Thank you for the honor to serve as your State Representative in Columbia. With the first session of the 123rd General Assembly complete, I am including an update on the South Carolina House of Representatives major efforts this past session. I’ll also lay out efforts for the off session such as getting answers to our roads’ situation. This is a long note packed with info. I’ve tried to keep you informed throughout this session of what is going on in Columbia and will continue to do so.
Follow my Facebook for the most up to date information for off session information. I’ll be attending several community events throughout the District. If you ever need me to attend a meeting or function to raise awareness on an issue let me know.
I hope you had a wonderful and safe July 4th even with the rain! May God bless you and your family, and may He continue to bless our great nation and those in uniform protecting our freedoms.
End of Session Roll Up
During his State of the State address in January, Governor McMaster proclaimed this year to be the ‘Year of Education,’ with the House introducing a transformative education bill aimed at reforming the way we educate our children. This bill is ongoing and will be gathering more input from teachers in the days ahead. In addition, the House took the necessary steps to protect ratepayers and taxpayers in the Santee Cooper debacle; gave teachers and state employees a raise; expanded solar energy options for consumers; took steps to protect the lives of the unborn and passed numerous other legislative initiatives. While some of the efforts were needed, other efforts were costly. I’ll continue to fight for prudent spending and transparency of your tax dollars.
While not all the bills that passed the House were passed by the Senate or signed by the Governor, this is the first year of a two-year session, so legislation that did not pass the Senate can be continued when we return next January.
2019 -2020 Budget
The State Legislature passed its 2019-2020 budget which funds core functions of state government. I voted to sustain several of the Governor’s vetoes that would’ve prevented unknown earmark spending. I also voted against the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank funding. We need more transparency on where our taxes are going for roads before we allocate more tax money.
The budget devoted over $300 million for education in this year’s budget. Some highlights include:
$159 million to provide every teacher a pay raise
$15 million to increase base student cost
$68 million for workforce partnerships in technical schools
$10 million for school resource officers
$20 million for new textbooks
$19 million for new school buses
$2.2 million for mental health counselors
$44 million to colleges in exchange for an agreement to freeze the cost of tuition for in-state undergrad students
The budget funded pay raises for state employees, law enforcement, firefighters, and judges.
Funded education and treatment programs to combat the opioid crisis.
Devoted $25 millionfor disaster relief for farmers from crop loss and damage related to Hurricanes Michael and Florence.
Committed $40 million for new voting machines to ensure fair and secure elections.
Provided taxpayers a one-time $50 rebate from last year’s budget surplus.
The House passed a comprehensive education reform bill that includes raising teacher pay, decreasing statewide testing, consolidating small school districts, and creating a committee that will monitor the education achievements from pre-K to post-graduation. The bill, crafted with input from Governor McMaster as well as teachers and educators from across the state, was sent to the Senate where parts of our bill (offered in smaller separate bills) have been moving forward. We are hopeful that when the Senate comes back in January, they move forward with passing the House bill.
Highlights from The S.C. Education, Career, Opportunity, and Access for All Act:
The act raises the minimum salary for starting teachers by almost 10%. All other teachers will receive an average raise of 4.8%.
It eliminates 4 of the 6 state assessment tests to allow more time for classroom discussion.
It adds a 30-minute duty free break for all teachers during the school day.
It requires school districts with fewer than 1,000 students to consolidate with neighboring districts to share resources and save money.
It increases funding for school mental health services, school resource officers, new school buses, and updated instructional materials.
Solar Energy Expands
The Energy Freedom Act passed the legislature unanimously and was signed by the Governor. The bill expands rooftop solar energy options by removing the existing 2% net-metering cap, allows solar customers to be compensated for the energy they produce and send back to the grid, and establishes a regulatory structure for future solar energy to compete with larger utility companies. Solar energy in our state is booming. In 2016 there were 1,160 cumulative installations; today the state is home to more than 18,000 solar systems and is expected to add 22,000 systems over the next five years.
In the wake of the tragedy involving the killing of Samantha Josephson, a USC student, the legislature passed The Samantha Josephson Rideshare Safety Act. Once signed by the Governor, Uber and Lyft drivers will be required to display their license plate numbers somewhere on the front of their vehicles - where riders can easily see them and make sure they are getting into the right car.
Santee Cooper Update
The legislature is moving forward with the process of deciding what to do with Santee Cooper in wake of the $9 billion debt accumulated from the failed VC Summer nuclear plant by the state-owned utility. The Department of Administration will seek binding offers from companies interested in purchasing Santee Cooper as well as offers from companies interested in managing Santee Cooper. In addition, Santee Cooper will be asked to submit its own plan on how they would improve if allowed to maintain ownership. The Department of Administration is charged with evaluating offers from these companies and bringing the best proposals to the General Assembly to consider by January 15, 2020.
The Fetal Heartbeat Bill bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected by a physician with exceptions in cases of a medical emergency, rape, or incest. The House voted 70-31, mostly along party lines, to pass the legislation and send it to the Senate. Similar bills introduced in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018 all died before making it to the House or Senate floor. This is the furthest the legislation has progressed in South Carolina. I was proud to vote for and sponsor this measure. As a State Government, our primary function should be the safety of our citizens and we should be doing all we can to support life in and out of the womb.
Professional Sports Teams
The legislature passed a bill that will allow professional sports teams the same tax incentives as other large corporate companies who choose to bring their business and create jobs in the Palmetto State. The Panthers are moving their practice facilities and corporate offices to the Rock Hill area, which will officially bring the North Carolina NFL team into South Carolina’s economy. While the initial deal looked beneficial there is too much unknown spending and cost to taxpayer dollars which is why I voted against the final measure of this legislation. We should not rush into tax breaks for companies that come on the backs of state citizens’ wallets.
The legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a bill to elevate the South Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs to a cabinet level agency (an effort I was honored to spearhead in the House). The Governor also signed into law a bill that will give in-state tuition for military personnel and their dependents regardless of the amount of time they have spent in that state. The House passed the Workforce Enhancement and Military Recognition Act, which removes the present limit in relation to the income deduction of military retirees. It also allows military retirees at the age of 65 to deduct any military retirement income that is included in their taxable income. The Senate has yet to take up this bill. These bipartisan bills reflect South Carolina’s strong military tradition and show appreciation to our veterans.
Off Session Efforts
I have received several emails about the status of SCDOT spending on our roads from the Gas Tax. While I was not in office when the Gas Tax vote occurred, I would have voted against it. I continue to dialogue with the SCDOT to get answers to find out how your money is being spent on fixing our roads as well as the long-term plans for roads in our communities. I will meet with SCDOT officials during the off session to push for answers. The below link is a snapshot of SCDOT’s plans of what projects are currently on the horizon.
I’ll be meeting with community leaders, residents, local businesses, and HOAs throughout the off session to find out what topics need to be addressed. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, issues, or concerns that you may have as well.
As your State Representative, I am honored to serve you in Columbia. Thank you for this opportunity and I’ll continue to work hard in and out of session to represent District 21.