation. Trump doesn't know any of that. To him, process is delay. Process is obfuscation. Process is incompetence. People engaging in process are a bunch of people masking the fact they don't know what they're doing, and he has no time for 'em and no patience."

Donald Trump has been elected to do specific things and he's committed to getting those things done swiftly over the resistance of those who want government to be business-as-usual.

Taking Our Cue from Trump

The S.C. General Assembly needs to heed the changing political winds. In our state all too often big issues are dragged out over the two year session only to die a slow death or be resurrected in the final moments of the two year session (that will be in May 2018 this time around). It gets even worse when it's privately acknowledged that sometimes good legislation needs to be introduced over several terms (4 years or more) before it's taken seriously. That's not good enough. Our state has major issues to address. As example...

• Finding the long-term funds needed to fix our roads and bridges.
• Solving the state pension crisis that's costing taxpayers $4.1 million a day ($171,000 per hour) in additional interest expense on the unfunded liability.
• Restructuring our tax system to make it fairer and flatter while not raising taxes. (A House committee on which I serve is doing a deep dive into this to recommend solutions.)
• Funding government's top priority of public safety by bolstering the depleted Trooper ranks and fixing the dangerous shortage of prison guards.
• Bringing educational choice to parents in similar ways to what's being done successfully in so many other states. Our kids deserve a world class education and not be locked into an educational "system" that was designed after the Civil War for an agrarian society.


That's just the top of a long list of challenges we face in S.C.

The Hope of a New Governor

Gov. Nikki Haley will soon become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. We wish her well and our proud that S.C. will be represented at the highest level in world diplomacy.

Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will soon step into the Governor's office. He's a seasoned political pro and knows how to work well with legislators. Hopefully, like Trump (the candidate for whom he vigorously campaigned), Gov. McMaster's will also be in a hurry to get good things accomplished for South Carolina.

To my colleagues, why wait? Why drag out the political process like every other session? Let's change the way we do business and better serve the people that sent us to the Statehouse to represent them.

Republicans in the General Assembly are more than a simple majority. They occupy nearly two-thirds of the seats in the legislature: 80 of the 124 seats in the House and 28 of 46 in the Senate. With that large majority and the new governor eager to work with us, imagine how swiftly we can tackle big issues. If legislators have the "political will" we have the "way" to accomplish great things for South Carolina.

Let's get moving!



November 2, 2016: MIRACLE Being Delivered

I recently wrote you about the calamity that struck Nichols, S.C. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew this town of 445 residents in the Pee Dee was destroyed when 18" of rain and the flooding of two nearby rivers submerged the town.

Mayor's Pleas for a "Miracle" Answered

During my tour of Nichols days after the flooding Mayor Lawson Battle told me "We need a miracle" if his little town is to survive. 90 percent of the homes suffered major or severe damage and are uninhabitable. Only two homes were unaffected. Every business, a total of 22, was lost. I detailed the plight of Nichols in this article in the Aiken Standard this week (Aiken Standard)

Fortunately, the mayor's plea is being answered by the good citizens of South Carolina. Faith-based organizations, including the Baptists, Methodists and others teams are tearing out flooded homes to prepare for rebuilding. It is going to take a long time for the town to come back; it's a marathon, not a sprint. But the help that Nichols has received during the past several weeks gives them hope for the future.

You Can Help!

Aiken County residents are being given the opportunity to help the good people of Nichols. Don Cheeks, owner of Southeastern Tool & Chairman of the local Red Cross Board, has stepped forward to offer his business as a drop-off site for donations. Southeastern Freight Lines generously donated a semi-trailer to haul donations to Nichols. I joined Don in launching the donation site. For the Aiken Standard story click here.

Your donations can be dropped off between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to noon on Fridays at Southeastern Tool, 3231 Wagener Road. Those who need a pick up or someone to assist after those hours are asked to call Don Cheeks at 803-507-7602.

What's needed? Canned foods, cereal, dry goods that can be stored and cleaning supplies of all sorts (they have a truckload of Clorox). NEW clothing only (the essentials) - remember, the residents have lost everything. FEMA has banned used clothing because of concerns of bug infestation.

Contributing $$$

If you are motivated to contribute money to aid Nichols residents, a donation account has been established at the Anderson Brothers Bank (CLICH HERE). This fund is authorized by the Town. Please avoid the GoFundMe accounts; there is no certainty they are legitimate.

Once again, let's show Aiken County's BIG HEART to those in need!   Thank you.


October 22, 2016: "We Need a Miracle!”

For many of us in South Carolina, Hurricane Matthew is in our rear-view mirror. For many others, however, the impact of the devastating storm lives on. Parts of the eastern portion of our state were hard hit. Fortunately, in many areas clean-up and rebuilding are underway.

A Forgotten Town

The Town of Nichols is located in Marion County in the Pee Dee. It's just nine miles from the North Carolina border. This town of 445 residents was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew when 18" of rain and the flooding of two nearby rivers submerged the town.


I emphasize DESTROYED! Of the 261 homes, 236 suffered major or severe damage and are uninhabitable. Only two homes were unaffected. Every business, a total of 22, was lost. That includes the post office, bank, pharmacy, a doctor's office, two restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses that suffered major flood damage. All six churches were flooded. Black mold is rampant.

This is a poor, rural town that WAS home to many elderly; 200 are still being sheltered in the Mullins National Guard Armory 7 miles away. Others have scattered. Most lost not only their homes and vehicles, but all their personal possessions. Many were rescued in the middle of night by boat or they fled to the Town Hall to be evacuated.

"We Need a Miracle"

Mayor Lawson Battle is in the battle of his life - a battle to bring back life to the town he loves. Otherwise, it will die. I toured Nichols a few days ago. Sitting with a mayor in his office he choked back tears when talking about the plight of town residents. Mayor Battle said, "We need a miracle!"

Town Clerk Sandee Rogers works alongside the mayor in 18 hour days helping forge the future while wading through the seemingly insurmountable immediate challenges facing their town. Their tax base is gone; there's no money to pay the few town employees. She prays her town will come back and the citizens will be able to come home someday.


This isn't the 'tourist coast' which has the economy to rebuild. This is the forgotten place. Who will help?

Government Help

Yes, there will be help from FEMA and the offer of loans to rebuild, but many in this town don't have the ability to borrow or repay. Some businesses have already said they won't return. They will need incentives to entice them back in these difficult times.

On my drive back to Aiken from Nichols I was on the phone with state leaders. House Speaker Jay Lucas will visit Nichols early this coming week. House Ways & Means Chairman Brian White tells me he and his staff are working to find financial aid for hurricane victims. I very much appreciate their desire to help.

A Call to Arms: The Miracle is YOU!

The Mayor is looking for a miracle -- will you be their angel?

I told town officials they need to count on South Carolina's faith based groups that can provide the immediate help they need. This is a 'Call to Arms'! Muster your church mission teams and bring the help that's so desperately needed to the people of Nichols. Homes need to be cleaned before all the damage can be assessed. That takes a lot of hard working hands.

Financial Aid

If you are motivated to contribute money to aid Nichols residents, a donation account has been established at the Anderson Brothers Bank. (DONATION LINK)  This fund is authorized by the Town. Please avoid the GoFundMe accounts; there is no certainty they are legitimate.

Donations of Clothing, Furniture, Personal Items, etc.

This week town officials will convert the Library in the Town Hall into a donation center to accept help for their residents. It will also serve as a place for them to congregate and make connections so they know they are not alone. I'm uncertain what specifically they need, but I suggested to them they list their needs on their Facebook page which was hastily created in the days following the hurricane.

Final Thought

I serve a large rural House District in Aiken County, so the plight of Nichols hit close to home and touched me. I hope this report touched you. South Carolinian's are resilient and don't wait around for help from the government, but the people of Nichols need your help. Let's take care of our neighbors.

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

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.

October 7, 2016:  Aiken’s BIG HEART Surrounds Hurricane Evacuees

South Carolinians are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Matthew. The deadly hurricane is hugging the north Florida coast and will make landfall in the Palmetto State tomorrow (Saturday). It's a monster, deadly storm packing a powerful surge that has prompted the evacuation of 310,000 from the Low Country and coastal areas.

Aiken's BIG HEART!

Aiken County has opened its loving arms to hurricane evacuees. The American Red Cross shelter is up and running at South Aiken High School. Starting Thursday afternoon evacuees began pouring into the shelter because there are no hotel/motel rooms available. So far, 240 evacuees have found temporary housing there. Red Cross volunteers are pros and guests are being well cared for.

But the Red Cross shelter isn't the only temporary home for evacuees. Many locals have opened their homes to family, friends and strangers from the Low Country easing their time out of harm's way. A 4 week old baby with its mother to a 90 year old have homes in Aiken to ride out the storms thanks to Aiken residents opening their homes. My wife, Donna, and I made new friends when we invited into our home an elderly couple from Sun City who were trying to sleep on a cot in a school hallway at the shelter. They are a delight and a joy to know.


Aiken's BIG HEART is also evident on many other fronts. Evacuees' pets are being sheltered by locals and horses have found temporary shelter offered by our equine community (Aiken Loves Horses!).

Others have offered free space for evacuees in RV's and campers. Meanwhile, folks continue to drop-off donations of all sorts at the Red Cross shelter; everyone wants to help.

I'm so proud to be part of the Red Cross and this caring community.

Don't Be Foolish!

For the most part, South Carolinians have heeded the evacuation warnings from Gov. Haley and it has been a fairly orderly process. Hopefully, evacuees will return to find their homes and businesses undamaged. It's better to be safe than sorry. However, some make foolish decisions.

As example, I learned this afternoon that after the lane reversal on I-26 was switched back to normal operations today, several evacuees in motor homes pulled out of Aiken and headed back to the Low Country. That could be a costly, or even a deadly, mistake. The storm surge from hurricanes often causes the most damage and is the real killer. Storm surge isn't just about the beach area; it can cause inundation miles inland from the ocean. Check out the potential storm surge flooding model map from the National Hurricane Service

The Next 24 Hours

No one can be certain what the next 24 hours will bring, but we're ready. First responders are ready in every community. 700 SC State Troopers are staged to move in, as well as 2,000 National Guardsmen who are on duty with 3,000 more on stand-by. The power utilities have repair crews staged to quickly restore electricity where needed. (Florida is reporting more than 1 million people are without power and early reports have 5 confirmed deaths due to the hurricane.)

Stay Alert, Stay Informed

In addition to this newsletter, I continue to offer frequent storm updates on my Facebook Page - TaylorSCHouse & my personal page: Rep.Bill Taylor. It's a fast way to communicate hurricane information. I welcome you the "Like" the page and check for updates.

Gov. Haley frequently updates the storm situation during her news briefing from South Carolina's Emergency Operations Center. Here's the video of Friday evening's briefing: VIEW BRIEFING

And finally, if you have taken all personal precautions, it's time to join me in prayer for everyone's safety.

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

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

September 21, 2016:  Government Gone Wild!


Just imagine - a sleazy cable TV program titled "Government Gone Wild".  Wait, that program already airs on the cable news network's 24/7.


It's disheartening to watch the Washington elites and the federal government bureaucracy expand exponentially into our daily lives while failing in their primary responsibility to keep us safe.


Washington Out-of-Control


Washington is breaking the bank on our backs. Our national debt is astronomical. It has nearly doubled in the last seven years and is closing in on $20 Trillion. Each taxpayer's share of that debt is more than $163,000. (View: National Debt Clock)


It gets worse. Health care costs have skyrocketed. So, too, has student debt. Forty-five million people (1 in 7) are on food stamps and the average annual individual welfare payment totals $43,000. Labor force participation has plummeted along with home ownership and median family income. Meanwhile, regulations flow down from Washington to control every aspect of our lives.


Worse, America is at WAR and our very existence is threatened, yet much of official Washington remains in denial. Fortunately, most everyday American's recognize the threat and are frustrated with a lack of action to keep us safe. And this is all happening while our military strength has been cut to its lowest levels since prior to WW II.


The Challenge is Bigger than One Person


Is the election of a new president the fix we're looking for? That's doubtful. Our bloated federal government has been expanding for more than eight decades under both Republican and Democrat presidents. Unelected bureaucrats pass laws that impact millions. The dysfunctional, squabbling Congress has become little more than an "advisory council". The Supreme Court legislates from the bench. And the executive branch writes laws and rules. The structure of the federal government is broken and Washington will NEVER fix itself!


The Solution as Big as the Problems; a Gift from Our Founding Fathers


While we citizens watch our country fall apart, I remain hopeful about our nation's future. That's because our wise Founding Fathers gave us a way to rein in a tyrannical federal government that threatens our way of life.  Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives states the right to limit the federal government by proposing Amendments to the Constitution, just like Congress is supposed to do.


An Historic Convention Begins Today


Today, we arrive in the cradle of our democracy, historic Williamsburg, Virginia, the birthplace of the American Revolution.  I'm one of 150 legislators representing all 50 states to demonstrate our ability to fix Washington. We have gathered to simulate an Article V Convention of States (COS). We will show in practice, not just in theory, how a Convention of States will function: exactly as planned and according to the specific instructions issued to it by the states.



How the Convention Works


As with the actual convention, the rules for this Simulated Convention of States, make clear that the ONLY amendments that are able to be proposed and debated, are those which fall under the limited subject matter of the COS Resolution: imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power, scope and jurisdiction of the federal government, and imposing term limits on Congress and the Judiciary.


Only state legislators have the power to call a convention and propose amendments limiting the federal government. It is an awesome power intended by the Founders to give the citizens real control over the federal government.  (Learn More)


I join Sen. Larry Grooms and Rep. Ralph Kennedy in proudly representing the Palmetto State at this historic session. We ask for your prayers that each of us and the other Commissioners to this Article V Convention be wise in our deliberations and votes.


God Bless America!




August 28, 2016: Avoiding A Pension Nightmare


The South Carolina state employee pension system is in trouble and that could cost you.  We cannot allow bad practices to drag down our pension system with taxpayers eventually being asked to bail out the financial shortfall.


