Human Trafficking, Uber & Movement on Roads

This week we took additional steps to combat human trafficking, passed a reform measure to assist the ride-sharing industry, and consolidated road improvement and tax reform proposals.

Cracking down on human trafficking in South Carolina has been, and continues to be, a priority for us. A cross-county jurisdictional loophole in the current law was brought to our attention by prosecutors recently. As a result, we have passed a measure that would allow prosecutors to engage the grand jury system for individuals who are trafficking humans over county lines. In an effort to increase reporting from exploited individuals and prosecute their traffickers a previously established information and reporting hotline would be strengthened by expanding the publicity of the hotline to high public traffic areas. The measure now heads to the Senate and upon passage will go to the Governor’s desk for her signature.

We also addressed issues surrounding the ride sharing industry that specifically impacted Uber and other transportation network companies (TNC). In South Carolina, we’ve always had taxis and they fall under the management of the Public Service Commission (PSC). However, the business model for TNCs, like Uber, wouldn’t be viable if each driver had to pay for a taxi license.

In January, the PSC issued a cease and desist order against Uber effectively shutting them down. As a conservative who opposes over-regulation strangling business innovation, I was disheartened by that action. In response, this bill was drafted to set up a framework that allows TNC’s, specifically Uber, to operate legally. H. 3525 establishes that framework and allows the TNC companies to get one license – allowing all of their drivers to operate under that single license. This bill was rated as “business positive” by a leading business advocacy organization, and I am glad to have innovative companies like Uber in South Carolina. I will continue my work to keep them here.

The full House Judiciary Committee gave final approval to the domestic violence act I discussed in last week’s email. I remain committed to using my office and my vote to crack down on violent domestic offenders and advocate survivors. I want to thank those who have spent an enormous amount of time on this project – it’s one I plan to see through.

This week the process of repairing roads and infrastructure took the next necessary legislative step as the House Ways and Means Committee combined the two bills related to roads and income tax. The bill now moves to the whole House under H. 3579. During the next two weeks, I would like to have your input via email, phone call, or social media on this important legislation. I also invite you to participate in the House Republican Caucus online poll by clicking here. Many floor amendments are expected as we debate this bill, and I will report back to you in subsequent newsletters.

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 you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me at 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia, and 963-0337 at home.

Cracking Down on Domestic Violence & SC State Resolution

This week, the House of Representatives advanced legislation cracking down on domestic violence. We also took decisive action by passing a resolution concerning the overhaul of South Carolina State University.

Reports indicate that South Carolina’s murder rate of women killed by men sits at twice the national average. It’s unacceptable, and my colleagues and I are committed to strengthening our laws to give law enforcement the necessary tools to reverse this pattern of abuse in our state.

For 6 months, the House Special Criminal Domestic Violence Ad Hoc Committee, under the direction of Chairman Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort), diligently studied all aspects of the issue. The committee listened to dozens of hours of testimony from both survivors of domestic violence and from the law enforcement and prosecutors charged with bringing justice to those who perpetrate crimes of domestic violence.

As a result of their findings the committee produced the Domestic Violence Reform Act. This comprehensive legislation:

1. Significantly enhances penalties for those found guilty of committing acts of domestic violence.
2. Paves the way for middle school students to receive instruction on how to identify and respond to domestic violence situations.
3. Creates the Domestic Violence Advisory Committee comprised of citizens, medical doctors, and law enforcement to review instances of death as a result of domestic violence and submit a public annual report.

Currently South Carolina’s domestic violence laws are occurrence based – an approach that has proven insufficient by itself. H 3433 institutes a hybrid model based on the number of occurrences and adds that penalties become more severe depending on the level of injury sustained, also accounting for any aggravating circumstances. I am committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence in South Carolina and this restructuring demands the punishment fit the crime.

We also took forceful and necessary action to solve the well-publicized troubles at SC State University. The House unanimously passed a joint resolution that:

1. Removes the current SC State board members.
2. Gives authority to newly appointed interim board members.
3. Allows the interim Board of Trustees to remove the current President if they deem that action necessary.

“It is my hope that our joint resolution – which received unanimous bipartisan support – will put SC State back on a path to success,” said House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington).

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 you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me at 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia, or 963-0337 at home.

House Budget Addresses Critical Needs Without New Borrowing

Over the past three months the House Ways and Means Committee listened to testimony from dozens of government agencies and appropriated state dollars to fund the operations of state government. As a result of the unprecedented economic and population growth in South Carolina, the committee added a bond portion to the budget to fund vital statewide projects that include:

Desperately needed funding for workforce training, allowing South Carolinians to compete in the growing technologically innovative South Carolina economy.

Addressing the ever-growing capacity needs of the nationally renowned MUSC Children’s Hospital.

Giving law enforcement the ability to efficiently train advanced officers and to expand the State’s crime lab capacity to assist in reducing the current General Sessions backlog.

