Criminal Domestic Violence & Pro Life Update

With two weeks remaining in the regular legislative session for 2015, my House colleagues and I reached an agreement this week with our Senate counterparts to give substantial reform to our state’s domestic violence laws.

South Carolina is 2nd in the nation for number of women killed by men in a domestic dispute with 36,000 annual reports of domestic violence. Last year a task force was created in the House chaired by my colleague Rep. Shannon Erickson to develop legislation to end this cycle of abuse in our state. The Committee developed a comprehensive approach which passed the House in April. The Senate sent us their version, and we’ve reached a compromise.

Provisions Included in the Compromise:

Changes the current penalty occurrence-based model to a hybrid approach that considers degree of injury, number of occurrences, and possible aggravating circumstances. New categories: Domestic Violence High and Aggravated Nature (DVHAN), 1st Degree, 2nd Degree, and 3rd Degree.
Amends the definition of “moderate bodily injury” to create a more understandable and useable definition for prosecutors.
Extends time period for a bond hearing to ensure a judge has all necessary information.
Creates a Domestic Violence Advisory Committee to study domestic violence cases. This Committee would make recommendations to the General Assembly. The Committee is made up of many directors of state agencies.
Batterer’s Treatment Programs would be selected and approved by the prosecuting agency, as opposed to the current model with the Department of Social Services (DSS) approving the programs.
Expands domestic violence education from only high schools to also include middle schools.
Allows judges to proceed with the case without the presence of the victim.
Permits DSS to study a voucher system for child care to accommodate care for children while victims appear in court.

Last week I sent you a list of bills stalled in the Senate. Many of you took action. Thank you to all those who acted, there’s no question the Senate and the Governor are hearing your voices. Thanks to you, this week the Senate moved one step closer to passing our Pain-Capable Pro-Life bill. That’s a great start, but I still need your help. Among the items we have already passed that still remain stalled in the Senate are:

H3184 – Ethics Reform
H3006 – Pro Business Regulatory Reform
H3014 – Shortening Legislative Session
H3799 – Concealed Weapons Permit Expansion
H3523 – Pro Business Ride Sharing Deregulation
H3145 – Protecting Vulnerable Citizens
For a more detailed description of ethics reform and other issues, click here.

Please take a moment to call or email your Senator and the Governor and ask them to take action on these important matters facing our state.

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

Police Body Cameras & Mental Health

Receiving the House Legislator of the Year Award from SC Habitat for Humanity

Receiving the House Legislator of the Year Award from SC Habitat for Humanity

There are three weeks left in the 2015 legislative session, so the House worked on getting some Senate legislation through for a vote and tying up loose ends.

The biggest issue we dealt with this week was how to appropriately move forward on requiring law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. In recent newsletters, I have kept you apprised on the movements of this bill through the committee process, and after a debate on the House floor this week the S47 passed with bi-partisan support.

Once enacted, the House version would:

Charge the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council (SCLETC) with studying the use, implementation procedures, and costs for body cameras. This first phase would last 180 days upon initial ratification.
In the second 180 day phase, the SCLETC creates the guidelines for initial implementation.
Throughout this process local law enforcement are given opportunities to voice any concerns they may have as they also study the impacts of implementation.
The report must include a footage retention policy, detailed privacy policy, and a fiscal impact study.
Once completed, the Training Council must report their findings to the General Assembly at which time my colleagues and I will be able to make the best informed decision possible about our state’s use of body cameras.

It’s important that we also consider the unintended associated costs–seen recently in communities around the country–of not having these cameras: potential expense of lawless behavior and injuries to person or property, out-of-control investigation/litigation cost, and damage to South Carolina’s reputation as a tourist destination. Weighed against those factors, the implementation of body cameras could represent a massive potential savings for taxpayers.

Mental health issues continue to make headlines, and this week we took additional steps to address the growing needs of those who suffer from mental illness. Currently our court systems experience backlog in part due to an increasing number of mental health cases. This provision, originating in the Senate, would allow elected solicitors to set up mental health courts to divert non-violent mental health cases. This solution allows our state to save taxpayer resources in addition to getting treatment for those who suffer from mental illness.

Looking forward, House and Senate leaders have also come to a point of agreement on Domestic Violence reform legislation. I expect the House to debate the matter on the floor next week.

While my House colleagues and I continue to work diligently the same cannot be said about the Senate. We’ve passed numerous milestone pieces of legislation while the Senate continues to stall. Among the items we have already passed, yet have stalled in the Senate are:

H3184 – Ethics Reform Act
H3006 – Pro Business Regulatory Reform
H3014 – Shortening Legislative Session
H3799 – Concealed Weapons Permit Expansion
H3114 – Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
H3523 – Pro Business Ride Sharing Deregulation
H3145 – Protecting Vulnerable Citizens

We have begun a campaign called “Finish the Job” in order to get this legislation passed.

Lastly, this week I was honored to receive the House Legislator of the Year award from South Carolina Habitat for Humanity. The recognition is for my work on a bill that has passed the House, and is currently waiting action in the Senate Finance Committee after receiving a favorably report from the Senate subcommittee last week. The bill would give non-profits that build homes for qualified citizens in need a break on the sales tax they pay for the purchase of materials to build the homes.