The SC Retirement System Investment Commission's (RSIC) performance is failing, resulting in costly outcomes. This is the group charged with managing the retirement investments of public employees at the state and local level.  A report by the Legislative Audit Council calls the retirement system "significantly underfunded" and that "it under-reported the risk" of its investments.  The RCIS also pays hundreds of millions of dollars annually in management fees contributing significantly to that underperformance.  


The RSIC has over-promised and under-performed.  In doing so, they have created an unfunded liability - a difference between the amount of money the state will need to uphold its contracts with retired employees and the revenue the State's pension fund is generating to cover those future costs.  Legislators must make sure you, the taxpayer, do not pay more to shore up bad decision making and the poor performance on the part of those on the investment commission who make those decisions.


There is some good news for the South Carolina Retirement System.  Based on the reforms the General Assembly instituted in 2012, both the government and public employees are currently contributing enough to rectify this funding deficiency over the course of the next 30 years should the fund achieve its benchmark of 7.5% returns.  That is a good first step. 


Regretfully, several issues counter the good news.  First, that fund has, for the last several years, failed to meet its benchmark for returns.  That underperformance amounts to over $7.1 billion over the last decade.  Secondly, the current plan to service the fund's debt is akin to making the minimum payment on a credit card for 30 years.  Lastly, management fees paid to outsiders have skyrocketed from $23 million in 2004 to a peak of $468 million in 2013-14, an increase of 2000 percent! 


A few states have successfully reformed their pension systems.  We must learn from their decisions to help South Carolina chart a course forward.  These states made hard choice to tighten their belts and reform their systems before their debt became an onerous burden on taxpayers.


The policies these states implemented include adopting defined contribution plans - similar to a 401(k) - that is universal in the private sector.  Private companies, many years ago, saw the insolvency brought on by defined benefit plans.  We can and should follow these states by pursuing common sense policies to reform our pension fund before it is too late. 


The core issue for the South Carolina Retirement System is the size of our unfunded liability.  The unfunded liability is at least $20 billion and, depending on who is calculating future payments, it may be as much as $40 billion.  The 7.5% returns that we task our state pension fund managers to produce every year are partially fueling the unfunded liability.  This legislatively set benchmark is unrealistic and needs to be adjusted.  For the last ten years, our rate of return has averaged only 5.06%.  We must adjust our expectations and our calculations to match our real world experience.  The poor return is a recipe for disaster.


Fortunately, House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Hugh Leatherman have formed a special legislative committee to develop pension reforms.  Everything must be on the table - hybrid benefit and contribution plans, COLAs, state and employee payroll contributions, and a sound liability payoff schedule, to name a few. 


With the special committee's work over the coming months, the legislature will be in a position to consider common-sense reforms to make our public employee pension fund stable and reliable.  This is a complex issue that will require tough decisions that will impact the pension system for decades to come.    


Finally, like with all difficult, controversial and costly issues, legislators must have the political courage to solve the retirement system ills now and get us back to a properly funded future.  This is a complicated issue that demands the kind of policy that satisfies the needs of South Carolina's taxpayers and public employees at the state, county and municipal levels.  Choosing to focus on this difficult and issue now will save us from being forced to grapple with a much more desperate crisis later.    


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 


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 23, 2016: Fixing SC’s Taxes

One thing I know for certain --- South Carolina's tax code is out-of-whack and unfair.

I came to that realization in 2009-10. Prior to being elected, as a private citizen, I attended nearly all the hearings of the TRAC (Tax Realignment Commission) created by the General Assembly. That citizen's panel was charged with assessing the state's tax structure to determine its "adequacy, fairness, and efficiency". Their report went into a file drawer and was never acted upon. In fairness, SC was just starting to emerge from the so-called 'Great Recession' and tax revenues were scarce making people jittery.

Do-Over: Fast Forward to Today

House Speaker Jay Lucas today appointed 14 members of the SC House to serve on the House Tax Policy Review Committee. I'm pleased to have been named to the committee. Our charge is to review SC's current tax code and submit suggestions for reform to the Speaker before the beginning of next legislative session in January.

In making the announcement, Speaker Lucas stated, "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."

Speaker Lucas added, "The bipartisan members of this ad hoc committee were individually selected because of their leadership abilities and knowledge of the tax system. I am confident that this diverse group will successfully begin laying the groundwork for significant tax reform."

Speaker Lucas made our mission clear when he said, "We want a broader and flatter tax code that will help continue to spur job growth and provide greater opportunities for South Carolina families."


If you agree that SC's tax code is out-of-whack and unfair, then I invite you to lend a hand. Send me your thoughtful recommendations and I'll make certain they are heard by the committee. Write me at:

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE
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 27, 2016: A Plea for Those Who Need You


There is an important runoff election in Aiken County tomorrow, Tuesday, June 28th.


Voters in S.C House District 81 (City of Aiken-Graniteville) have the opportunity to vote for your Representative to succeed Don Wells who has chosen not to seek reelection. 


Two candidates are on the ballot, K.T. Ruthven and Bart Blackwell. Ruthven won 43% of the vote in the Primary Election and Blackwell garnered 26%. The runoff is necessary because neither surpassed 50%. 


Sadly, Few Will Vote!


Only about 9% of eligible voters went to the polls two weeks ago; history shows voting in runoff elections is even lower. 


Please don't forget to vote! Remind everyone. Specifically, encourage your family and friends to vote tomorrow because in this busy world our personal commitments can collide with our responsibilities as a citizen. Your vote CAN make a difference!


Even if you didn't vote in the June 14th primary you CAN vote tomorrow! Don't let others speak for you. 





Aiken Technical College President Susan Winsor received South Carolina's highest and most prestigious recognition, the Order of the Palmetto, at her retirement reception this evening. The Aiken County Legislative Delegation presented Gov. Haley's letter accompanying the honor that cited Dr. Winsor's significant contributions to students and Aiken Tech during her nearly 17 years as its President. She also received Resolutions from the S.C. House and Senate honoring her commitment to higher education. Dr. Winsor's retirement has been put on temporary hold; she'll serve as Interim President of the State Technical College System until a new President is hired.




I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 


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 16, 2016: Ethics Reform Crosses the Finish Line!

The SC General Assembly returned to the Statehouse Wednesday to consider Governor Haley's vetoes of bills and line items in the state budget for the coming year.

Ethics Reform Finally Passes

At the very last moment (late into the night) the SC Senate finally joined the House and agreed to ethics reform that would stop, what some say, "Is like having the fox guard the hen house." The ethics reform would no longer allow legislators to investigate themselves; that would be done by professional investigators at the Ethics Commission. Another ethics bill calls for all public officials in the state to reveal their sources of private income allowing citizens to better potential conflicts of interest. Both bills were sent to Gov. Haley just as the legislative session drew to a close.

Gov. Haley's reaction came within moments: "Tonight, after four years of hard work, the people of South Carolina have a real reason to celebrate. Income disclosure and independent investigations will help restore the people's trust in state government by making it more accountable to those it serves. We thank the House and Senate for keeping their promise and helping us bring this home."

Lynn Teague of the League of Women Voters reacted to the passage: "It is wonderful that we will now have independent law-enforcement professionals investigating complaints against legislators. The reform will give the public more confidence in the objectivity of investigations."

The House led the fight for ethics reform over the past two years whereas some viewed the Senate as far more reluctant. Shortly after taking office in 2014, House Speaker Jay Lucas formed a special House panel to examine the state's ethics laws. I served on that panel. We developed a package of nearly 20 recommendations. While only two passed this session, they were the big ones!

SC Still Has "Liquor-cycles" Thanks to one Senator!
Moped Bill Dies in Senate

During the final moments of Wednesday's session the moped-safety bill died when the Senate adjourned without deciding whether to override Gov. Haley's veto of the wide-sweeping legislation. The governor objected to the bill saying it was government overreach by requiring moped riders to wear reflective vests at night and mandating riders younger than 21 wear helmets. Most importantly, the legislation, that has been 6 years in development, would have given mopeds a single definition under state law, allowing officers to stop and charge intoxicated moped drivers with DUI. With that, mopeds would no longer be referred to as "Liquor-cycles" in SC. Earlier in the day, House members voted 69-33 to override Haley's veto after an earlier vote to sustain it. The bill reached the Senate but never received a vote because (AGAIN!) Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, blocked it as he does with many good pieces of legislation. The archaic Senate rules allow ONE senator to be a RULER without debate or voting to allow the majority to decide.


As for being a "Liquor-cycle", not every moped rider is forced to use a moped because they lost their driver’s license. It's affordable transportation for college students and others in urban areas where speed limits are 35 mph or less. But we have major problems with mopeds; particularly on highways where they are a danger to the moped rider and other drivers. This bill would have been a major step forward. ABATE and other motorcycle enthusiasts supported the legislation and helped fine tune it.

Unbelievably, some House Democrats fought the bill claiming (in essence) that moped riders weren't smart enough to understand the proposed law, were too poor to buy an $8 reflective vest or a helmet and they didn't have time to go to the DMV for a license. Here's a question for everyone -- how many of you have come close to hitting a moped? That would likely be deadly to the moped rider and devastating to you and your family. Something must be done! We'll try again next session.


The 121st regular session of the legislature is finished. We could be called back in an emergency, but we'll be back in business this December when the 122nd session is convened. Legislative work continues for me. I return to the Statehouse Monday for a committee hearing of the House Legislative Oversight Committee. We continue to meet regularly throughout the off-session.

Of Special Note

Some of my newsletter readers live in a voting district that will have runoff elections June 28. These elections usually have extremely light turn out, meaning a slight few will make decisions for the majority. Make your calendar and VOTE one more time. The candidates are counting on you.

Keeping in Touch

During the off-session I suspend my regular weekly Legislative Updates and only write when I have something newsworthy to report.

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

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 13, 2016: Prove 'em WRONG!

I hope tomorrow you win the title of
'Exceptional Citizen' by being one of the few who treats voting as a top priority.


Election officials predict the turnout for Tuesday's Primary Election in Aiken County to be between 15-20%. That's awful! There are 116,726 registered voters in Aiken County; and about 20,000 will care enough or find the time to go to the polls to make their voices heard. 20,000 will make decisions for the other 96,726.


We Must Do Better!

Let's prove that dismal turnout prediction wrong.  

    First, make certain you vote. 

    Second, email, text, or call your family, friends, and neighbors to remind them to vote. 

    Lastly, if they can't drive to the polls - take them.


Key Races are On the Ballot

In Aiken County, there are contested races in the Republican Primary for County Treasurer, Coroner and County Council District 3, as well as State Senate District 25 and SC House District 81. The Democrat Primary has two candidates vying to oppose Congressman Joe Wilson in November.


S.C. House District 81

Of high interest is the Republican primary contest to replace Rep. Don Wells who is not seeking reelection. Four candidates are vying to represent House District 81 which includes much of the City of Aiken into Graniteville.


One Critical Issue - Saving America 

I don't endorse candidates since I'll be working closely with one of the four during the next legislative session. However, I am keenly interested in their positions on key issues, particularly the  Article V Convention of States initiative. 


As you likely know, I'm the primary House sponsor of that legislation that allows States to assume their rightful authority and rein in our out of control federal government. Many Aiken County citizens have indicated strong support for this initiative. This current session, all the Republican legislators representing Aiken County cosponsored the COS legislation. Although we didn't win passage this year, we'll double-down starting next January.


So, where do the four House District 81 candidates stand on this vital issue? Over the weekend, each was contacted by the Convention of States legislative liaison for SC to determine their stance on the Article V Convention of States initiative. Here's what he learned:

K.T. Ruthven---------------Supports COS

Bart Blackwell-------------Undecided

Jeremy O'Donnell--------Undecided

Chris Austin----------------Did Not Respond

This single issue is critical to me and so many of you because Article V of the U.S. Constitution is our only lawful safety valve to stop Washington's abuses on our liberty.  


V-O-T-E Tuesday! THAT'S June 14!

If you have questions about voting, here's are links to the answers:


Click here  - To check your voter registration

Click here  - To find your voting Precinct

Click here  - To find out how to vote


See you at polls!


Photo of the Week



      Like many Americans, my heart goes out to the victims of the Orlando massacre. It is a tragedy beyond words. I pray for all the victims, their family and friends.

      The mass shooting by an Islamic terrorist again demonstrates America is at WAR!  


      Some politicians duck and dodge the real threat to our homeland and prefer to be 'politically correct' or worse, to use this tragedy to advance their personal political agenda to take away our Second Amendment rights of self-defense. As one S.C. woman wrote, "When you are at war, the weapon is not the problem."


      Let's follow the lead of the Greatest Generation who won WW II in 3-1/2 years and do everything necessary to win another war America didn't start.





June 7, 2016: Fast & Furious


In each of our lives deadlines are often dreaded, but admittedly force results. Without deadlines much less would get done in our personal and business lives - and in the legislature. This past Thursday was the ultimate deadline for the SC legislature; the day the State Constitution calls for adjournment of the regular session. Any bill that didn't get passed by both chambers and sent to the governor died and will have to be refiled in 2017.


Fast & Furious Week


That action movie title aptly describes the final week of any legislative session. It is 'do or die' before sine die with legislators maneuvering to find success for their bills. Fortunately, there was success on a number of fronts. Since your time is precious and the legislative list is long, I will strive to be brief and let the following serve as your top-line report on key legislative action.


CWP Reciprocity with GA  


Thanks to Gov. Haley it took only one day for her to sign legislation allowing reciprocity for Concealed Weapon Permit (CWP) holders between SC & GA. With a stroke of her pen H.3799 took effect immediately. Georgia automatically recognizes CWP permit holders from states that recognize GA. The legislation was initiated by the Aiken legislative delegation with Rep. Bill Hixon as the primary sponsor. While the bill won easy passage in the House, Democrat senators nearly buried it with 80 amendments. Once those objections were withdrawn, the bill won Senate approval.


