Moving Critical Legislation to the Senate

We spent a number of very long days on the floor this week clearing legislation off the House calendar before the May 1 “Crossover Deadline” – which is essentially the day all legislation must reach the Senate to be considered.
We don’t believe every bill must be passed, but we want to consider as much legislation as possible. That may mean passing the bill and sending it to the Senate, but it may also mean voting down the bill or sending it back to committee (which at this stage of the session, essentially ends a bill’s chance to be considered).
Here are a few of the big items we considered this week:
COMMON CORE – The House Education and Public Works Committee approved legislation that removes South Carolina from the group of states developing the Common Core standards. The legislation also prevents schools from sharing data about students. The House Republican Caucus has opposed the implementation of Common Core in our 2014 Agenda, and we are excited that this legislation will be on the House floor before the Crossover Deadline on May 1. The Senate is considering similar legislation.
ELECTION REFORM – We approved legislation this week that would allow the state to oversee county election commissions that don’t follow the law. This comes in the wake of the debacle in Richland County in 2012 when poll workers knew the county didn’t send enough election machines to certain, very busy precincts. This will allow the state to step in and fix the problem – ensuring everyone has a chance to cast their vote in future elections.
TEXTING – The House approved a statewide ban on texting while driving on Wednesday. The penalty is the same as not wearing a seat belt, and we prevented the police from seizing your cell phone. The House Republicans believe that distracted driving is a serious problem, though we disagree about the best way to stop it. Because major cities such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and most recently Greenville, have approved texting bans, the need for a statewide regulation to trump local bans is gaining importance.
EMMA’S LAW – I’ve written extensively about Emma’s Law over the past few weeks, but I’m proud to announce that as I write this, the Senate has approved the House’s bill and Emma’s Law is going to Governor Haley’s desk. This bill is a critical step toward stopping the repeat DUI offenders that endanger all of us on the road.
FURLOUGH – The House will be on furlough for the next two weeks as we take our traditional Easter break to be with our families – and saving $100,000 for the taxpayers. For more than a decade, the House has approved measures to shorten our legislative session – one of the longest in the nation, especially when compared to the size of our state. The Senate has never approved the measures.
If we count the two weeks where winter weather cancelled session, the House will have taken a month off this year and we still have a strong record of achievement:
A balanced budget,
The “Restaurant Carry” Bill,
The Department of Administration government restructuring bill,
Legislation keeping violent offenders from being released on bond,
New restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks, and
Emma’s Law.

And on top of all of that, we’re anxious to debate the Common Core law, and a committee was hard at work this week re-writing the Ethics Reform Act that doubled in size when it returned from the Senate a few weeks ago.
I’m looking forward to a very busy final six weeks of this year’s session.
As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 963-0337 at home or 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia.

Sprinting toward the “Crossover” deadline

There are two legislative weeks left before the “Crossover” deadline – the date when legislation must reach the Senate to be considered in the normal course of business. That means April is always a busy month in the General Assembly and this week was no exception.
Here is a quick breakdown of this week’s major activity:
EMMA’S LAW – The House approved a strong anti-DUI law that we hope will keep repeat DUI offenders off the roads. “Emma’s Law” was named for Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old girl from Lexington County who was killed by a repeat offender drunk driver two years ago. The law requires some DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles and closes loopholes that made it easier for those convicted of a DUI to get back on the road without having to use an ignition interlock device.
Ignition interlock devices require a driver to breathe into the device before starting the car. If the driver has been drinking, the car won’t start. Expanding the use of these interlock devices is a critical step in making our roads safer. This bill will now go to a House-Senate Conference Committee to finalize language before going to the Governor for her signature.
ETHICS REFORM – A special House subcommittee began re-writing our Ethics Reform Act that the Senate loaded up by doubling the size of the bill. As I wrote last week, the primary reason for sending it to subcommittee is to write our own provisions into the legislation so we can work with the Senate in a conference committee. Our goal is to get this back out quickly so we can send a strong Ethics Reform Act to Governor Haley.
“CBD” and CHILDREN’S SEIZURES – The House approved an extremely limited use of a non-psychoactive cannabidiol, known as CBD oil. This is to be used in a supervised medical setting for children with severe epilepsy. A similar bill passed the Senate last week without an opposing vote. The Senate bill allowed for clinical trials at the Medical University of South Carolina, the House bill took the law a small step further and allowed the parents to possess the CBD oil. This extract has given hope to parents who have children with extreme cases of epilepsy. This bill will also head to a conference committee.
ARTICLE V CONVENTION – We began debate on the Article V Convention of States legislation – a way to rein in the out-of-control federal government. Article V of the Constitution provides that if two-thirds of the states submit an application to Congress, Congress must call a Convention of States for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution.  A Convention of states can only propose amendments, and cannot change the Constitution by itself. Each state would have only one vote proposed amendments, and any amendment approved by the convention would still require ratification by 38 state. Amending the Constitution is not something to be taken lightly, and this is a difficult process designed by our Founding Fathers. Nevertheless, as dissatisfaction with the federal government increases in all segments of our population, it is time we take back our federal government.
NATIONAL REPUBLICAN VISITS – The House Republican Caucus was honored to have former Congressman and MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough here to speak to us on Tuesday. He signed copies of his book and spoke to the Caucus about national political issues. As we move forward into 2015, please take the time to seek out these prominent Republicans when they visit our state. One of the biggest benefits of having the First in the South Presidential Primary is that we all get to meet, hear, and shake hands with national conservative figures between now and February 2016.
As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 963-0337 at home or 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia.