The House Ways and Means Committee continued diligently monitoring the state’s revenues as the budget process moved through the House, but the need for the bond to address these priorities seemed inevitable.

However the committee kept searching for places to trim as well as areas to restructure or reprioritize. Shortly before the House began debating the budget bill, the Ways and Means Chairman was informed of the possibility of several substantial one time amounts of money that would be available to the state in the next fiscal year. While all of the money could not be certified, enough could be anticipated that commitment to long term bonded indebtedness was no longer a critically necessary step. This conservative approach on budgetary decisions is one reason South Carolina enjoys a AAA credit rating.

Ethics Reform, Budget Update & Shortening Session

We finished up our 8th week of legislative session in the South Carolina House by passing a final ethics reform package and a bill that shortens the legislative session.

My colleagues and I worked diligently this week to clear the House calendar as we enter into the annual budget debate next week. Unlike Washington, we take time to balance our budget each year. I take a conservative approach to allocating state funds, and I value your input. You can find an online version of the budget here.

We also approved a measure updating an antiquated formula instituted 24 years ago used to establish funding to local governments around the state. The outdated structure no longer met many budgetary demands and a compromise plan was reached this week to revise the formula and ensure local governments a more consistent revenue stream.

Last week I mentioned that an omnibus ethics package was introduced in the House with over 100 co-sponsors. H. 3722 combines 12 smaller pieces of specifically-focused ethics reform legislation already passed by the House into one comprehensive bill. Among other things, the omnibus bill:

Provides public employees legal protections and substantially increased financial incentives for reporting unethical behavior when your tax dollars are on the line.
Removes loopholes in the existing ethics statutes.
Gives increased clarity to the proper use of political campaign dollars.
Strengthens campaign finance reporting laws.
Streamlines the open government process by improving FOIA laws.

We have worked diligently on passing robust ethics reforms this year, and I’m happy to report that we approved the omnibus package 108 – 1. H. 3722 now heads to the Senate.

For the 10th time in the past 20 years we passed legislation in the House that would shorten the legislative work session, saving taxpayer dollars. “There are other legislatures that have much longer sessions than ours, and that’s why they call those full-time legislatures. We call ours a part-time legislature, and we need to act like it. The taxpayers deserve for us to be here less, get more done, and spend less money,” said House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister. Shortening the session by nearly 2 months each year would save South Carolina taxpayers approximately $400,000 annually. Each attempt by House Republicans to shorten the legislative session has been blocked by the Senate.

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 at 803 734-3045 at the office in Columbia or 963-0337 at home.

Education, Ethics Reform & Judicial Update

The House adjourned Wednesday due to inclement weather, shaving a legislative day from the calendar, but not before we moved on education reform, advanced an omnibus ethics reform bill, and received an update on the state of South Carolina’s judicial system.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Jay Lucas set priorities and expectations for the work the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force is undertaking. The diverse task force, made up of citizens, business leaders and elected officials begins work to develop recommendations that will lead to long-term substantial education reform in South Carolina. The group is required to submit a report of their findings to Speaker Lucas by the beginning of next legislative session.

Strengthening our state’s ethics laws remains one of my top priorities. In the House we have already taken the piecemeal approach to enacting ethics reform by passing a series of 12 ethics bills as a part of our comprehensive overall ethics reform package. We have completed the series of smaller bills and have now combined each of those into one omnibus ethics package which is being fast-tracked on the House floor. The House Republican Caucus supports the omnibus package and our goal is to give the Senate either vehicle necessary for passage.

Each year the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court is tasked with giving the State of the Judiciary to a joint session of both House and Senate lawmakers. Chief Justice Toal delivered her remarks on Wednesday primarily focusing on the innovation instituted in the judicial process over the past decade. State courts that previously didn’t have internet access now operate with high-speed internet access, and large portions of the judicial branch now operate in a secure web-based cloud through a partnership with Clemson University. A new pilot program begins this year in two counties that will test an online system used to file legal paperwork, streamlining the process for the citizens of South Carolina.

I would also like to extend an invitation for you to join my House Republican Caucus colleagues and me as we welcome an array of possible presidential hopefuls to South Carolina. Last week we had a reception honoring Governor Kasich of Ohio with nearly 200 in attendance and a national media audience. The next time you see a cable news discussion of the 2016 presidential race, don’t be surprised when you see John Kasich standing in front of a Caucus logo banner as one of the background screen images. This week we announced former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in Columbia with us next month. You can go th this website for more information and to find out how to reserve your spot.

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 at 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia or 963-0337 at home.

Ethics Reform & Budget

The South Carolina House of Representatives had a busy week producing an initial state budget, moving again on ethics reform, and continuing to push for increased transparency in government.