We Have a ROADS Bill!  


While my House colleagues and I passed many significant pieces of legislation this week, the most anticipated was a bill to begin funding the needed repairs to our dangerous roads and bridges. On Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Jay Lucas took the floor to call out the Senate for their lack of action and the governor for her lack of leadership. Late that evening the Senate passed a roads bill, and Wednesday afternoon my House colleagues and I took swift action to give it final passage. After two years and hundreds of hours, the bill was sent to Governor Haley. 


Three key components of Road Funding Bill:

Significantly reformed the Department of Transportation. Before allocating any additional dollars to the broken agency, I joined my conservative colleagues in demanding these reforms.

Allocated $4 billion in state dollars which must be used to repair our dangerous roadways including 399 dilapidated bridges.

Does not raise taxes.

Victory for Vets! 


The roadblock by one senator ended just in the nick of time allowing the Senate to pass legislation giving retired veterans an income tax break in SC. The House unanimously agreed with the Senate amendments to H.3147 that insisted on a five year phase in. It provides for a tax deduction of up to thirty thousand dollars each year for those who are at least 65 years old and up to $1750 each year for younger taxpayers. Overall, this is good business for SC. We'll be viewed as far more 'vet friendly' and be able to compete with neighboring states in attracting retiring vets. Most retiring vets establish second careers and contribute greatly to our economy.


Get 'Er Done Quicker


For 20 years the SC House put forth bills calling for the shortening of the legislative session (we have one of the longest in the nation - Jan-June every year). Those bills always died in the Senate. This time they passed their own bill (S.267) to shorten the session by three weeks and the House unanimously agreed. The governor has already signed the bill.


State Budget Approved


The General Assembly sent a $7.5 billion state general fund budget to the governor. Major items included:

  • $84 million in DMV fees and fines and $131 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenue is transferred to the State Highway Fund for road improvements.
  • $50 million is distributed among the County Transportation Committees to use for resurfacing and repairing roads in each county.
  • $49 million is allocated to SCDOT to address road repair costs from the October 2015 flood damage.   
  • $40 million for the SC Farm Aid Fund created to assist flooded farmers.
  • 3.25% state employee pay increase totaling $54.3 million.
  • $26 million to cover increased costs of operating the state's health and dental insurance plans with no increases in the premiums paid by employees and no reductions in coverage. 
  • $218 million to increase the base student cost by $130 for K-12 public school students.
  • 2% salary increase for public school teachers. 
  • $23 million for new school busses.
  • $28 million in increases for the state's colleges and universities, a 5.5% increase on average. 
  • $23 million increase in the Local Government Fund.

Budget Impact for Aiken County

  • USC Aiken - $400,000 increase in recurring dollars (+5.5%)
  • Aiken Tech - $784,216 in training equipment
  • Aiken Tech - $7 million for the Life Science Building
  • $126,000 in additional Parks & Recreation funding
  • $1.8 million in additional funds for road repaving
  • $305,500 additional from the non-recurring Local Government Fund

Eminent Domain


This is a big win for residents of Aiken County and elsewhere in the state who have been fighting a pipeline company from using the powers of eminent domain to acquire private property. S. 868 disallows eminent domain powers by pipeline companies for the next 3 years. The governor has already signed the bill into law.


Ethics Legislation


A House-Senate Conference Committee is working to find agreement on H.3186, revisions to the Ethics Act for all elected officials in SC. It's reported the Senators on the committee are resisting independent investigations of wrong-doing. House members have voted repeatedly in favor of independent investigations of legislators.


FOIA on Life Support


I've been appointed to a House-Senate Conference Committee to iron out differences on two bills to the Freedom of Information Act to enhance government transparency. The prospects for passage are very dim because of the objections of one "rookie" senator who has worked to kill H.3191 this year. (Sunday's Aiken Editorial explains)


Saying Good Bye


On the last day of the regular session of the legislature we said farewell to many representatives who are retiring from the House. One of those was Rep. Don Wells (R-Aiken) who is leaving office after two terms. We honored Don for his dedication to public service, his family and his caring constituent service.



Quick List of Other Bills Passed


H.4554 - SOUTH CAROLINA ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING ACT: Rectifies SC's status as the only state lacking comprehensive regulatory authority over money transfers which has made the state a center for money laundering activities that facilitate organized criminal enterprises and terrorist activities. 


H.4521 - TUCKER HIPP'S TRANSPARENCY ACT: Mandates SC's public colleges and universities report student misconduct investigations related to fraternity and sorority organizations.


S.1166 - SC STATE DEBT FORGIVENESS: The legislation makes provisions for the forgiveness of $12 million in state loans disbursed to SC State University over the course of three years if the university meets specified benchmarks such as maintaining academic accreditation, achieving progress towards a balanced budget and meeting student enrollment growth goals. 


H.4387 - PROHIBITING TRAFFIC TICKET QUOTAS: This legislation provides that law enforcement agencies may not require their law enforcement officers to issue a specific amount or meet a quota for the number of citations issued during a designated period of time.


H.4542 - THE RIGHT TO TRY ACT: This legislation authorizes physicians to prescribe certain promising experimental treatments to terminally ill patients who have considered and exhausted all other treatment options currently approved by the FDA. The governor has already signed the bill into law. 


S.233 - SOUTH CAROLINA PUBLIC PRAYER AND INVOCATION ACT: This legislation makes revisions in keeping with particular court rulings governing the way in which a deliberative public body may invite religious leaders to offer voluntary public invocations at its meetings.


H.3440 - MOPED BILL: This legislation replaces the multiple, sometimes conflicting, definitions for mopeds currently found in statutes with a single new definition for mopeds. Henceforth, mopeds are designated 'motor vehicles'. Mopeds will, for the first time, have to be registered and moped operators will be licensed by the DMV. However, the bill does not require a moped to be titled or insured. There are a host of new requirements. Riders must wear reflective vests at night, operate a moped on the public road with a speed limit of not greater than fifty-five miles per hour and they must ride in the farthest right lane on a multi-lane highway.


Looking Ahead


While the legislative session officially ended Thursday, we'll be back at the Statehouse next week to take up vetoes sent back from Gov. Haley and to vote on any conference reports returned to us.


Thank You!


It is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly.  If you ever find yourself in need of assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues to improve our state, don't hesitate to contact me. I am committed to being your "Strong Voice and Effective Leader" in my service to you at the Statehouse.  




Aiken, SC

May 30, 2016


Remarks by

Rep. Bill Taylor


It is once again my honor to be asked to make a few remarks at this most solemn occasion. 


My thanks to the members of the Marine Corps League for their service and leadership in organizing and hosting this event.


My friends, in today’s celebrity-driven world it seems most people are seeking credit or, at the very least, their 15 minutes of fame. They post selfies and their most intimate moments and outrageous comments on social media to get noticed in this very noisy world.


Not so with most veterans. They are a quiet bunch. They don’t brag about their exploits, nor complain about their suffering.


I think it’s because they know…


It is the VETERAN, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.


It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble. 


It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial. 

It is the VETERAN, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote. 


It is the VETERAN who always salutes the Flag.


It is the VETERAN who serves under the Flag.


It is the VETERAN who is buried under the Flag when he or she is lowered into the ground.


We honor all our veterans for their service, but today, Memorial Day, we pay special tribute to those who died in battle.


They are here amongst us today. Their spirit lives on.


155 is the number of names etched on that wall. Each one a precious person.  Each one our Aiken County neighbor of the past.


Each one with family and friends who hugged them and waved good bye when they went to war to defend America.


I suspect Mat Dillon’s parents, Lucy and Neil, relive that day frequently. Bless them for their strength to carry on


I imagine that each of those going off to war expected to come back to Aiken warmly welcomed home...and resume their lives among family and friends.


For those 155 souls, that didn't happen. 


Some came home to be buried; others were buried near where they fell on foreign soil. Still others were never found.


Today, we remember those 155, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who died defending this country and our freedoms.


Like all of us here today, these 155 souls were different from one another. They had different personalities and different interests. 


But, I suspect they all had one trait in common – they had GRIT.


Funny, we don’t hear much about GRIT today. The word has been around a long time – there was even a 1969 John Wayne movie titled “True Grit”.


But let’s be a bit more specific than the ‘Old Duke’.


GRIT is defined as a “tendency to sustain interest in an effort toward very long-term goals.”  We could say it another way – when times get tough, the tough get going.  They ‘Grit ‘Er Done!’


GRIT – every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman knows when they are truly tested they must reach deep down and call on their GRIT to see things through to the end, no matter how long or how difficult.


I ask you – where is our National GRIT today? 


History shows us Americans are at their best when they unite around a noble purpose.


When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, eventually their worst fears were realized. They awoke the sleeping giant. The Greatest Generation mobilized.


In a mere 3-1/2 years or fathers and mothers, our grandpa’s and grandpa’s, our ancestors came together to save America and the world.


Today, it might take ‘Central Planning’ in Washington 3-1/2 years to study an imminent threat to America and decide to whom they need to apologize.


Just this week, the President took his 7-year worldwide ‘Apology Tour’ to Japan where he stood at the site in Hiroshima where American airmen dropped the world’s first atomic bomb. He declared boldly, “we shall not repeat the evil’.


EVIL?  American’s don’t want war. Americans are peace loving. But Americans have the right to defend themselves and protect their way of life.


America didn’t start WW 2, but America finished it!


Harry Truman had GRIT.  He alone made that decision to drop the first atomic bomb.  Was it an easy decision?  If we could ask Harry he would probably say, “Hell no”.


Was it the right decision?


In the lens of history, most Americans would say, “Hell, yes!”  And so, too, would those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who fought in WW 2.


Regrettably, today’s younger generation knows little of our history. They don’t know the Japanese fought that war with such sadistic determination that they would frequently torture and bayonet prisoners – even wounded – in hospital beds they would overrun.


The Japanese would almost always refuse to surrender themselves, making an assault on their homeland very costly for America.


Harry Truman’s GRIT saved the lives of probably tens of thousands of our servicemen and for certain, there would be many more names etched on that wall.


If the U.S. ever finds itself in such circumstances again (and that could be sooner rather than later) let us pray that the president at that time is unconcerned about appeasing other nations and has the GRIT of Harry Truman.


And let us hope that we American’s have some of Harry’s GRIT and the GRIT shown by those who fought in all our foreign wars.


That we have the good sense to not worry about being ‘politically correct’ when challenged with national adversity, but that we come together for the most noble cause – saving the American way of life.


This nation needs each of us to be Patriots!


Let us make our nation’s Founders proud. Let’s do whatever is needed to keep America strong, so our future generations enjoy Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.


The flame of the American Dream is flickering. Let us not allow it to be extinguished. 


Today, here at this Memorial Park, we remember the cost of freedom is priceless when you view it through that wall with its 155 names and the thousands of silent grave markers around the world.

On this Memorial Day we thank those who paid the ultimate price of service with their lives. 


Let us also say thank you to those who served and still serve in our military, and to all of those who supported them and who continue to support them.


A friend shared with me an e-mail that stated, "America is not at war. The U.S. Military is at war. America is at the Mall."

We are not at the Mall -- we are here today to remember and honor 155 Aiken County residents and all those who gave their lives so we can enjoy our freedoms.


God Bless Them!  And grant them eternal rest for their sacrifice on behalf of us.


Thank you.



May 28, 2016: Fix First, Fund Second


Finding funds to repair SC's crumbling roads and bridges has been our top priority during this two year legislative session. Solutions for big problems are never easy and always controversial. This week a major piece of the puzzle was put in place by the House.


Fix First, Fund Second

I have long stated I would not vote for more money to be sent to SCDOT until we reformed the governance of that agency and we could be assured monies would be spent wisely to benefit the entire state not just certain areas. Accountability is critical. The legislation approved by the House provides for key governance changes. The governor would appoint all highway commissioners with the advice and consent of the Legislature and limit commissioners' service to two, four-year terms. In turn, the new SCDOT board would have the power to elect the transportation secretary, thereby eliminating the difficulty of the SCDOT secretary reporting to two bosses, the governor and the commissioners, which has proved problematic.


Funding Road Improvements

Winning nearly unanimous approval in the House, S.1258 calls for an estimated $4.5 billion in additional funding in the coming years to fix SC's roads and bridges. It would send about $200 million from vehicle sales tax revenue and from fees collected by the state DMV to SCDOT, which could then use them to send to the state Infrastructure Bank to issue more than $2 billion in bonds. That money in turn could free up other funding, for a total of $4.5 billion that could be used over 10 years. There would be no tax or fee increases as the result of this bill.


What Gets Done?

SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall says the plan is to borrow $2.2 billion using bonds, enabling the state to spend about $2 billion on interstates, $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion on pavements and $950 million on structurally deficient bridges. It would finish all three phases of widening and improving Interstate 385, Columbia's "Malfunction Junction" and eliminate every load-restricted bridge in the state within 10 years.


Aiken County's Roads & Bridges

Specifically, Aiken County would see an additional $84 million in road resurfacing projects, including 5 miles of I-20 from the Savannah River to Exit 5. The proposed bridge replacement program would target 22 structurally deficient bridges in Aiken County (and nearly 400 bridges statewide over the next decade). This is in addition to the routine fuel tax funding that is used to repave state roads and the state funding of the Aiken County Transportation Committee.


Only a Partial Solution

South Carolinians expected the Legislature to pass a roads bill this year. This legislation is a starting point that allows for an expanded road repair program to get underway sooner rather than later. However, we're far from finished. A serious effort must be made next session to find a long-term funding stream to fix our roads. (Read Aiken Standard editorial)


The Final Week is Ahead


There are just three more legislative days before the 121st regular session comes to a close. As always, there was a flurry of activity as the clock ticked down this week with legislators scrambling for passage of their bills. Here's a topline report on key legislation.