The Business of the SC House is Business….and it is working!

In case you didn’t see the great news today our unemployment rate went down to 5.7%, and BMW announced a $1B expansion that will create 800 new jobs. Our “slow and steady conservative path” — cutting spending and holding firm to our conservative principles while resisting efforts to boost public spending and public handouts — has dumped rocket fuel on our economy today.

Fixing the Ethics Reform Act

Two major pieces of legislation moved in the South Carolina House this week that have received a lot of public attention – the Ethics Reform Act and Emma’s Law.
First, a little background. The House Republican Caucus led the fight on strong ethics reforms when we first approved the bill last year. We have long touted our ethics laws as some of the strongest in the nation, and they were when they were originally written two decades ago. Since that time a lot has changed in politics: We use tools today that weren’t widely used in the early 1990s – simple things like cell phones, ATM machines, and the Internet. Even six years ago, people rarely contributed to political campaigns online. We hardly give any of these things a second thought today, but our law doesn’t reflect those changes. Our legislation:
Abolishes the House and Senate ethics committees and replaces them with a new, bi-partisan commission that includes public officials and members of the general public.
Abolishes “Leadership PAC” contributions to elected officials.
Requires all lawmakers to disclose all sources of income – public and private – in an attempt to root out conflicts of interest.
Strengthens criminal penalties for violations of the Ethics Act.
Eliminates the “blackout period” right before an election when candidates do not have to disclose donors.
The S.C. Senate added 12 new sections and doubled the length of the bill – watering down several key components of the law and adding a few good changes. And, as is typical with the Senate, the bill was approved before it was written. That means there are a number of sections of the new bill that raise more questions than give answers. This week, we sent the bill to a specially expanded House Judiciary Subcommittee tasked with rewriting the bill so the House can enter into a conference committee on the strongest possible footing.
It is time to change. It is time for our conservative state to promote a conservative ethics reform plan that strengthens the law, streamlines the complaint process, and makes public officials more accountable. I look forward to getting that legislation back quickly so we can get it to Governor Haley’s desk.
Another piece of legislation approved this week was a stronger version of “Emma’s Law” in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill received its name from Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old girl from Lexington County who was killed by a repeat offender drunk driver two years ago.
Emma’s Law:
Requires drivers who blow a 0.15 on a Breathalyzer and are later convicted of a first offense DUI must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles for a year. Interlock devices prohibit a driver from starting a car when he or she has been drinking.
Requires an interlock device be installed on cars of DUI first offenders who refuse to be tested on a Breathalyzer and are later found guilty of DUI.
That no provisional licenses be granted to people who refuse the Breathalyzer and are later convicted.
Closes loopholes that made it easier for those convicted of a DUI get back on the road without having to use an ignition interlock device.
Our state is currently using the interlock devices, but only for people convicted of multiple DUIs. According to media reports, more than 700 are currently in use. Expanding the use of these interlock devices is a critical step in making our roads safer.
As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 963-0337 at home or 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia.

More jobs, a Pro-life victory, and securing your personal information

With the State Budget behind us and in the Senate, the House turns our attention to the traditional “second half” of the legislative session.

This week was filled with busy committee meetings where a number hearings were held on key legislative issues, and we had a major pro-life victory on the House floor.