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

SC State & Legislative Oversight Committee

The House wrapped up the week with House negotiators having resolved the serious issues surrounding SC State University. This plan closely resembles the previous House plan I wrote about a number of weeks ago. Under this proposal the Governor, Treasurer, Chairman of Senate Finance, Chairman of House Ways and Means and State Superintendent of Education all designate one appointee to the newly created SC State board of trustees. The other two members will be appointments of the chairmen from the House Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee and the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee. These 7 members will serve as the only voting members, while the student body president and president of the alumni association will both serve as non-voting members. The new board establishes a fresh start in the effort to eliminate waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars at SC State University.

The House Legislative Oversight Committee is continuing their diligent efforts to improve our state government. The committee is currently conducting studies on the following agencies:

South Carolina Comptroller General’s Office
South Carolina Department of Transportation
South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness
South Carolina Department of Social Services
South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice

By keeping informed about what’s being done in the legislature, you’ve proven to be a citizen that’s concerned with the advancement of your state. The House Oversight Committee needs opinions like yours. Please take the survey as part of the effort to make government more efficient and effective.

You have the option to complete all or some questions, but survey responses must be received by May 31, 2015.

Survey Link: https://www.research.net/s/HouseLegislativeOversightCommitte1

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

Crossover Success – A Record of Achievement

The House of Representatives adjourned for the week after finishing a successful “crossover” period and getting important House legislation moved to the Senate. We’ve nearly completed our agenda with more than a month left in the session.

The House has approved an ethics reform package that increases transparency, accountability and independent oversight, passed new comprehensive legislation aimed at reforming the DOT, and fought Democrats’ attempts to kill income tax relief. In addition, we approved a measure that would force deregulation and remove government red tape from small business owners, expanded pro-gun legislation and passed the pro-life Pain-Capable bill.

But this gets me back to an issue that has been on Republican Caucus agendas since we achieved the House majority in 1994. This year, we also approved legislation that would shorten the session by nearly two months. That legislation is also in the Senate and we hope our colleagues will take swift action on it.

The House passed nearly 50 pieces of legislation this week. Here are a few of the major items we approved this week:

Environmental Regulation Reform: H3910 reduces the amount of time given to regulators to enforce certain environmental regulations.
Sunset Certificate of Need: This bill revises and streamlines the Certificate of Need process and repeals it completely in 2018. The House overwhelmingly supported this measure which helps to limit the regulation of healthcare providers around the state.
Pro-Gun Provision: H3799 approves a concealed weapons permit reciprocity agreement with the state of Georgia allowing licensed CWP carriers to cross state lines without any legal ramifications.
The House of Representatives has a solid record of achievement through the first 15 weeks of session. The House proved this week: It’s time to shorten our legislative session and save taxpayer dollars.

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

Preparing for Crossover, Body Cameras, Supporting Our Military & Teacher of the Year

The South Carolina House of Representatives finished up an extensive amount of committee work in preparation for Crossover Week. Each year, lawmakers spend roughly 4 months hearing testimony and crafting legislation. The end of that 4-month period concludes with the beginning of the crossover period which lands on May 1st for 2015. The crossover period simply demands that no more legislation can be considered by House or Senate, forcing each body to act on the legislation passed by the other body instead of new items in the remaining days of the session. In short, if a bill is going to be passed this year, it has to make it out of at least one chamber prior to this deadline.

If there is a particular piece of legislation you’re concerned about that hasn’t been passed leading up to crossover date, I hope you’ll contact me about it.

House Committees passed numerous pieces of legislation, some of which I have listed below:

House Ways and Means Committee

Certificate of Need H3250

Needy Children’s Clothing Tax Exemption H3062

Giving Back to Our Veterans Act H3147

Capitol Police Force H3022

Wetlands Conservation Act H3868

Property Tax Grace Period for Deployed Military H3149

House Judiciary Committee

Body Cameras for Law Enforcement H3997

Overdose Prevention H3083

Protecting Homeowners H3248

Humane Methods of Animal Euthanasia H3343

Patent Infringement Act H3682

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act H3766

House Education Committee

In-State Tuition Rates for Military Personnel and Their Dependents H3037

Pilot Program for GED Camps H3353

Jurisdiction of State Board of Technical and Comprehensive Education H3170

Sign Language Interpreters H3390

Snow Days H3512

Hearing Officers for Teacher Dismissal H3560

The bills listed above along with many others head to the House Floor next week where a whirlwind of debate will occur. I’ve highlighted two of these.

Body Cameras for Law Enforcement H3997

Recent events have prompted many to look at the viability of body cameras for law enforcement officers. This week the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure developing a pilot program administered by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council to study the use of body cameras on law enforcement officers. The program would span 3 counties and 6 municipalities on an opt-in basis. The Training Council will report their findings to the General Assembly after a 6 month period. Both civil liberties organizations and the law enforcement community support this pilot program and the bill moves to the House floor for debate next week.

In-State Tuition Rates for Military Personnel H3037

Rep. Joe Daning (R-Berkeley) sponsored H3037 which grants in-state tuition rates to active duty military and their dependents. Currently, active duty military personnel who have been stationed in South Carolina do not receive in-state tuition rates. This bill grants them that privilege and allows them and their dependents to continue receiving an in-state tuition rate as long as they remain continuously enrolled. I’m look forward to supporting this measure on the House floor next week.

Each year we recognize a Teacher of the Year. I’d like to give my congratulations to this year’s recipient, Suzanne Koty of Sumter High School, along with my sincere appreciation for each of our educators in South Carolina.

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

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. http://schousegop.org/roads-poll/ 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. www.scstatehouse.gov

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. http://us10.campaign-archive1.com/?u=255b3094b44d99b2d1990b50c&id=7c3b9e0bec&e=a94ab772f9

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.