In an overwhelming 90-16 vote, the House passed H.3191, the first major update of S.C.’s Freedom of Information Act in nearly thirty years. It puts enforcement teeth into the law to prevent governmental bodies from refusing to hand over public documents. The legislation will utilize the ‘Office of Freedom of Information’ within the Administrative Law Court allowing citizens and public bodies to resolve FOIA disputes without having to file a costly lawsuit.

Wrapping the FOIA bill in the reform package gave it renewed momentum and was key to its passage. Among other things, the legislation cuts the time for receiving a requested response for documents from 15 days to 10, sets limits on costs to search for items, and requires copies be provided at the prevailing local copy rates.

One of the final bills in our ethics reform package, clarifying the law following a Supreme Court ruling, saw final passage. The bill makes clear that a public agenda is required before a government body meets – giving no less than 24 hours public notice. It also states that only agenda items may be considered during the meeting, but does provide an exemption in cases of emergency. This gives greater public awareness and ensures government on all levels in South Carolina is not allowed to operate in secret.

The House Ways and Means Full Committee began meeting Tuesday to vote on agency requests and to finalize a written state budget. We focused on funding the core functions of government and eliminating waste and duplication. Proposing and passing a balanced budget is one the most important things we do each year. We will begin debate on the House floor in the coming weeks.

Also, we were honored to host Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) in Columbia at the House Republican Caucus reception Wednesday night. The nearly 200 attendees got to experience first-hand the electric environment of a prominent national Republican’s visit to South Carolina and the added security, trail of reporters, and cameras that follow.

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 at 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia, and 963-0337 at home.

Regulatory & Ethics Reform, Protecting Our Children, Improving Our Roads & Honoring National Republican Leaders

The House of Representatives, led by your Republican majority, made significant progress on regulatory reform, updating public safety laws, and protecting the unborn this week.

Government red tape and over-regulation burden job creators and stifle small business start-ups – I hear this repeatedly from business owners here in our district. We passed a regulatory reform law in the House placing a sunset provision on all future regulations. Many regulations are outdated, and this new measure would give an automatic expiration to regulations five years after implementation. This ensures an ongoing review of our regulations and provides the business community’s opportunity to have input. The bill now heads to the Senate, and I hope they will join us in lending a hand to the businesses and innovators that drive our state’s economy.

Last week I mentioned that the Pain-Capable Child Protection Act cleared a significant hurdle. I am pleased to report my colleagues joined me in giving final passage to this important bill. The House passed this same legislation last year, but the Senate failed to pass it. I will continue to use every opportunity given to me to support the right to life of the unborn in South Carolina.

We took additional steps this week to pass the next set of ethics reform legislation – part of our larger ethics reform package. We passed the Whistleblower and Public Employee Protection Act providing public employees legal protections and substantially increased financial incentives for reporting unethical behavior when your tax dollars are on the line. I was also proud to support H 3195 which tightens and clarifies our existing ethics statutes. The act also gives guidance to elected officials about the proper use of political campaign dollars.

We continue to discuss the best path forward to fix our ailing road system. On Wednesday, the two highly-discussed proposals – one resembling Governor Nikki Haley’s plan and one from the House Transportation Infrastructure & Management Ad-Hoc Committee – were placed into bill form. Both bills head to the House Ways and Means Committee where work will begin to find common ground. If you have not yet taken the chance to share your thoughts with me on this important matter, I encourage you to take a moment to do so today.

One of the core functions of a limited government is providing for the safety of our children and otherwise vulnerable adults. All too often during the heat of our South Carolina summers, we see news reports of children who have died while trapped or locked inside hot vehicles. My House colleagues and I supported a measure that would give certain legal protections to bystanders who rescue those trapped inside sweltering cars and trucks.

This Wednesday, the House Republican Caucus will be hosting a reception for Ohio Governor John Kasich. The reception will be Wednesday night from 5:30-7:00pm at the Hilton in Columbia (924 Senate St, Columbia, SC). I want to extend a personal invitation to you. Ensure your complementary priority members’ guest reservation by clicking here or emailing or texting SCHRC to 99000. Hope to see you there.

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 at 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia, or 864 963-0337 at home.

Transparency, Ethics, & Protecting our Citizens

This week the work of the House of Representatives was described by House Republican Majority Leader Bruce Bannister as a “sprint in the midst of a legislative marathon.” We made significant strides toward increasing transparency in government, ensuring our state is adequately prepared to deal with natural disasters, and adding significant protections for the unborn – a busy week.

As part of our larger series of highly-focused ethics legislation, this week the House passed three more important reforms. The first strengthens campaign finance reporting laws, while the second clarifies how campaign funds should be attributed to primaries and primary run-off campaigns. The third provides certain exemptions to encourage state-funded university employees to develop intellectual property that benefits institutions of higher learning, making South Carolina more competitive in the effort to attract and retain top quality researchers.