First, the House approved a bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was approved by a bi-partisan 84-29 margin. The bill is the “fetal pain” bill – so named because new research shows that babies can feel pain after 20 weeks.

Some of the bill’s supporters also pointed out that the current 24-week threshold was established by the courts decades ago because that was a date when a baby is viable outside the womb. New medical technology has pushed that back. While opponents spent much time on the House floor pretending to be federal judges, the specifics of the bill – written by Rep. Wendy Nanney of Greenville – have not be litigated in a federal court.

Second, a House Judiciary Subcommittee began hearings legislation on my data security privacy act. With so many people owning iPhone and Android smartphones these days, the typical phone is no longer something with just call records on it. Yours includes location information, personal pictures, private emails, sensitive contacts, calendars, and personal records such as your banking information.

You are protected from the government searching such data in your home – a law enforcement agency must secure a warrant – but our antiquated electronic privacy laws do not provide protection for information stored electronically. It has never been easier, or cheaper, for a government to access, record, and retain the seemingly mundane details of our daily lives.
This legislation is a Republican Caucus agenda item, and has the support of a diverse constellation of groups from major tech companies such as Google, to conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, and even the liberal ACLU. All of them understand that we need these protections. I look forward to a floor debate on this legislation very soon.

Finally, we received more great news on the jobs front as we try to get this wicked winter behind us. Our state’s unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent – well below the national average, and nearly 6 percent below the peak in 2010. Local economists praised the rate of job growth in our state, which means we’re creating jobs in our state, not losing people from the workforce (which is lowering the rate nationally). South Carolina is on a strong path as we push into 2014, and I hope we see this number continue to fall as we head into the summer and fall. It is our goal that every South Carolinian who wants a job should have a job. It’s a lofty goal, but we’re on the right track.

As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 963-0337 or at my office in Columbia at 803 734-3045

A Conservative, Balanced Budget

After three days of debate, and more than 210 roll call votes, the House of Representatives approved the state budget this week and sent it to the Senate.

The $23.9 billion budget was approved on Wednesday morning. About $6.9 billion of that amount is our true state budget, while most of the rest comes in federal pass-through dollars direct to other entities such as school districts, fees and fines paid to agencies, or items such as tuition payments by parents to public colleges.

I wrote last week about a number of the major spending priorities. Here are a few items that prompted debate on the House floor during the budget:

We approved a plan that will allow counties and cities to “buy” shorter roads from the state so we can reduce the patchwork of roads that are owned by multiple entities. There are some 20,000 miles of roads in the state that are less than a mile in length and could be purchased with existing road funds available to the counties. As one House member put it, this is a “funded un-mandate.”
We protected the rights of students to distribute copies of the Constitution on campus after a California college student was blocked from handing out the Constitution at his college in Modesto.
House Republicans held the line and rebuffed attempts by Democrats to force hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending items and pork-barrel projects.
We also held the line against Democrat attempts to force South Carolina to radically expand our Medicaid program under Obamacare. We have categorically rejected the Medicaid expansion for years. The General Assembly has already prioritized our Medicaid program to assist children, pregnant women, and the elderly. The Democrats’ insistence of adding working-age adults to the program will bankrupt the state in the long-term or force future General Assemblies to raise taxes on a massive scale. More government healthcare and higher taxes for dependence programs are unacceptable.
We included $30 million in new money for the local government fund – which assists local governments in paying for state-required services. Some local governments have complained that this is not enough (any state appropriation for any agency or program is “never enough”), but the local government fund is a tiny fraction of the money funneled through to local governments. Never mind the fact that twice in two decades, the General Assembly has been heavily lobbied by citizens to rein in out-of-control local government spending. A study of the issue showed that while the standard spending cap of “population growth plus inflation” over the past 10 years was about 40 percent, yet local government revenue grew by 55 percent. It sounds to House Republicans that local governments have a spending addiction that they need to kick.

The budget process went smoothly this year, something I attribute to the incredible openness and transparency that technology has brought to the debate in the past few years. Our state budget reflects the conservative values of the people of our state. Thank you to any of you who took the time to participate through by attending hearings, watching online, or writing your legislators.

As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at 963-0337 at home or 803 734-3045 at my office in Columbia.

Catching Up on Committee Work

The House of Representatives caught up on committee work this week following two weeks of snow-related furloughs over the past month. A number of important pieces of legislation moved out of committees this week that I look forward to debating on the House floor soon.