Freedom of Information Act Enhancements

The House passed a bill using a creative way to keep FOIA reform alive and get around the one senator who is blocking government transparency from being voted on in the Senate. We amended the Senate's FOI bill dealing with police dashcam videos and inserted the major FOIA reform legislation. Hopefully, that will result in a conference committee so we can bring more sunshine to government at all levels in this state. (The Aiken Standard editorial provides background on the issue.) 


Senator Blocks Veterans Bill

There has been a concerted effort to pass legislation to make SC even friendlier to retiring vets.  H.3147 would allow retired veterans a tax deduction on their retirement pay. The House unanimously voted for this pension relief for veterans and the Senate Finance Committee approved the bill unanimously without objection. Now, Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington) is blocking it. It's WRONG that one senator can wield veto power. Veteran's organizations are asking you to call Sen. Malloy's office (843-339-3000) or write him ( and ask him to stand aside and support our veterans. (View WIS-TV News: Purple Heart Vet to senator: "What's your problem?")


CWP Reciprocity

The battle is down to the wire in the Senate to allow Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) reciprocity between SC and Georgia. One senator is trying to expand it to reciprocity with all other states. Still others object and more than 90 amendments have been prepared to kill the bill. The entire Aiken Legislative Delegation has been championing this legislation.


Ethics Reform Hits Snag

The ethics bill requiring all elected officials in SC to disclose their private income will likely have to be hammered out in conference committee. The House rejected the Senate's proposal that would have required elected officials to only identify their sources of income, but not the amount. The House amended the bill (H.3186) to require disclosure of the exact amount that public officials earn from non-government income. Senate leaders say there is not enough support for requiring specific dollar amounts and hope that revealing senators' income sources to the public will be just as effective. The legislation also calls for the disclosure of funding for those groups who campaign to influence the outcome of an election or ballot measure question. Currently, that's referred to as 'Dark Money'.


Deer Tags Bill Wins Final Approval

The House concurred in Senate amendments to S.454 that provides for a new deer hunting tagging system. Hunters will be required to tag every deer taken in the state. DNR will issue eight doe day specific tags and three buck tags with the purchase of a SC hunting license and big game permit for in-state residents. 


Protecting Life

Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law this week legislation that would ban abortions in SC after 19 weeks, unless the mother's life is at risk or the fetus suffers an anomaly that makes it unlikely to survive outside the womb. Haley signed the bill shortly after legislators in the House and Senate ratified it.


Senator's Portrait Unveiled

A portrait of slain State Sen. Clementa Pinckney was unveiled in the SC Senate chamber during a moving ceremony Wednesday. Pinckney was one of nine parishioners gunned down last during a Bible study class at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last June. Pinckney's two young daughters unveiled the portrait, as his widow looked on.


Stay Informed

This coming week will be very busy at the Statehouse as we near the finish line Thursday at 5:00 p.m. If you're on Facebook or Twitter you'll find regular updates at TaylorSCHouse pages.


Remembering Our Fallen

This morning in downtown Aiken residents lined the street to remember those who died protecting America. The Memorial Day weekend kicked off with Aiken residents parading through the heart of downtown to honor those who defended our freedom and never made it home. The parade consisted of 140 units with bands, floats and every type of vehicle imaginable. It is a wonderful way to teach our young people about the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. It was my honor and joy to salute 87 year old Lt. Walter N. King, Jr., USN Retired, who was my special guest in riding with me in the parade.



YOU CAN Pay tribute to those who gave their lives:  Monday, May 30, Memorial Day Ceremony at the Aiken County Veterans Memorial Park (1435 East Richland Ave.)  11:00 a.m.; sponsored by the Marine Corp League. I'm honored to be addressing the gathering and hope you, too, will pay tribute to those who "didn't come home."



I am committed to being your "Strong Voice and Effective Leader" in my service to you at the Statehouse.  I am deeply honored to service and appreciate your support.



May 23, 2016:  We've Got Your Back!


The past legislative week began with THUD! Gov. Nikki Haley kept her promise and vetoed the 'South Carolina Farm Aid' legislation aimed at helping our family farmers by getting them back on their feet in the aftermath of the so-called 1,000 year flood last October.


We've Got Your Back, Farmers!


The veto came on Monday. The next day the House of Representatives answered her THUD with a BOOM overriding her veto 112-2. The Senate followed with an override vote of 39-3. Thank goodness we live in a Democratic Republic with checks and balances. The Governor is entitled to be wrong, but fortunately, 97% of the legislators voting stood with our SC family farmers knowing that some desperately need help.


In issuing her veto, Gov. Haley said, "I will not support any bailout of any industry over any other industry that has suffered from this thousand year flood." The governor said the new Farm Aid Board would offer taxpayer-backed grants not available to any other businesses damaged in the floods.


Legislators don't live in the Governor's Mansion; we live among the people we serve. In my case, that's a large rural district. The $40 million grant program isn't a "bailout" as described by the governor, it is an essential helping hand for farmers across the state and right here in Aiken County.


When the governor chose to turn her back on farmers and agriculture, we legislators knew we had to have their backs. Many legislators have built and run businesses, like me. Many others are farmers or their ancestral roots run deep in farming. Agriculture is SC's #1 business and family farms aren't like other businesses; they are at the mercy of the vagaries of weather. They can't insure their businesses like retail stores or manufacturing. $125 million in federal crop insurance payouts are not nearly enough to cover a more than $375 million statewide loss from the October rainfall. Many left their fall crops drowning in the fields. They couldn't harvest and sell, so they didn't have the money to purchase and plant winter or spring crops. That's a double whammy!


The day after the floods, the governor stood with her Cabinet and said we're going to help every citizen in South Carolina. This past week your legislature honored that commitment.


Protecting the Unborn

A bill that would ban abortions in SC after 19 weeks has been sent to the governor and she has indicated she will sign it. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act shortens the current state limit on abortions from 23 weeks. The final version allows exceptions if the mother's life is in jeopardy or if there is a "fetal anomaly." SC joins 17 other states that have also passed similar measures.


FOIA Progress

In my last newsletter, I wrote you concerning a state senator who has made it her personal mission to block improved government transparency. Many of you responded by writing and emailing Sen. Bright-Mathews. She double-downed last week making a speech on the Senate floor saying she won't be bullied. Regardless, we're doing a work-around. The House Judiciary Committee employed a legislative maneuver to give the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation new life. The House votes to send it back to the Senate this coming week. Sunday's Greenwood Index-Journal lauds the move in its editorial.


House Approves Ethics Bill Calling for Independent Investigations

My House colleagues and I continue our commitment to passing strong ethics reform legislation. This week we strengthened and improved legislation providing for independent ethics oversight of all public officials. This legislation (H.3184) discontinues the current practices of the legislative and executive branches each exclusively investigating alleged ethics violations of their own members. Instead, this bill calls for allegations of public misconduct to be investigated independently by a reconstituted State Ethics Commission. If investigators find probable cause that a legislator has committed an ethics violation the findings would be made public and relayed to the appropriate legislative ethics committee to pursue the matter.


SC Founding Principles Act

The House concurred in Senate amendments to legislation (H.3848) requiring the founding principles that shaped the United States into the required study of the United States Constitution and the South Carolina Social Studies Standards. This required instruction must at least include the Federalist Papers, the structure of government and the role of the separation of powers and the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. 


Aiken County News


Aiken County Storm Funds in Budget

The House amended the state budget legislation and returned it to the Senate setting up the annual conference committee to hammer out differences. At the last moment, financial help was inserted in the budget for Aiken and 21 other counties. The House voted to fund the remaining reimbursement to counties for monies they spent in clean-up from the 2014 ice storm. The total is nearly $12 million. Aiken County would receive about $4.5 million for the non-federal covered portion of the ice storm costs.


Peach Farm Tour 

I spent last Monday 'On the Ridge' touring Peach Farm operations around Ridge Spring, Monetta, Johnston and Ward. The legislative tour was arranged by SC Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers. We were hosted by Wastonia Farms, Dixie Belle, Big Smile/Yonce & Sons and Titan Farms. We four legislators toured the fields and production facilities. (Aiken Standard story)


Closing the Lower Savannah Pre-Release Facility

You may have read news stories or the Aiken Standard editorial about the closing of the Lower Savannah Pre-Release Center. The Wire Road facility will close this week as a cost-savings measure for state government. However, that will cost local governments more money because they reply on the cheap labor of inmates. What hasn't been reported is the work by the Aiken Legislative Delegation to find solutions. Working with legislators, the SC Department of Corrections has agreed to make inmates available locally from the Trenton facility through August 2. The Corrections Department further agreed to send to Aiken as many Level 1 inmates as needed to be housed if the County can provide a place to house and guard them. Since the County owns the property at Lower Savannah, Aiken County is looking at what it will cost to house and guard inmates there going forward. 


Commencement Address

It was an honor to deliver the commencement address to this year's Aiken County Home School Graduates. I saluted these remarkable "ACHIEVERS" and we all thanked their parents for going above and beyond in delivering their children a superior education. Many head to college on full scholarships.



Hometown Fun

This weekend we saw thousands of folks flock to eastern Aiken County for the 'Wagons to Wagener Festival' -- good fun in a small town. To the organizers who worked tirelessly, congratulations on a successful event.


Aiken Coop's Annual Gathering

It's always a pleasure to attend the Aiken Electric Coop's Annual Meeting. Thousands of Coop members attend the Saturday event. Prior to the annual meeting, Aiken legislators stood with the Coop Trustees and Executives. 



Picture of the Week


Happy 80th anniversary to J.D. Lever Elementary School! I marked the occasion by presenting recognition from the S.C. House of Representatives. Accepting the recognition was Principal Cathy Ellis and Assistant Principal Michael Truitt accompanied by first and second graders.



I am committed to being your "Strong Voice and Effective Leader" in my service to you at the Statehouse. I am deeply honored to service and appreciate your support.



Rookie SC Senator Blocks Enhanced Government Transparency

Government belongs to YOU, not politicians. You have every right to know what your elected and appointed officials are up to and how government bureaucracies operate at every level whether they be villages, towns, cities, counties, school boards or state government.

That's why 40 years ago South Carolina enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was model legislation for the nation at the time, but sorely needs updating to plug holes that have been created by those who don't want to be bothered by citizen inquiries and sunshine on government.

For six years I have championed legislation to enhance the FOIA. It's progressed every session, but this year is its best chance ever. We're near the finish line with H.3191, but a rookie State Senator has decided to block its passage.

Alone in Her Defiance

Sen. Margie Bright-Matthews (bio) arrived at the Statehouse in January elected to fill the remaining term of Sen. Clementa Pinckney left vacant by his tragic shooting death. The rookie senator, a Democrat trial lawyer from Walterboro, is using archaic Senate rules that allow one senator to have near veto power by blocking a bill from a vote by the full Senate.

The defiance of Sen. Bright-Matthews was demonstrated in her lone vote of opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee which passed H.3191 by a vote of 17-1.

This has been one of the most thoroughly vetted bills this session. It has had 20 hearings in the House and Senate and by a special Ad Hoc House Ethics Committee. It passed the House 16 months ago 90-16. If it gets to the Senate floor it will likely win approval and a conference committee will hammer out differences created by Senate amendments.

With Only 9 Legislative Days Left in This Session
Good Government Needs Your Help!

Please take a moment TODAY to call and/or write Sen. Bright-Mathews and respectfully request she stop blocking improvements in SC's Freedom of Information Act.

I'm not certain if she personally reads her government e-mails (, but it's worth sending her a note. It would be more effective to call to her office: 843-549-6028.  Give her assistant the message:  "Please drop your opposition and let the FOIA legislation be voted on by the Senate."





Nothing quite like Grandkids!

Donna and I were blessed to welcome our third grandchild, Lydia Rose Taylor, into the world this past Monday. Our son, Ryan, and now a BIG Sister, Laurel, cuddle with their newborn. 

Congratulations Jackie and Ryan Taylor!

________ _______________________________________________________________________


May 7, 2016:  Gov. Haley Says ‘NO’ to SC Farmers

The South Carolina legislative session (one of the longest in the nation) is in the home stretch. The House of Representatives is scheduled to meet for 9 more days during the coming weeks. The goal is to wrap up the next year's state budget, find agreement on road issues and finalize ethics legislation. I remain optimistic.

Gov. Haley Rejects Farm Aid Bill

In the aftermath of a 1,000 year flood last October, family farmers in the Palmetto State were devastated and many left in financial ruin. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the 'SC Farm Aid Fund' to bring help to family farmers and get them back on their feet and to prevent the economic collapse of many of the state's farms which could, in turn, cause a disruption in the state's economy and food supply chain. This week the House concurred in Senate amendments to H.4717 and sent the bill to the Governor.

Haley Says NO to Farmers: Today, Gov. Haley used her speech at the Republican Party Convention to declare she would veto the bill saying, "I will not support any bailout of any industry over any other industry that has suffered from this thousand year flood."

Farm Aid Fund Explained: Established with a $40 million appropriation, the fund will make grants to farmers who have experienced a loss of agricultural commodities of at least 40 percent as a result of October's catastrophic flooding. I'm a cosponsor and strong voice for this legislation.

My Prediction: As certain as I-20 runs East and West, the Governor's veto will be overridden by the House and Senate and farmers will get the financial help they need!

Senate Approves its Version of the State Budget

The Senate approved a $7.5 billion General Fund spending plan for the next fiscal year, sending the budget back to the House. Their version puts $300 million more into K-12 education, spends an extra $11 million on school buses and doubles a cost-of-living pay raise that the House gave state employees, increasing it to 4 percent from 2 percent. Senators also devoted $420 million in new funds towards road construction, agreeing with the House version.

Ice Storm $$$ for Aiken County Possible

The Senate budget plan also creates a "supplemental" $50 million list of funding projects that would only be funded if additional money becomes available when budget forecasters certify their final revenue predictions in two weeks. That includes $12 million in aid to help reimburse 22 counties for their emergency response costs during the 2014 ice storm. Aiken County could possibly get a $4.7 million reimbursement for debris pick-up.

