Bill's Straight Talk -- Legislative News

 

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

 

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

 

EXTENSION GRANTED

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

 

BE EARLY – AVOID LONG LINES

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

REAL ID IS OPTIONAL

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

 

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

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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.

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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.

-----BREAKING NEWS-----

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:

 

Funding

  • 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
http://www.scstatehouse.gov

 

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HOORAY!

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.

 

Mega-Farms

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.

 

CWP RECIPROCITY

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

CONGRATULATING CHAMPIONS!
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.

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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.

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I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

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

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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! 

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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.  

 

Pro-Veterans

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.

 

GRASSROOTS!

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

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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.

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February 27, 2017:  Epic Week Ahead in SC House

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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State Budget Proposed

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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.

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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.

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Pictures from a Busy Week

 

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Statehouse News Brief

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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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.
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February 11, 2017: Vote Coming on Gas Tax

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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…

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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Statehouse News Brief

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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)

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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.  

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

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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

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Video: Meet Henry McMaster

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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.

Gone!

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.
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January 20, 2017: Increased Gas Tax Proposed

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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.

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The Plan

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The legislation includes:

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-- 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

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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.

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Business Endorsements

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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.” 

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“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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time to Be Bold

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tell Me What You Think

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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: Bill@TaylorSCHouse.com. 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.

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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: 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My Personal Agenda

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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

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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).

 

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Real ID Okay

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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. 

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December 5, 2016: Taking Cues from Trump

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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.

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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!

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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
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September 21, 2016:  Government Gone Wild!

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

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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.

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Washington Out-of-Control

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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)

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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.

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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.

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The Challenge is Bigger than One Person

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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!

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

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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.

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An Historic Convention Begins Today

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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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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God Bless America!

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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.

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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.  

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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."

I NEED YOUR HELP!

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: Bill@TaylorSCHouse.com

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.

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June 27, 2016: A Plea for Those Who Need You

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

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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. 

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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%. 

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Sadly, Few Will Vote!

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

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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!

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

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Farewell!

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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.

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I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 

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If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

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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.

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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.

Finished!


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.

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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:

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Click here  - To check your voter registration

Click here  - To find your voting Precinct

Click here  - To find out how to vote

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See you at polls!

 

Photo of the Week

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      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!  

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      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."

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      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.

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      GOD BLESS AMERICA!

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June 7, 2016: Fast & Furious

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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.

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Fast & Furious Week

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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  

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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!  

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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. 

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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! 

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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.

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Get 'Er Done Quicker

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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.

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State Budget Approved

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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

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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.

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Ethics Legislation

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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.

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FOIA on Life Support

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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)

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Saying Good Bye

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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.

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Quick List of Other Bills Passed

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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. 

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

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Looking Ahead

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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.

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Thank You!

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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.  

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MEMORIAL DAY CEREMONY

Aiken, SC

May 30, 2016

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Remarks by

Rep. Bill Taylor

 

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

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

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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.

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

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I think it’s because they know…

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

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

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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. 

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It is the VETERAN who always salutes the Flag.

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It is the VETERAN who serves under the Flag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For those 155 souls, that didn't happen. 

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

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

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

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

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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”.

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

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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!’

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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.

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I ask you – where is our National GRIT today? 

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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

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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”.

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Was it the right decision?

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This nation needs each of us to be Patriots!

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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.

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

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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

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Thank you.

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May 28, 2016: Fix First, Fund Second

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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The Final Week is Ahead

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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.

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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.) 

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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 (GeraldMalloy@scsenate.gov) and ask him to stand aside and support our veterans. (View WIS-TV News: Purple Heart Vet to senator: "What's your problem?")

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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.

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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'.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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AT YOUR SERVICE

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Aiken County News

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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.

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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)

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Picture of the Week

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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.

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AT YOUR SERVICE

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.

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May 13, 2016: ONE PERSON KEEPS YOU IN THE DARK
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 (MargieBrightMatthews@SCSenate.gov), 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."

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PICTURES OF THE WEEK

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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!

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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: Bill@TaylorSCHouse.com

Congratulations!
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. ________________________________________________________________________

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April 30, 2016: Give 'em a Standing O!

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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.

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Let's Give the Senate a Standing Ovation

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Ethics

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.

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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.

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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.

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Crossover Week - A Final Flurry of Activity  

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Health Alert from SC-DHEC 

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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:

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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. 

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I'm Available and AT YOUR SERVICE

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If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

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April 19, 2016: Pure Baloney - Part II

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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."

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Read Complete Commentary

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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.
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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

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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.

I'm RUNNING

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.
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March 24, 2016: Road Funding Wins Big!

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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.

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Road Funding Wins Big!

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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: 

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$316 M to the State Highway Fund:

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  • $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

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$50 M to the County Transportation Committees:

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  • 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)

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Aiken County Calendar

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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)

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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)

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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!

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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.  

________________________________________________________________________

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March 19, 2016: Not So Fast!

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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.


STATEHOUSE NEWS IN BRIEF

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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.

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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.

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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.
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March 11, 2016: $400,000,000

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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: Bill@TaylorSCHouse.com)

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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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