PATENT TROLLS – A House Judiciary subcommittee approved legislation this week that would provide entrepreneurs and inventors tools to combat so-called “patent trolls.”  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, patent trolls are people or corporations who buy patents, usually for pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy or other liquidation sales.  Or, they acquire a patent on everyday objects, such as a stick characterized as a “dog toy.”  Armed with an arsenal of patents, the trolls sue folks who are allegedly violating these patents. The trolls do this despite the fact they don’t engage in any other business other than holding the patents.  As the sponsor of the bills, Rep. Kirkman Finlay of Columbia, said, it is essentially legalized extortion. These trolls are stifling innovation and hurting our up-and-coming companies. Patents are predominantly governed by federal law, but these bills are carefully tailored to give South Carolina tools in its arsenal to protect entrepreneurs and combat the patent trolls.

Right to life – Legislation that would ban abortions beginning at 20 weeks of pregnancy was approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee and should be on the House floor next week. Rep. Wendy Nanney of Greenville sponsored the new restrictions because new science shows that fetuses can feel pain beginning at 20 weeks.  The very liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down a similar piece of legislation in Arizona. Ninth Circuit decisions are not controlling in South Carolina, however, and the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet addressed the issue.

ETHICS – As the Senate finished debate on the omnibus Ethics Reform legislation that the House approved last year, a House Judiciary subcommittee began approving smaller ethics bills as a backup just in case the full ethics reform package dies. The House Republicans stand with our Governor in support of this legislation, and we hope to have the Senate amendments back in the House very soon.

BUDGET – The House Ways and Means Committee put the final touches on the 2014-2015 state budget at the end of last week. I will write more about the budget when it reaches our desks next week, but a few highlights include: a small raise for some state employees – only their second raise since 2009; funds for 17 new SLED agents and 10 new Highway Patrol troopers; money for new school buses; and money to allow students to use lottery funds for summer semesters.

Electronic Data Privacy Protection – This Caucus agenda item bill was filed this week.  This bill aims to provide some clarity for the courts, law enforcement, and consumers by stating that a warrant or exception is required prior to search of  mobile devices incident to arrest, and obtaining geolocation information. Also, the act requires courts to issue a report on the number of warrants requested and exceptions granted. 

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

 

Great Economic News for South Carolina

The House of Representatives returned from its scheduled furlough (and winter storm) week to a massive influx of great economic news.

 We didn’t spent much time on the House floor in full session this week since the state budget is being debated by the full House Ways and Means Committee. We needed to give them, and the other House committees, time to complete this important work.

Yesterday Esurance announced an investment of $2.1 million in a new sales and claims officethat should open this summer in the Brookfield office park resulting in 450 new jobs in Mauldin.  Officials said that sales positions can pay an average of $50K.

Tuesday, we were greeted with the announcement of a $1 Billion investment and 500 jobs created by Toray Industries outside of Spartanburg. Toray produces high-quality carbon fiber materials for the aeronautics and energy industries. The company said it liked our proximity to emerging markets in Latin America.

Local officials told the media this week that they hope Toray’s impact will be similar to BMW’s initial announcement in the Upstate — $420 million and 1,000 jobs. BMW’s footprint in our state has expanded radically since then with more than 4,000 people working at the plant in Greer. One official expected Toray to“under-promise and over-deliver.” I think we all share that sentiment.

Toray is simply the latest in a long line of major manufacturing announcements that validate our efforts to create a strong business climate in our state. We must compete not only with Georgia and North Carolina, but Toray’s announcement shows that we are competing for jobs against sites all across the world. I think our state is an excellent place to live, work, and play.

The economic news announced during last week’s winter storm was also significant. The International Trade Administration announced that South Carolina merchandise exports increased 4 percent in 2013 to a record of $26.1 billion in goods sold to 202 countries. We helped the United States reach an all-time high for exports of our goods and services.

“This data shows that more and more South Carolina companies are growing their businesses and strengthening our economy by selling their top-quality goods to consumers around the globe,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in an article posted with the business newspaper GSA Business.

Some interesting notes from the report, our exports were up 116 percent to Turkey, up 66 percent to the Dominican Republic, up 53 percent to Chile, and up 50 percent to China. Our biggest export categories were transportation equipment, machinery, chemicals, plastics, and paper.

The exports report came immediately after the announcement that we had a record year in new investment by companies locating or expanding in our state. In 2013, we recruited $5.4 billion in capital investment. That translates directly into jobs, higher salaries, and economic growth for our state.