SC "So-Called" Bathroom Bill Dead

The Senate has spent considerable time exploring a ban on transgender bathroom policies, similar to the ban instituted in NC. Recently, that legislation stalled in a Senate Committee. This week, the bill's sponsor failed in a long shot effort to include language in the Senate's budget that would have withheld funding for any towns or counties that require businesses let a person to use a restroom, dressing room, or shower room different than the sex on their birth certificate.

Refugee Registration Bill Stalls

A measure that would require refugees relocating to SC to register with the state has stalled. The House Subcommittee delayed a vote on a proposal that would require all refugees coming in to the state enroll with the Department of Social Services, who would then turn over their information to law enforcement for possible tracking. It would also hold their American sponsors liable should any of those refugees commit terrorism or other violent crimes. Democrats pushed for stalling the bill.

Are You Ready to Serve?

An important responsibility of a legislator is nominating individuals to serve on local boards and commissions. There is currently a vacancy for a 4 year term on the Aiken County Election Commission. This group is responsible for overseeing all local elections. The process calls for me to nominate and the Governor to appoint. All nominees are subject to SLED background investigations. If you live in House District 86, have the spirit for public service and have an interest in overseeing election practices, please send me an e-mail at:

College and university students marched to Pomp & Circumstance this week in Aiken. I joined my colleague, Rep. Bill Clyburn, in standing with Chancellor Sandra Jordan at USCA's Commencement ceremony Wednesday. USCA graduated the largest class ever - 403 students. Thursday evening, I attended Aiken Tech's graduation ceremony. It was a bitter sweet night for retiring ATC President Susan Windsor; her last graduation after serving 16 successful years at the helm of the college.

Equine Concerns
I met with Windsor area equine property owners this week hearing their heartfelt concerns about the impact of the newest mega-farm being carved out on thousands of acres along US-78. Jeremy Walther, of Walther Farms, was on hand to answer questions about his farming practices, although he couldn't speak for the operators of the US-78 farm. All in all, there was much productive dialogue. A good starting place for co-existence.

Pictures of the Week

A moment of family pride for me at the Statehouse! My granddaughter Avery and her classmates from Emanuel Christian School, in Hartsville, visited the Statehouse this week. Speaker Jay Lucas joined me in welcoming them; Emanuel has been his home church for nearly 50 years. Our daughter, Kasey, helped chaperone the 3rd and 4th graders. It was Emanuel’s first school trip to the Capitol.

I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE
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, 2016: Give 'em a Standing O!


I'm frequently vocal in my criticism of the Senate for its endless deliberations, filibusters and archaic rules that allow one Senator to essentially have veto power. But this week, I'll sing the praise of the Senate for finally moving forward on ethics reform and passing a bill to provide significant money to fix our roads.


Let's Give the Senate a Standing Ovation



Senators approved a bill that would end the practice of lawmakers policing themselves. The bill creates an independent panel to investigate ethics complaints against legislators and all public officials. Currently, the House and Senate investigate themselves. A second ethics bill that won approval in the Senate requires all public officials, including legislators, to disclose the source of their private income. Both bills passed the House. I served on the House Ad Hoc Ethics Committee and cosponsored the bills.


Road Funding
The Senate also passed a bill that designates existing funds to pay for bonds that will be issued to fund repairs on 400 state bridges, as well as several sections of existing Interstate highways. The bill would use money from the sales tax on vehicles and DMV fees to issue bonds to raise at least $2.2 billion. That money, in turn, would be used on specific projects already underway by the SCDOT, which would then use money freed up by the new funds to pay for even more bridge and paving projects. There would be no tax or fee increases as the result of the bill. The Senate road-funding plan heads to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it will be debated.


SCDOT Reform
A House-Senate Conference Committee continues to meet regarding the two different versions of restructuring SCDOT that find the House and Senate ad odds. There is optimism agreement can be reached. Ultimately, the plan is for the House and Senate will negotiate one package that will included reforms and funding, because, as I have stated repeatedly, we must "reform first, fund second" to insure additional monies are spend wisely and efficiently.


Crossover Week - A Final Flurry of Activity  


This was 'Crossover Week' - the deadline for legislation to move from the House to the Senate and vise-versa if it is to become law this session, otherwise, bills die. The House debated and passed 35 bills this week. Here are a few highlights:


Aid for Dilapidated Rural Schools: The House approved borrowing up to $200 million a year to renovate crumbling schools and build new ones. The legislation (H.4776) is one of several bills aimed at improving the state's K-12 public schools in poor rural districts. Two years ago, the S.C. Supreme Court said some of those schools are so inadequate that they violate the state Constitution.


Alimony Reform: I've heard from many constituents calling for alimony reform because the current awarding of permanent alimony can be severely unfair. Legislation (H.4029) was passed and sent to the Senate creating a new type of alimony; transitional alimony is designed to aid a spouse who already possesses the capacity for self-sufficiency but needs financial assistance in adjusting to the economic consequences of establishing and maintaining a household without the benefit of the other spouse's income.


Beginning Fixes to the State Retirement System: The House approved legislation (H.5006) making comprehensive revisions regarding the governance of the state's pension systems and the investment of retirement system funds. We also approved (H.5007) calling for the adjustment of the assumed rate of return every four years.


CWP to Vote: We approved H.3167 that adds CWP's to be an acceptable form of voter ID. 


No Traffic Ticket Quotas: The House sent the Senate H.4387 a bill prohibiting law enforcement in SC from requiring officers to meet a "quota" for the number of traffic citations issued.


Get Over!   The House approved H.4970 requiring SCDOT to broadcast periodically on the electronic message boards along the state's interstate highways messages informing motorists traveling in slower moving vehicles that they must travel in the farthest right lane where appropriate. The legislation also eliminates the four points assessed for failure to use a turn signal instead making it a $25 fine.


Safe Harbor for Exploited Minors: The House approved and sent the Senate H.5172 establishing protections from criminal and civil liability for victims of sex trafficking who are minors.


Supporting & Strengthening Families Act: The House voted approval of H.4835 that allows a parent or person with legal custody of a child to delegate to an adult, as attorney-in-fact, temporary care giving authority regarding the child for a period not to exceed one year.


Health Alert from SC-DHEC 


Laboratory tests have confirmed South Carolina's first case of travel-associated Zika virus. DHEC actively monitors for the arrival of new diseases in SC in an effort to help stop the spread of illness. Here are some key points to know:


1)  The patient acquired the illness while traveling abroad to a country where the virus is widely transmitted.

2)  The patient did not have symptoms and was not contagious by the time they returned to South Carolina.

3)  There is no risk to public health and no risk of transmission to people or mosquitoes at this time. 


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE


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 19, 2016: Pure Baloney - Part II


In my newsletter last Friday, I reported on the House vote to amend the Senate's bill to reform SCDOT. Our vote brought much wailing from the governor and many senators who wanted the House to just rubber stamp the senate plan claiming our amendment "killed" reform.

My response last Friday was straightforward. I wrote: "That's pure baloney!" Well, it didn't take long for objective observers of the legislature to see it the same way.

Pure Baloney - Part II

The Times & Democrat's headline stated: House had a right to cry foul on roads plan. In part, they wrote:

"The S.C. House should stand its ground in the debate over road repairs, even though the governor and Senate leaders are saying representatives' 113-6 vote to alter the plan sent to them by the upper chamber spells the death of the legislation for another year.

The Senate plan uses money that many lawmakers had stated would be used for other priorities, including education and local government.

The funding level approved by the Senate may or may not be available in coming years, depending upon economic conditions.

Handing control of the SCDOT to the governor, with approval by the Senate of commissioners, takes away any House role in agency governance."

Read Complete News Report

Cincy Ross Scoppe's commentary in The State newspaper was entitled: SC road bill dead? That's up to the Senate. She wrote, in part:

"Reports of the road bill's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Gov. Nikki Haley has been warning for weeks that the House would kill what once was a road-funding bill if it did anything other than swallow the Senate's deeply flawed plan whole. And when House leaders unveiled their plan on Tuesday, she ran to her Facebook page to announce the death.

It left me with a very different conclusion: The House gave itself some negotiating tools, to increase the chance that the Legislature will be able to reach a compromise that finally enacts the smart reforms to the Transportation Department that the Legislative Audit Council just reminded us we so desperately need.

...Anyone who actually wants to see the Transportation Department finally reformed ought to be ecstatic.

It's obvious why Gov. Haley would exaggerate the plight of the road bill: She wants to make sure the Legislature does not raise the gas tax, and the Senate's faux funding plan allows her to claim there's no longer a need for that. It's obvious why senators would parrot the governor: They need to deflect the criticism that will come if they actually do leave the bill for dead.

But none of us should be fooled by this death talk: The road bill is very much alive right now.

Yes, it still could die. And there are many ways it could be killed. But at this moment, only the Senate has the power to kill it. And that is what the Senate will do if it adopts Gov. Haley's position that the House has no right to play a role in writing state law."


Read Complete Commentary


Time for the Senate to Vote

It's now up to the Senate. The House amended bill will be on the Senate's calendar this week.

Please write or call your senator today and ask them get serious about reforming SCDOT.

At the end of the day, South Carolinians want progress on this issue and repairing our crumbling infrastructure starts with SCDOT reform. In my view, it's "Reform First, Fund Second." That way we can all have more confidence that the hundreds of millions of additional dollars we will be sent to fix our state's roads will be used efficiently.

April 15, 2016: Pure Baloney!

I've heard repeatedly from constituents they want SCDOT reformed before millions of additional dollars are sent to that agency to fix our state's roads. This week, the SC House of Representatives took decisive action to create real reform.

Too Much Political Drama

It wasn't easy. Gov. Haley insisted we rubber stamp the Senate's plan. Before our debate she took to social media and bashed the House for planning to amend the Senate proposal which she called "real, good reform". She went further to accuse House members of trying to kill reform.

My response is simple: "That's pure baloney!"

House Speaker Jay Lucas put it this way: "The real shame is that Gov. Haley has chosen to put politics over policy and mislead the people of South Carolina. Sadly, instead of working with us to initiate real and meaningful reforms to fix our roads, Gov. Haley focuses on stopping progress with baseless political attacks."

The House last year passed a plan to increase the state's gas tax by the equivalent of 10 cents a gallon. The Senate waited nearly a year and changed that plan last month killing a gas-tax increase. Instead, the Senate proposed spending $400 million a year from the state's general fund budget on roads. That's the money that pays for public education and all other government services.

Rep. Gary Simrill, who sponsored the gas tax proposal, said the Senate plan failed to adequately provide for road repair: "It is folly to make a promise to the people of South Carolina that roads will be fixed without a reliable, steady funding stream," he said. "The governor is now echoing these promises that she knows cannot be kept. That is the real shame."

House Passes Final Amendment to Roads Bill
Moves to the Senate for an up or down vote

The House had delayed action on the Senate amendments for several weeks until it received the findings of the Legislative Audit Council report (link to report) which exposed insufficiencies within SCDOT. That year-long investigation provided keen, independent insights into the operations of SCDOT that are invaluable in retooling that agency to meet the current road crisis and create an agency citizens can have confidence in for years to come. With those new revelations in front of us, the House could not in good faith pass the Senate amendment because it fell short of true reform.

With much debate this week, the House amended the Senate version of the roads bill (H.3579) by an overwhelming vote of 113-6. The legislative process exists so that the General Assembly can work together to move South Carolina forward, not provide opportunities for political grandstanding.

The House's amendment preserves qualifications and requirements for Highway Commissioners, solidifies the transparency of the State Infrastructure Bank, and removes irresponsible budgeting practices that threaten the stability of our economy.

Key Provisions in the House Amendment to H. 3579

• Highway Commissioners are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the General Assembly
• Commission appoints a Secretary of Transportation with advice and consent of the General Assembly, who then serves at the pleasure of the Commission to create a single line of authority from the Governor, to the Commission, to the Secretary.
• Eliminates the Joint Transportation Review Committee, but retains the required qualifications for Commissioners to ensure appointees have appropriate education and experience. These qualifications and requirements were removed in the Senate amendment.
• Adopts the State Infrastructure Bank language in the Senate version and requires the entity to follow SCDOT prioritization criteria for projects
• Removes the irresponsible $400M general fund mandate because it is unreliable. This year's House passed budget appropriated $415M additional funds to SCDOT, an amount larger than specified in the Senate amendment, and we will continue to give available funds to SCDOT in the future.
• Addresses the Legislative Audit Council's concerns expressed in report by placing the SCDOT Chief Internal Auditor under the independent State Auditor


Time for the Senate to Vote

It's now up to the Senate; they have the option of taking a vote or not taking a vote. A vote for concurrence would result in the bill's passage and sending it to the Governor's desk for signature. Nonoccurrence would result in the formation of a conference committee to hammer out differences. We obviously prefer a vote for concurrence, but welcome the idea of blending our two versions together. Regardless, the most important action is for the Senate to take a vote and bring us one step closer to fixing our roads.

At the end of the day, South Carolinians want progress on this issue and repairing our crumbling infrastructure starts with SCDOT reform.


Filing has closed for the Primary Election to be held June 14. I am unopposed. I trust that is an indication that I continue to uphold my promise to be a "Strong Voice and Effective Leader" in my service to you at the Statehouse. I am deeply honored to service and appreciate your support.


March 24, 2016: Road Funding Wins Big!


Increased funding to patch and repair SC's roads and bridges was priority #1 this week during the budget debate in the SC House of Representatives. A sizeable portion of Tuesday's 15 hours of debate focused on various approaches to road funding as we voted on next year's state budget which takes effect July 1.


Road Funding Wins Big!