On Wednesday, a House Judiciary panel gave initial approval to several more pieces of “sunshine legislation” aimed at increasing transparency while simultaneously decreasing the amount of time and red tape associated with obtaining public records. It sets an important precedent by adding more sunshine to the processes of government.

We also took preemptive action this week by giving initial approval to a bill that would guarantee the State of South Carolina is adequately equipped to deal with emergency situations. Preparation for emergency scenarios is a vital aspect of protecting South Carolinians for decades to come, which we can ensure by giving our state law enforcement agencies the ability to obtain necessary resources in our times of greatest need. It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and emergency arrangements should not be made in the midst of a crisis.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act once again made its way through the committee approval process. Providing statutory protections for the unborn remains a top priority for House Republicans, and we will begin debate on this important issue next week on the House Floor.

This was also the last week of budget hearings, and the House Ways and Means Committee now begins the mammoth task of writing the state budget. Unlike Congress, we produce a balanced budget in South Carolina each year. I’ll be sharing more on that with you in the coming weeks.

I want to thank the many citizens who have shared their ideas with me on how we should proceed as a state on fixing our roads and bridges. Your feedback is valuable and necessary as part of our democratic process, and I look forward to continuing these conversations as I carefully examine the best path forward.

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 at 803 734–3045 at my office in Columbia or 963-0337 at home.

Ethics and Infrastructure

The South Carolina House of Representatives advanced two important milestone pieces of legislation taking a major step forward in overhauling the state’s antiquated ethics laws that govern elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.

The first revamps the makeup of the South Carolina Ethics Commission and turns the Commission into an independent investigative body. The independent commission is given the full resources of the South Carolina law enforcement community and is tasked with investigating ethics complaints made against elected officials. Under the House plan passed this week the State Ethics Commission is comprised of 4 members appointed by the Governor, 4 elected by the Supreme Court, and 2 members elected by each the House and Senate. The measure passed the House unanimously.

The second bans candidate affiliated “Leadership” Political Action Committees (PACs). It even goes one step further and states that elected officials can no longer accept campaign contributions from Leadership PACs. This is an important step toward revamping the campaign finance laws in South Carolina.

Finally, the House Transportation Infrastructure & Management Ad-Hoc Committee finalized a plan to fix our state’s roads and bridges. The bi-partisan committee has been at work since last September to find solutions to fixing our state roads and bridges. The committee agreed on an initial proposal that would serve as a blueprint for one of the most important issues facing our state. The bill is expected to be introduced next week. Right now we are considering our House proposal and the Governor’s proposal from the State of the State. If you have an opinion, I’d like to hear from you.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia. 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 at 803 734-3045 or at 963-0337 at home.

Progress Continues On Roads and Ethics

At the Statehouse this week the major focus was on finding additional money to repair South Carolina’s deteriorating roads. The issue was advanced when Governor Nikki Haley delivered her annual State of the State address. I was happy to hear the governor’s support for many of the approaches we have been debating to improve our roads and bridges across the state. That’s going to take considerably more money than is currently allocated.

The governor released her much-anticipated plan to fix the state’s aging roads and bridges which looks very similar to the common-sense proposals we have been working on in the House. Governor Haley offered her three pronged solution to paying for road and bridge improvements by proposing to raise South Carolina’s 16.5-cents per-gallon gas tax, but only if it was included in a “three part package.” That legislative package includes a major tax break for taxpayers in a 2% reduction in the state income tax top rate of 7 percent to 5 percent while restructuring the Department of Transportation to make it more efficient and responsive.

Funding additional road improvements is a complicated issue with no quick and easy solutions. It is critically important to maximize the existing funding in the budget by determining how money already budgeted can be redirected to road improvements; that’s most efficient.

We look forward to working with Governor Haley to find responsible solutions to the infrastructure challenges we face.

“Our Republican House majority is enthusiastic about working with the Governor to accomplish this shared agenda to make South Carolina an even better place to live, work, and raise a family,“ said S.C. House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister.

This week the House advanced legislation to reform our state’s ethics laws that affects all 20,000 elected and appointed officials in the state. An income disclosure measure that is part of a larger sweeping ethics reform package cleared its first hurdle in a House subcommittee and moves to the full House Judiciary Committee.

Subcommittee Chairman Kirkman Finlay noted that, “Income disclosure is the start to creating better public confidence of public officials at all levels. The goal of the legislation is to eliminate the possibility that elected officials or their immediate family are using the elected position for personal gain. This bill will be instrumental in moving our state forward on substantive ethics reform.”

Finally, as is typical in January, much work is being done in the Ways and Means Subcommittees as members begin crafting next year’s state budget. Committee meetings are of paramount importance to move newly-filed legislation forward, therefore, we spend as little time as possible on the House floor so they could have time to get our committee work done.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. 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 at 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia or 864 963-0337 at home.