I hope you and your loved ones have a great Valentine’s Day. I also want to extend a special thank you to our municipal, county, and state workers as well as our first responders who worked around the clock this week to clear our roads and keep us safe. I’d also like to thank all of the electric utility workers from across the state and the Southeast who worked hard to restore power to our more than 300,000 friends and neighbors who lost power in last week’s winter storm.

 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

 

Back to Work

The House of Representatives got back to work this week after last week’s winter storm. It was a busy week with many groups visiting the Statehouse and our House Ways and Means subcommittees playing catch-up on a week of lost work.

 

The biggest news of the week was that Governor Haley signed the Department of Administration bill into law to a packed crowd in the Statehouse lobby. This was a major success for the House Republicans a few weeks ago, and marks another major step in making our state government more efficient. This journey was started by the late Republican Governor Carroll Campbell, and his family was on hand for the bill signing.

 

The other major item was the election for Supreme Court Chief Justice between current Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice Costa Pleicones. You may have seen stories or received emails about this race over the past few weeks as it became contentious on both sides. Toal won the election by 95-74. Both Toal and Pleicones were extremely professional after the election, hugged in the House gallery after the vote, and pledged that this will not affect their relationship on the court. Toal will have to retire in 2015, and Pleicones announced in the press Wednesday afternoon that he will run again when Toal retires.

One other item of note this week: A House Judiciary subcommittee debated legislation that will ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Current law sets that limit at the 24th week. The committee will continue to hear testimony on the bill, H.4223, after we return from next week’s furlough.

 

The House will be on our regularly scheduled furlough week next week, which will save the taxpayers $50,000. The House Republicans have passed bills shortening our calendar during every legislative session since you gave Republican control of the House in 1994. This will be our second furlough week this year (after last week’s weather closure), but we’re progressing quickly in crafting the state budget, finally got the Department of Administration restructuring bill signed into law, and passed the restaurant carry bill approved. That’s a strong record of achievement in only a few weeks.

 

One last item relating to last week’s storm (as we see the Northeast getting socked with snow and ice again). I wrote last week that criticizing local officials for shutting down offices during snow and ice events was a kind of sport here in the Palmetto State. This week, a number of disaster experts gave our state an“A+” for disaster response. As University of South Carolina professor Christopher Emrich told ABC Columbia: “An ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of response.”

 

While closures may be a major inconvenience – especially to working parents of children in school – the alternative could be the disasters we saw in Atlanta and Birmingham. Sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

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

 

Reform, Second Amendment Rights, A Plan for the Future

There was lots of activity in the state House this week as we advanced two major pieces of legislation and heard from the Governor in her annual State of the State address.

South Carolinians will see the most significant streamlining of state government in a generation now that the House and Senate gave final approval to the “Department of Administration” legislation.

I wrote about this extensively last week, so I’ll just recap it quickly: This legislation moves the vast majority of the administrative functions of state government under the control of the Governor for the first time. It also effectively eliminates the old Budget and Control Board, which was a quasi-legislative/executive agency that controlled much of state government.

We have fought for this reform for nearly a decade – and approved it six times in the past five years alone. The vision of two Governors, two Speakers, and four House Majority Leaders is now reality, and our state will be better for it.

The House also gave key approval to legislation that will allow people who have Concealed Weapons Permits to carry their weapons into bars or restaurants as long as they do not consume alcohol. Businesses will be allowed to prohibit firearms on their property by posting signs. This is a victory for law-abiding gun owners who want to protect their weapons, and keep them from unwittingly violating the law.

Leaving guns in vehicles is far less secure than keeping them on your person, and Supporters say the bill would allow people licensed to carry concealed weapons to carry while eating dinner in a restaurant, instead of having to leave their gun in a vehicle, where it is less secure.

Both the Department of Administration bill and the restaurant carry bill were approved with wide bi-partisan votes.

On Wednesday night, we heard from Governor Haley in her State of the State address. My Republican colleagues and I were excited to hear the governor’s support for many of our priorities such as ethics reform, infrastructure improvements, and flattening our unwieldy personal income tax structure. She also pledged to continue fighting the massive Medicaid expansion that creates new cycles of dependency on government and eventually bankrupt our state.

Finally, as is typical in January, much of the work was done by House Ways and Means budget subcommittees as we tried to wrap up our work before the budget goes to the full committee next month. We tried to spend as little time as possible on the floor so we could have time to get our budget work done. Debating and crafting a state budget that wisely spends your hard-earned tax dollars is the most important thing we do each year.

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