The House budget calls for $415 million ADDITIONAL dollars to be spent on improving our state's roads. This is in addition to the state gas tax revenues which goes directly to SCDOT.
Here's a breakdown of the additional funding: 


$316 M to the State Highway Fund:


  • $135 million for paving, rehabilitation, resurfacing, and/or reconstruction of the Primary Road System
  • $100 million transfer of fees and fines from DMV
  • $65.68 million from transfer of remaining Motor Vehicle Sales Tax Revenues in the General Fund
  • $15.32 million more from General Funds


$50 M to the County Transportation Committees:


  • Funds to be distributed to CTCs according to the formula in statute and used solely on state-owned secondary roads  
  • Roughly 67% increase over the annual CTC Allocation ($74.3 M)


$49 M to SCDOT for Flood-related Road Repairs:


  • $37.3 directly to SCDOT
  • $11.7 million via EMD to SCDOT for FEMA match


As we neared the midnight hour Tuesday, House Republicans soundly defeated the attempt by Democrats to raise the state's gas tax by 10-cents/gal to fund road repairs. 


Other Budget Highlights:

  • Pay Hike: A 2 percent pay hike for state workers plus the state would pay for state employees’ increased health-care costs.
  • Teachers Pay Hike: A step increase for teachers with experience in addition to raising their salaries by 2 percent.
  • More Money for Schools: $350 million in additional money for public schools, including $217.6 million to increase to $2,350 per student the money that goes to schools and $19.2 million for bus driver salaries.
  • Local Government Flood Aid: $60 million for the state and local government’s portion of flood-recovery costs to match federal money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Farm Aid: $40 million for grants to S.C. farmers whose crops were washed away during the floods

CWP Reciprocity with GA Moves Forward

The likelihood that SC will recognize Georgia's concealed weapons permits (CWP) took a major step forward today. A Senate panel unanimously approved the bill after an hour of testimony and sent it to the full Judiciary Committee. The bill, initiated primarily by the Aiken County legislative delegation, won approval in the House last year. I testified in support of the bill as did Rep. Bill Hixon, Rep. Chris Corley and the NRA.


Senate Approves Refugee Bill

The SC Senate approved a state registry of refugees, just one day after terrorists bombed a Brussels airport and subway station, killing more than 30 people and injuring another 250. The Senate voted 39-6 to start the registry, which could be the first of its kind in the nation. The proposal still needs approval from the House. Registry backers said they are concerned terrorists could enter the state under the guise of being refugees. Several dozen refugees entered South Carolina last year, and an estimated 200 will arrive in the state this year. New York is the only other state considering a refugee registry.


Police Dashcam Bill Advances

A Senate committee advanced a bill that would require the release of police dashboard camera video in officer-involved shootings and sent the bill to the Senate floor for debate. Under current law the release of the video can be kept secret if the investigating agency, usually the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), says its release may harm their investigation. This bill would require a judge to make the final decision on whether video could be made public. The judge must cite clear and convincing evidence if footage could not be released.


No Dumping Ground

Gov. Nikki Haley told the federal government this week to either stop Japanese shipments of plutonium from going to the Savannah River Site or reroute the plutonium so that it doesn't enter South Carolina. She says she doesn't want SC to become a "permanent nuclear dumping ground." Reportedly, ships carrying 331 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium from Japan will soon dock at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station before the plutonium is sent to the Savannah River Site here in Aiken County.


USCA Wins Advanced Manufacturing Center

Good news came late today that USC Aiken has been selected as the proposed site for the new Savannah River National Lab's Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC). Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), as operator of the SRNL, has selected the Aiken Advanced Manufacturing Partnership to develop a proposal for a 70,000 square foot space to house the AMC. The Aiken Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is a collaboration made up of twelve different partner groups, including USC Aiken, which will be integral to various aspects of the ultimate design, finance, construction, and operation of the facility that will include chemistry, engineering, and fabrication labs, work and office spaces, and public spaces dedicated to promote partnerships between industry, academia, and government in the creation and implementation of new technology.


Aiken County Calendar


Where Horses Fly: Looks like we may dodge the scattered shower for Saturday's Annual Steeplechase Race that attracts an estimated 30,000 people to Aiken. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. First race is 1:00 p.m. (More Information)


Earth Day Coming: Aiken's 2nd EARTH DAY celebration in downtown's Newberry Street Festival Center will be Saturday, April 23, from 9:30am-3pm. 30-plus exhibitors along with food vendors, entertainment for children, and a People Chase Fun Run to start it off.  (More Information)


Happy Easter

The House of Representatives is on its annual Easter furlough for the next two weeks. If you're able to get away with your family over spring break, I pray you have safe travels and much family fun. From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy Easter!


I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 

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 19, 2016: Not So Fast!


The 10th week of this year's legislative session was again dominated by road talk. The top issue for the last couple of years has been how to effectively pay more for road and bridge improvements while ensuring your tax dollars aren't wasted.

ROADS: Finally, the Senate Decides
After nearly a year, the Senate returned to us the House legislation designed to reform SCDOT and provide additional funding (beyond the gas tax) to fix roads. Senators couldn't buck a filibuster so their proposed 12-cent a gallon gas tax hike didn't get included. Instead, they proposed to dip into the General Fund budget to the tune of $400 million each year. They also voted to make the Department of Transportation (DOT) a cabinet agency reporting to the Governor with the hope that will bring efficiency.

ROADS: Governor Presses for Quick Agreement
Tuesday, the very day the Senate returned the roads bill to the House, Gov. Nikki Haley met with Republican House members and insisted we concur with the Senate's approach immediately. The Senate took nearly a year to decide on their approach and we were pressed to agree within two days.

ROADS: Bombshell to be Dropped
Within the next two weeks the Legislative Audit Council (LAC) will release the findings of its investigation into DOT. LAC has been probing DOT for a year and a half at our direction. It is their most extensive audit of any state agency. It will provide insights into any issues such as evidence of gross mismanagement and/or waste. We must review their findings and include their knowledge in the decision making process for roads. We must not let this opportunity for real reform of DOT to slip by for political expediency. It's essential we await the findings and seize the opportunity to attempt to permanently fix this agency and create real accountability. That way we have improved chances that additional monies sent to DOT will be maximized to fix roads and not wasted. We'll be busy in April and May sorting this out.

Budget Week in the House
Next week the House focuses on one issue - approving its version of the state budget for 2016-2017 before sending it to the Senate. The state's General Fund budget has staggered back from the 'Great Recession' and we're in a lot better shape financially because business is booming in SC.

Allow me to provide a little historic perspective:
• The last General Fund budget before the 'Great Recession' totaled $6.7 Billion (FY 2007-2008)
• The 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.
• The current General Fund budget (2015-2016) totals $7 Billion. That's 4.3% more than the previous high of $6.7 Billion.
• The budget proposed for next year is $8 Billion. Factor in only inflation (and not population growth) to the pre-recession budget and this year's proposed budget represents a 5% real increase.

Want to know more? Review this summary presentation of the proposed General Fund budget.



The Tucker Hipps Transparency Act (H.4521) won House approval. The legislation requires the state's public universities and colleges maintain online for all to see a report detailing student misconduct investigations related to fraternity and sorority organizations formally affiliated with the institution. The bill was named in memory of the Clemson University student who died during a fraternity activity in 2014.

The House passed The Anti-Money Laundering Act (H.4554) rectifying South Carolina's current status as the only U.S. state with no regulatory authority over money transfers of smaller amounts which has made the state a center for money laundering. Such activities facilitate organized criminal enterprises and terrorist activities.

Most Representatives think it's a good idea that high school students are taught the founding principles that shaped the United States. The House passed The SC Founding Principles Act (H.3848) requiring the study of the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the structure of government and the role of the separation of powers and the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

Save a life by moving over! The House approved a bill designating April every year as 'Move Over Awareness Month' (H.4562) that emphasizes the importance of drivers moving over into an adjacent lane whenever possible when approaching or passing through a highway work zone, an emergency scene, or any other traffic incident.

Another way to save a life. The House again showed its support for training high school students CPR. We amended H.3265 and returned it to the Senate. I'm hopeful differences can be worked out so at least one time during high school each student will receive instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The House approved and sent to the Senate H.4718, a bill creating a SC Retired Educator Certificate. A retired educator certificate does not require completion of professional learning or renewal credit.

The House approved a bill authorizing Home Detention for Certain Non-Violent Drug Offenses (H.3130) so long as individuals are monitored by a GPS tracking device and bear the cost of the monitoring program.

The Emergency Anaphylaxis Treatment Act (H.3706) won House approval. It authorizes institutions, organizations, and businesses, such as colleges and universities, daycare facilities, places of worship, restaurants, places of employment, recreation camps, youth sports leagues, amusement parks, and sports arenas, to keep supplies of EpiPens, in stock to administer this potentially life-saving medication to those who are experiencing severe allergic reactions.

Aiken County News

Centennial Aiken Horse Show
It was an honor to recognize the 100th Anniversary of the Aiken Horse Show with the presentation of Concurrent Resolutions from the SC House of Representatives and Senate. Sen. Tom Young and I presented the Resolutions to the Horse Show officials yesterday and honored and commended the organizers for promoting the love of the sport. The Centennial Horse Show will be held April 1-3 in Hitchcock Woods.


Duty Calls!
Firefighters have their priorities in order. New Holland Volunteer firefighters quickly abandoned yesterday's ceremony celebrating the purchase of their new headquarters when they were dispatched to the scene of a murder-suicide. That left a couple of us to stage our own 'photo op' to mark the occasion. The former school district area 4 office will make a great headquarters for the FD which plans to add a building to house fire trucks and equipment. It will also serve as a major gathering place for the New Holland community.


Election Time!
Wednesday was the first day for filing to run in the June Republican Primary Election in SC. My paperwork was submitted at the Aiken County Election Commission. I'm honored and humbled to serve the constituents of House District 86 and ask for your continued prayers and support.

I'm Available
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 11, 2016: $400,000,000


It's my objective to report to you weekly on the significant issues at the SC Statehouse. Your time is precious, so I try to write briefly while providing you links to more information. Topping this week's report - progress on road funding.

Finally, Road Funding Clears Senate
It has taken months of debate and overcoming a filibuster, but the Senate finally approved a $400 million roads-funding plan (H.3579) that does not include an increase in the state's gas tax. The legislation also calls for revamping S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to give the governor's office control. The SCDOT Commissioners are currently appointed by legislators while the Secretary of Transportation is appointed by the governor. That makes for awkward governance. The Senate legislation has been sent to the House. It's unlikely the House will adopt the Senate's plan which will lead to much debate and negotiations.

Paying for Roads
The sticking point is how to most effectively pay for road improvements. The Senate couldn't muster the votes to pass their proposed 12-cent a gallon increase in the gas tax so instead they voted to dip into the General Fund to the tune of $400 million to pay for road paving. That's the funding source that pays for public education and all other state agencies while the 'user fee' on gas primarily goes to roads.

House Speaker Jay Lucas responded to this week's vote in the Senate saying, "The Senate's deceptive plan to fix our crumbling roads system is irresponsible and prioritizes politics over a sound solution." Lucas stated, "Not only does their plan mislead the people of South Carolina into thinking that a large pot of general fund money will be available every year for roads, it also practices reckless budgeting that jeopardizes the prosperity of our economy. While I acknowledge the Senate's governance reform efforts, kicking the can further down the road and into a giant pothole defies the test of real leadership."

Coming out of the 'Great Recession' the House has appropriated over $1 billion in general fund money for road repairs in the past three years. While that's a step in the right direction, it does not provide for SC's long-term infrastructure needs.

Abortion Compromise Clears Senate
A compromise proposal that would shorten the amount of time for abortions in SC received approval by the Senate on a vote of 36-9. Nine Democratic senators joined all Republicans in supporting the bill. It shortens the window for an abortion in SC to 19 weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 23 weeks. It adds a new exception that would allow abortions after that window in the case of "fetal anomaly." Supporters of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.3114) hope to tighten the window for women to get an abortion by arguing a fetus can start to feel pain at 20 weeks.

Planned Parenthood Investigation
Last September I was appointed to serve on a special panel of the House Legislative Oversight Committee to investigate state agencies funding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. The investigation was prompted by the national reports of Planned Parenthood selling fetus body parts. After a series of hearings over six months we reported this week that there was no evidence of criminal conduct in South Carolina. However, DHEC officials acknowledged shortcomings in their oversight of abortion clinics and corrective steps have been taken. (Full Report - recommendations page 7)

Transparency on Campus Misconduct
A bill that would require SC's public colleges and universities to post online all reports of misconduct by fraternities and sororities received a unanimous vote from the Higher Education Committee I chair. It will be on the House floor for a vote next week. The Tucker Hipps Transparency Act (H.4521) was filed in response to the 2014 death of a Clemson University fraternity pledge.

Kids in the Front Seat
A House panel is considering raising the age of children allowed to ride in the front-passenger seat of a vehicle. As proposed, H.4869 would ban children from riding in the front seat of a vehicle until they are 13 years old. Under current law, children cannot ride in the front seat until they are 6 years old. The 13-year-old requirement is controversial. Agreement may be found in raising the age requirement for riding in the front seat to 8 years.

Alimony Reform
Next week the House will likely take up the Alimony Reform Bill (H.4029). I have received a lot of correspondence from those who believe this reform is badly needed in order for the financial responsibilities for both ex-spouses to be fair and equal after a divorce. While divorce is traumatic by itself, the strain and strife that is added by the current alimony laws often create a dependency on one ex-spouse and a condition of involuntary servitude on the other ex-spouse. If you have opinions on this bill, please share your thoughts with me before I am asked to vote (EM:

I'm Available
It is an honor and a privilege to serve 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 5, 2016: Bumpy Roads!

As you might expect, I hear a lot from constituents about the poor condition of our roads and how to pay for paving them. Everyone agrees that SC's roads need fixing, however, there is chasm in opinions on raising the gas tax. The same division has nearly paralyzed the state senate in recent months.

Senate Filibuster Ends; Roads Bill Crafted
Three weeks of filibustering by conservative Republicans who opposed a proposed 12 cents per-gallon gas tax increase was shut down ending eight weeks of impasse in the state Senate. The compromise reached by Senate Republicans would set aside more money for road and bridge work around the state without increasing the state's 16.75 cents per-gallon gas tax. That plan calls for $400 million in additional money from the state's General Fund each year to be dedicated to roads. Historically, highway funding primarily comes from the gas tax, a user fee. The compromise plan calls for changes in how the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) approves road projects. It also revamps the eight-member DOT commission and calls for it to be appointed by the governor instead of legislators.

Senate Nudged
The legislative week started with SC business leaders gathering at the Statehouse calling on the Senate to move forward with funding roads. They detailed the consequences of the Senate's inaction as it relates to fixing our roads. The Senate compromise plan came just seven hours after Gov. Nikki Haley called out the Senate for its failure to act on the bill and accused Senate leadership for "holding the bill hostage".

Far From a Done Deal
Senate Democrats make clear they are upset about the GOP deal, since it basically gave conservatives holding up the bill everything they wanted. However, they agreed to allow debate if Democratic senators retained the option to propose their own amendments and prolong debate. Clearly, there are many potholes and detours in the legislative road ahead for a road fix.

Speaker Critical of Senate Inaction
By way of background, the House sent the Senate a road funding bill last spring. The long delay in Senate action prompted House Speaker Jay Lucas to issue the following statement:

"For 323 days, the Senate has had every opportunity to show leadership and propose a real, long-term solution for road repair in South Carolina. The current Senate amendment simply kicks the can further down the road and frankly, into a pothole. The General Assembly has been using general fund dollars to slap a Band-Aid on roads for years with very little to show for it. I urge the Senate to give this issue the attention that it requires and rally around a proposal with a long-term solution that keeps our families safe and our economy thriving."

House Blocks Federal Gun Control Edicts

After much debate by Democrats who spoke in opposition, the SC House passed the "Second Amendment Preservation Act" prohibiting the State of South Carolina from enforcing any federal Executive Orders to confiscate or register guns. The bill also forbids the use of state funds in assisting the federal government in enforcing Executive Orders for firearms. The vote prompted news stories around the nation. Read more.

CWP Reciprocity with Georgia: CALL TO ACTION!
If you want to have Concealed Weapons (CWP) reciprocity between SC & GA then your help is needed. The House passed the CWP reciprocity bill (H.3799) last spring and now a Senate committee will take testimony next Wednesday morning. Senators Hutto, Bright, Gregory, Shealy, & B. Matthews will hear testimony. If you can't be at the Statehouse, email the Senators and tell them you want this bill passed! (Use this link to send emails)

Bill Revamps Deer Tags
The House approved and sent the Senate H.4943, a bill revising the deer hunting tag system that calls for hunters to tag every deer taken. DNR will issue eight doe day specific tags and three buck tags with the purchase of a South Carolina hunting license for in-state residents with the option to purchase two additional buck tags. This legislation was reviewed by hunters in public forums conducted by DNR around the state. To learn more here is a comparison between the current law and the bill passed by the House. (Side-by-Side Comparison)

Kill a Coyote Bounty Program
As part of the deer legislation, DNR is directed to develop and implement a coyote bounty program to help reduce the menace of coyote's in SC. The department would tag and release no less than three coyotes in each of the four game zones and apply a $1,000 bounty per tagged coyote.

Education Reform
House passed two more pieces of legislation as part of its education reform package addressing the Abbeville court ruling. H.4941 establishes a statewide program for addressing unsound school district finances. A second bill (H.4940) sets up the Office of Transformation within the State Department of Education to provide technical assistance to under performing schools and districts.

Experimental Health Care

The House voted approval of a bill (H.4542) authorizing physicians to prescribe certain promising experimental treatments to an eligible patient who has considered all available approved treatments for an advanced illness that has been medically determined to be irreversible and, without life-sustaining measures, likely to result in death within six months.

Nixing Antiquated Laws

I've often said for every new law, five should be taken off the books. That's the approach being used by the House Judiciary Committee in advancing legislation to repeal antiquated laws. One example, in SC, it's still technically illegal to work - or let people dance - on Sundays. Juveniles can't play pinball. And it's illegal to challenge anyone to a sword or gun fight. Another law makes it illegal to sell virtually anything on Sundays, from clothing to clocks to cars. The bill goes to the full House for a vote.

Another Article V Win!
The great citizens of Indiana made their voices heard loud and clear, when the Indiana House voted this week to join the Indiana Senate in officially applying for an Article V Convention of States under our resolution. That makes Indiana the sixth state to join our movement to rein in the federal government. (Want to know more?)

Kudos to Sen. Young
Congratulations to Aiken Sen. Tom Young for being recognized by the National Commander of the American Legion, Dale Barnett, for Tom's service on behalf of SC veterans. The presentation was made during a joint session of the General Assembly.

Veterans Fair Coming
Veterans seeking jobs or assistance with benefits will receive a helping hand at a Veterans Fair being held next Thursday, 10am-2pm, at the SCANG Armory in Graniteville. It is sponsored by Congressman Joe Wilson. Read more.

I'm Available
It is an honor and a privilege to serve 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 27, 2016: Farmers, Education, and Cedar Creek WIN! Roads Just Talk, Talk, Talk

The focus this week for the SC House of Representatives was to help farmers devastated by the flooding, take major steps forward to improve K-12 public education and finalize the first draft of the state budget for next year so debate can begin.

Emergency Aid for Farmers

The House voted overwhelmingly (95-6) to approve legislation that provides assistance to
farmers in disaster-declared counties as a result of the historic October flooding. The legislation now goes to the Senate. During floor debate I told of some farmers in eastern Aiken County who suffered from 20 inches of rain and flooded crops. I said, "Some of those farmers are on their last leg. They're selling their tractors just to make payments, just to feed their families."

The bill (H.4717) allows affected farmers to apply for grants of up to $100,000 each, covering no more than 20 percent of their total loss. The grants are meant to provide a revenue bridge so farmers can plant next season and aren't forced to literally sell the farm. House Ways & Means Chairman Brian White explains in this video.

Education Reform Moves Forward


Five separate pieces of legislation aimed at transforming SC's public education delivery system were passed overwhelmingly by the House. These bills were crafted based on the findings of the House Education Policy and Review Task Force brought on by the Abbeville Supreme Court decision. That group found that the best way to achieve improvement in K-12 education is not to react by giving schools more money and hope for a quick fix, but to move positively by opening doors to 21st century education. The bills head to the Senate (H.4936, H.4937, H.4938, H.4939, H.4941).

$7.5 Billion Budget

After months of hearings, the House Ways & Means Committee sent its General Fund budget
proposal to the House floor for debate. The spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 incorporates more than $1 billion in additional revenue. The highlights…

• $130 million cut in income taxes
• 1 percent pay raise for state employees
• $250 million for road projects ($185 million to the 46 counties for local authorities to pick which roads to pave and sends an additional $66 million to SCDOT
• $37 million for flood road repairs ineligible for federal help
• $72 million to cover the state's share for federal assistance for catastrophic flood damage
• $40 million for flood-devastated farmers
• $40 million toward replenishing sand along South Carolina's entire coast
• $375 million additional funding for K-12 education, including $217.6 million to increase per-pupil funding
• 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all teachers, plus their step increase for experience
• $8 million for incentives to attract teachers to rural districts with the highest turnover
• $19 million for bus drivers' salaries, so the state covers a $7.50-an-hour wage for all districts.
• $12 million loan forgiveness to S.C. State University


Filibuster Blocks Road Bill in Senate

A Senate filibuster against a road funding bill continued this week with one senator threatening to continue talking, with the help of five other senators, until the end of the session in June, if necessary, to prevent a gas tax increase. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman said, "It looks like we are not going anywhere fast." Another senator said, "We're on trial...the people of South Carolina are watching. Please restore the people's confidence." Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Commerce, pleaded with senators to "stop wasting time." Watching the Senate's inability to act is why the House put $250 million for road repairs in its proposed state budget.

Great News! Aiken Roads Being Paved

Road resurfacing projects are moving forward in Aiken County. Thanks, in part, to additional road funds sent directly to Aiken County in the current year’s state budget, 47 miles of roads around Aiken County are being resurfaced over the next several months. These include portions of Ascauga Lake Rd, Langley Dam Rd, Sudlow Lake Rd, Reynolds Pond Rd, Wire Rd, Carolina Springs Rd, Womrath Rd, Shiloh Church Rd, Dibble Rd, Old Dibble Rd, 4th St/Coleman St. and CCC Rd.

It Keeps Getting Better! The movement calling for an Article V Convention of States is having unprecedented success!

In the past six weeks citizen activists have netted 14 committee victories in Arizona, Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia. And, 7 floor wins (Arizona House, Indiana Senate, New Mexico House, South Dakota House, Virginia House and the West Virginia Senate.)

Best of all, the Tennessee House passed the Article V resolution, making Tennessee the 5th state to have passed the Convention of States resolution through both chambers!!!

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, an army of more than 6,000 citizen activist are working hard to win approval for the Convention of States Application in the General Assembly. See your neighbors in action in this video.

Together Again!
Cedar Creek Voting Precinct Reunited

The House passed a bill which corrects a computer drafting error as to the Cedar Creek 64 voting precinct boundary line which resulted in a portion of that neighborhood being sent miles away to Montmorenci to cast ballots. The bill has been sent to the Governor for her signature and is expected to take effect as of the June Primary Election.

I'm Available

It is an honor and a privilege to serve 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 13, 2016: MOX Mess and MORE!

I most enjoy sharing good news with you and showing the ways South Carolina is prospering while meeting challenges head on. Unfortunately, this week, I begin my report on a grim note.

Obama Puts the Budget Dagger into MOX
The White House released its 2017 budget proposal that recommends shutting down the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility construction at the Savannah River Site. MOX, which is 70% complete, is designed to convert old nuclear warheads into reactor fuel. Instead, the Obama administration seeks to down-blend the plutonium for eventual permanent storage in New Mexico. How and where they plan to do that isn't known. An estimated 1200 MOX workers would lose their jobs.

SC Suing Feds

On the same day of the announced budget nixing for MOX, SC filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the U.S. Energy Department failed to uphold a 2003 agreement that launched the MOX project. The facility was originally supposed to be operating by September 2016. SC officials are pointing to the original agreement which pledged the Energy Department would remove at least 1 ton of plutonium currently stored at the site by January 2016 if MOX was not operational. The agreement calls for SC to receive payments of $1 million per-day if the plutonium remained on-site after January. The plutonium must be disposed as part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia.

Drug Testing for Unemployed
The House approved and sent the Senate a bill (H.3166) that disqualifies someone from receiving unemployment compensation if they fail screenings for illegal drugs required by a prospective employer as a condition of employment or if the applicant refuses to take a pre-employment drug test.

$40 million in Flood Aid to Farmers
SC farmers who lost most of their crops in last fall's flooding could be eligible for up to $40 million in total grants to help them recover under a bill approved unanimously by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would allow farmers in disaster-declared counties to apply for grants from a newly-created Farm Aid Board. The bill heads to the House floor for a vote.

Road Wrangling in the Senate

SC's Secretary of Transportation warned senators that unless the state starts putting more money into repairing roads soon, it will end up costing much more to rebuild them. Christy Hall cited the example of a simple resurfacing project recently on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg. It was discovered the highway was so deteriorated that it had to be rebuilt. She says that can increase the cost of a project up to ten times. Meanwhile, the senate continues to wrangle over various road funding plans. They have been stalled for nearly a year. The House passed its road funding plan last spring.

Want to learn more about SCDOT and SC's roads?

Here are two presentations made to senators: 1. SCDOT Overview  2. State Plan

Prayer Rally at Statehouse
Praise God! Thousands of South Carolinians gathered on the Statehouse grounds as Franklin Graham led a prayer rally as part of his "Decision America Tour," an effort to reach all 50 state capitals for such events. I was proud to stand with him along with many other state legislators. It is God, not politicians, who will save America.



Statehouse News in Brief...

Education Bills to House Floor: Transformation of public education in SC took a major step forward when the House Education Committee voted unanimously to pass a series of bills to address the "Abbeville court ruling" focusing on shortcomings in our educational system.

Constitutional Amendment: The House approved, and sent the Senate (H.3041), a joint resolution for a proposed amendment to the SC Constitution that would have the State Superintendent of Education appointed by the Governor rather than elected by the state's voters.

Expanding Magistrate's Court:
The House approved a bill doubling the maximum dollar amount of the civil jurisdiction of magistrate's court from the current $7,500 limit to $15,000. (H.4457)

Cutting Red Tape & Costs:
The House approved and sent the Senate a bill allowing SC universities and colleges to enter into a master interstate reciprocity agreement for offering online education programs so they don't have to register with each state where a student resides. This will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I co-sponsored the legislation. (H.4639)

Vets HS Diplomas: The House approved a bill calling for the issuance of high school diplomas to veterans who served in the eras encompassing the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (H.3420)

GI Bill Help: The House passed a bill revising the eligibility criteria for in-state higher education tuition rates for veterans and their dependents to ensure that South Carolinians can continue to take full advantage of federal G.I. Bill provisions and pay in-state tuition rates. (H.4515)

Limiting Controversial Coal Ash Dumping: The House approved a bill establishing requirements for the dumping of coal ash from electrical power plans in SC landfills. (H.4857)

Barbers-On-The-Go: The House gave the OK to legislation permitting mobile barbershops. (H.4447)

Pawnbroker Limits Lifted: The House approved a bill revising regulations on pawnbrokers. Among the revisions is an increase in the maximum amount of a loan that a pawnbroker is allowed to make from $2,000 to $15,000. (H.4090)

Zika Virus
SC-DHEC reports there are no confirmed cases of the Zika virus in SC. DHEC has convened a Zika Task Force to plan and prepare to work with other state agencies, communities and health care providers.

Aiken Delegation Meets with County Council
The Aiken Legislative Delegation and the Aiken County Council held their annual joint meeting Monday. We exchanged views on issues of mutual importance. House Ways & Means Chairman Brian White came to Aiken to explain state budget priorities and the impact on local governments. (Aiken Standard story)

House on Furlough
The SC House of Representative is taking furlough next week allowing the Senate to play catch up. It's my fervent hope their "deliberative" body shows more action. The House furlough week saves taxpayers $77,000 and helps shorten the very long legislative session.

I'm Available
It is an honor and a privilege to serve 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 6, 2016: Pothole Politics & More

South Carolinians want potholes filled and roads repaved. Last spring, the House of Representatives sent a road fixing bill to the Senate. That's where legislative progress stalled.

Senate Roads Debate

A month into the 2016 legislative calendar state senators are no closer to finding a way to fix South Carolina's crumbling roads but they spent hours this week arguing over their inability to officially debate the issue. The Senate Majority Leader criticized his colleagues for "dilly-dallying." That prompted a debate on what's blocking progress.


Many Republicans believe Senate legislation that provides for increase funding for roads, must also include tax relief for citizens and reform of SCDOT. Gov. Haley has pledged to veto any legislation that increases gas taxes without cutting income taxes and restructuring DOT. Most Democrats argue it's not necessary to link the three issues in one bill and they just want to raise the gas tax. The debate continues in the Senate as the House waits their action.

SC House Won't Waste Time & Money

The S.C. House of Representatives will take off the week of Feb. 15 in an effort to make its case that the 6-month-long legislative session should be shortened. Nearly all major legislation has been passed by the House and awaits Senate action. The week of unpaid furlough will save SC taxpayers about $77,000.

Protecting Gun Rights
Due to a recent South Carolina Supreme Court decision, we had to go back and apply a fix to an existing statute pertaining to the 'Stand Your Ground' law. The adjustment sets forth the judicial procedure to assert the Castle Doctrine defense. H.4703 also strengthens the existing Castle Doctrine which includes provisions that prohibit criminals from using a 'Stand Your Ground' defense while committing a crime. The measure is strongly backed by the NRA and it passed the House unanimously.

Virginia Reverses Course on CWP
SC Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) holders will still be able to carry legally in Virginia. This news story also gives an update on our legislative initiative to get CWP reciprocity with Georgia.

FOIA Reform Wins Approval by Senate Panel

After 17(!!!) legislative hearings this session there is a dim light shining at the end of the tunnel for improved government transparency in SC. A Senate panel approved the bill that would enhance the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) making it easier and cheaper to obtain information from SC governments at every level. The House passed this bill last spring; now it's gotten through the first hurdle in the Senate. I've championed this legislation for 6 years.

Tightening SC's Eminent Domain Law
An issue of high interest to Aiken County - this week, a Senate Subcommittee approved an amended version of S.828 regulating any attempt by a petroleum pipeline company when it tried to exercise eminent domain to run a pipeline through an owner's property. This legislation does not allow private, for-profit pipeline companies, including publicly-traded, for-profit companies that are not public utilities to exercise eminent domain to install pipelines.

Major Momentum for Article V COS
Two weeks ago I wrote in depth about the Article V Convention of States (COS) legislation in SC. I'm thrilled to report that Tennessee pulled the 'emergency cord' this week becoming the first state this year to pass COS. Tennessee now becomes the 5th state to pass this measure to wrestle back control from the federal government. Please watch this powerful video.

Other Statehouse News in Brief...

Supreme Court Judge Elected: The House and Senate met in joint session and elected the newest justice on South Carolina's Supreme Court. Judge John Few is the first new justice tapped to the state's highest court since 2009.


Qualifying Magistrates: The House approved and sent the Senate H.4665, a bill that calls for Magistrate candidates to be screened by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (like all other judges) to ensure that the candidates meet the qualifications for the office.

Next in Line: The House voted to clarify a 2014 statewide constitutional amendment that allows the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket. H.4579 allows the governor to assign duties to the lieutenant governor, very similar to the functional relationship between the president and vice president.

Saving Lives: The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3145, a bill that would give legal protection to those who take actions to prevent hot car deaths.

Mugshot Extortion: The House and Senate adopted compromises on S.255 that establishes new provisions to stop websites from demanding payment to remove booking photographs and other booking records of those arrested in SC.

Renewable Energy Income Tax Credits:
The House concurred with a Senate amendment to H.3874 that provides for an income tax credit to a taxpayer who constructs, purchases, or leases and places into service large-scale, nonresidential, solar energy equipment.

Statehouse Prayer Rally

You're invited to join a Prayer Rally at the Statehouse this Tuesday (Feb. 9th) at noon. It will be led by Dr. Franklin Graham who is traveling to all 50 state capitols with the simple message to pray, vote and engage on the local, state and national levels. At this critical juncture in America, I can't imagine a more vital and timely moment to call on God for guidance. HE is in control, not man or politicians. I will proudly stand with Franklin Graham in praying that GOD will intercede and show us the way to put America back on the path of being a beacon of liberty and high moral values for the world to follow."

Aiken - Save the Date
The City of Aiken will hold its 2nd EARTH DAY celebration on the Newberry Street Festival Center Saturday, April 23. 50 Exhibitors will be on hand in this festive atmosphere. Earth Day's theme is "Preserving the earth is everyone's responsibility". Learn more.

I'm Available
It is an honor and a privilege to serve 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 30, 2016: Sharia Law in South Carolina and Legislative Update

Thank you for subscribing to my legislative newsletter. It's my objective to report to you weekly on the significant issues at the SC Statehouse. I try to make these reports brief (your time is precious) while often providing a link to legislation, articles or videos so if you want more information it's easy to find with a quick click. Three weeks into this year's legislative session and the pace of activity is picking up.

Sharia Law Banned!

The House passed a bill blocking foreign laws, including Islamic Sharia law, from being used in SC courts. Sharia law is the legal and political system mandated in the Koran and other Islamic texts that relegates women and non-Muslims to a lesser status, and grants men enormous authority over wives, daughters and sons. It allows for the primitive treatment of women and non-Muslims, and allows fierce punishment - sometimes, honor killings - for refusing to comply with Sharia mandates. If approved by the Senate, the bill would prevent a court from enforcing foreign law including, but not limited to, Sharia Law. The bill (H.3521) passed 68 to 42 mostly along party lines.  (Breitbart News Story)

Bill to Register Syrian Refugees Passes Senate Committee
Republicans on a state Senate committee advanced a bill that requires refugees to register with SC so they can be monitored. It also bans any state agencies from spending money to benefit refugees without legislative approval. In a rare appearance at the Statehouse, two SC Congressmen, Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan, told state senators they think the federal government does not do enough to check the backgrounds of refugees from war-torn countries like Syria. The main purpose of the US Government is to Keep America Safe. (State Newspaper)

Education Reform Package Introduced

Eight separate pieces of legislation were introduced this week aimed at transforming SC's public education delivery system. These bills were crafted based on the findings of the House Education Policy and Review Task Force brought on by the Abbeville Supreme Court decision. That group found that the best way to achieve improvement in K-12 education is not to reactively give schools more money and hope for a quick fix, but to open doors so, as House Speaker Jay Lucas says, "our students receive a 21st century education." The eight bills address teacher retention, promote realistic expectations for graduates and put in place proactive measures to keep our education system competitive.

Bills Included in House Education Reform Package
H. 4783 - Redefine the expectations of a South Carolina high school graduate
H. 4781 - Recreate the Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council to allow the business community to work with K-12 and higher education to ensure our students are college and career ready
H. 4780 - Eliminate outdated statutes to promote efficiency and cut unnecessary expenses.
H. 4779 - Create the Office of Transformation under the SC Department of Education
H. 4776 - Establish a process for struggling and poor school districts to petition the state for facility infrastructure needs
H. 4778 - Call for uniformity in school accreditation
H. 4782 - Determine what incentives could entice new teachers to live and work in rural, lower income districts
H. 4777 - Allow the state to take control if a school district is failing financially

Providing a Stable Workforce in SC

Legislation was passed by the House calling for a collaborative and comprehensive effort to strengthen South Carolina's workforce. The bill (H.4145) would streamline workforce programs across the state. The Coordinating Council for Workforce Development would work with training providers, job seekers and companies that need trained workers to fill the 60,000 job openings that are not being filled. Our technical colleges are perfectly positioned to partner with businesses to make certain job-seekers get the skills they need to get these jobs.

State of Nuclear in SC
Savannah River Site executives and the leaders of public utilities came to the Statehouse for the first annual "State of Nuclear in South Carolina" briefing. Legislators were reminded the ways SC is so nuclear-friendly. As example, SRS is an economic engine with a $2.6 billion annual economic impact and how the Savannah River National Laboratory is leading innovation for national security and clean energy.

Statehouse News in Brief...

Farm Aid: A proposal that would offer grants to farmers whose insurance did not fully cover their crop losses during the historic October floods cleared a House budget panel. The legislation creates a statewide Farm Aid Board to review the cases of farmers and approve grants that could assist in next year's planting. State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said the proposed bill would not be a bailout for farmers, but is meant to simply help them survive financially.

Drop Out Age: A House education panel voted against a proposal to raise SC's high school dropout age. Opponents questioned if the requirement was enforceable and if it would actually improve student academics.

SC State University: SC State University is asking legislators for help by forgiving some of the school's debt as it works toward getting off probation this summer. Leaders from the financially plagued school want the state to forgive a $12 million loan made in 2014 to bail-out the school. At this point, Legislators did not accept or reject the idea.

The Power of People Shapes the Political Process
Washington DC is broken and will not be fixed by the ruling elite. Last week I wrote at length about the best way to curtail federal government overreach - a "Convention of States", as outlined in Article V of the US Constitution. This week a national video was released in which I explain how the grassroots initiative that's sweeping South Carolina is driving the initiative.


I'm Available
It is an honor and a privilege to serve 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 23, 2016: 6000+ Voices


While the contentious presidential season is in full bloom, a revolution of another sort is reaching critical mass. 600,000 Americans nationwide have volunteered to SAVE AMERICA by calling on state legislatures to vote in favor of an Article V Convention of States (COS). That convention would propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution to limit the power of our bloated federal government and shift many controls back to the States and citizens where they belong.




6,000+ South Carolinians Speak Up 

The voices of 6,000+ South Carolinians were heard at the Statehouse this week when Representatives and Senators were delivered petitions from their constituents requesting they vote in favor of South Carolina joining four other states that have already approved the Article V COS Project resolution.


A highlight of the week was a visit to the Statehouse by retired U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Sen. Coburn, a champion in this campaign to rein-in the federal government, led the charge in explaining to legislative leaders, Representatives and Senators the absolute imperative for state legislators to use their rightful and legal authority in restraining the out-of-control federal government. Based on his experience as both a Congressmen and then a Senator, Coburn knows that the federal government will never limit itself and the solution rests solely with state legislators - a power given them by our Nation's Founders in the Constitution. Following his visit several more legislators became cosponsors of the House and Senate legislation.



(Earlier this week, the Aiken Standard reported on my efforts as the primary House sponsor of the House legislation - H.3177 - seeking a Convention of States: Aiken Standard article)


Endorsements Coming Fast 

This past Sunday SC Congressman Jeff Duncan gave a full throttle endorsement to the Article V initiative in his address to the S.C. Tea Party convention saying, "At this time in our Nation's history, I believe our only meaningful legal recourse for the ongoing abuses of power in Washington, D.C. is to use Article V."  (View brief video)


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent shockwaves through the country and made the establishment in D.C. very nervous, announcing his support for Convention of States. Gov. Abbott said, "The cure will not come from Washington, D.C. It must come from the states!"


The growing cacophony of prominent Americans supporting Article V COS includes: Sen. Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and numerous renowned Constitutional scholars.


Article V COS by the Numbers

34 states this year will file legislation calling for an Article V COS.

  4 states have passed the Article V Application: Florida, Georgia, Arkansas & Alaska.

12 states have already passed COS in either the House or Senate.

34 states must pass COS legislation then Congress is required to call a Convention of the States.

38 states must approve any proposed Constitutional amendment before it becomes law.   

13 states have veto power to stop any proposed amendment.


Want to know more about COS? Check out FAQ .


COS Opposition

A small faction led by Phyllis Schlafly and the John Birch Society oppose COS. Their arguments are weak and their fears are unfounded. Here's a response to Mrs. Schlafly's letter she sent to legislators recently: An open letter to the anti-COS group.


SC Legislative Prayer Caucus Launched
GOD is in control, not man nor politicians! At the Statehouse Wednesday, more than 60 Representatives, Senators and State Constitutional Officers officially launched the SC Legislative Prayer Caucus. We individually signed a Resolution acknowledging GOD's greatness. HIS will be done.


Farm Aid for Flood Victims

I have heard from many victims of the October flood, particularly farmers who in some instances saw their entire crops disintegrate and fields ruined by standing flood waters. Agriculture represents one of the largest industries in South Carolina and if you know a farmer, you may know that one year with no yield can be the difference between having the resources to plant again next year or closing down.


This week I joined 65 other Representatives in sponsoring bi-partisan legislation (H.4717) calling for the establishment of a farm aid fund to assist farmers whose land and crops were severely damaged in the October floods. The total loss of crops is estimated to be at nearly $400 million with crop insurance covering only about a third of that amount. This legislation would establish a grant program to aid farmers.


Roads: Confirmation of What We Each Know 

The "State of SCDOT" annual report was released this week overviewing the status of SC's transportation network. The overall assessment:

  • Most South Carolinians are riding on poor pavements.
  • Most bridges are in good condition, but there are high-risk areas that need to be addressed.
  • Day-to-Day maintenance is graded a "D."
  • Congestion is increasing and will impact SC's economic competitiveness.

State of the State 

Gov. Nikki Haley delivered her annual State of the State address Wednesday evening. My Republican colleagues and I were happy to hear the governor's support for many of our priorities such as education reform, infrastructure improvements and ethics reform. Following Gov. Haley's address, I applauded her heartfelt speech in my interview with ETV. I was particularly pleased she endorsed the K-12 school transformation plan that has been crafted over the last six months by a House Legislative Task Force.   


I'm Available

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you. If you need help 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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