Statehouse Report, July 2014
This is the final newsletter for the session that just ended. The House met on June 17th to consider vetoes, conference committee reports, and other matters. Below is a summary of the some of the important legislation that was debated this session.Texting While Driving
The House and Senate adopted the conference committee report on S.459 , which establishes a PROHIBITION ON TEXTING WHILE DRIVING, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation provides that it is unlawful for a person to use a wireless electronic communication device to compose, send, or read a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle on the public streets and highways of this state. This prohibition does not apply to someone who is:
- lawfully parked or stopped;
- using a hands-free wireless electronic communication device;
- summoning emergency assistance;
- transmitting or receiving data as part of a digital dispatch system;
- a public safety official while in the performance of their official duties;
- using a global positioning system device or an internal global positioning system feature or function of a wireless electronic communication device for the purpose of navigation or obtaining related traffic and road condition information.
The House adopted the conference committee report on H.3945, legislation ENHANCING ETHICS ACT REQUIREMENTS, but the Senate did not adopt the report. The legislation expands financial disclosure requirements for public officials, candidates, and others who are required to file statements of economic interest, so that they address not only state and local government funds, but also include new requirements for identifying other sources of income, including private sources.
- The legislation prohibits the use of leadership political action committees which have not been subject to the limitations imposed on contributions made to individual candidates.
- Reporting requirements for campaign contributions and expenditures are revised to be more effective during the final days leading up to an election by requiring an additional report to be filed five days before an election.
- Reports must be made to the State Election Commission detailing electioneering communications which are mass communications, excluding such things as media coverage and candidate debates, that are made in the final days before elections and primaries in order to influence their outcome.
- Supervisory bodies are afforded greater access to the financial records of candidates and committees in order to verify campaign disclosure forms.
- More stringent criteria are established for the use of campaign funds for travel expenses by setting payments or reimbursements for mileage at the federal rate established by the Internal Revenue Service and restricting lodging, food and beverage, or other travel expenses to campaign events or events that are part of an officeholder's official responsibilities.
- The legislation disallows cash payments from campaign accounts and prohibits equipment purchased with campaign funds, including computers and cell phones, from being converted to personal use.
- Payments to campaign or office staff must be made contemporaneously with the work provided.
- Campaigns are not allowed to employ an immediate family member of the candidate.
The legislation creates a temporary South Carolina Ethics Violations Study Committee, composed of four circuit solicitors and four public defenders, to make recommendations to legislators, by February 1, 2015, on which violations of the ethics act should be designated as criminal violations and which should be treated as civil matters.State Budget
The House of Representatives and the Senate approved H.4701, the general appropriation bill and H.4702, the joint resolution making appropriations from the Capital Reserve Fund, which together comprise the FISCAL YEAR 2014-2015 STATE GOVERNMENT BUDGET. The $7.2 billion budget includes $6.7 billion in recurring state general fund revenue, $115 million in Capital Reserve Funds, and $345 million in Education Lottery Funds. This legislation was enrolled for ratification.Funding for Education
- The budget includes a total of $180 million in new funding for K-12 education.
- A total of $137.5 million is directed to the Education Finance Act, $54.3 million of which is new EFA money.
- $35 million is used to maintain the current base student cost of $2,097 and an additional $19 million is used to increase the base student cost to an estimated $2,120 per pupil.
- $18.6 million in recurring funds is used to expand the state's four-year-old kindergarten program for students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch so that it includes all school districts with a poverty index of 70% or greater. The expansion includes seven additional districts to bring the total number of districts in the 4K program to 58.
- The budget includes increases in recurring funds to the state's colleges and universities that amount to $5.4 million.
- The budget provides $2.6 million for a consultant to conduct a Higher Education Efficiency and Accountability Review on improvements in operations at the campus level and statewide.
- $2.5 million is included for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Education to address workforce demands.
- $15.2 million is provided for Technical College initiatives including worker training through the Ready SC Program, Trident Technical College's Aerospace initiative, the transitioning military support and training program at the Technical College of the Low Country, automotive technology program equipment for Florence-Darlington Technical College, the Computer Numerical Control and Mechatronics Programs at Tri-County Tech, and the Quick Jobs Program at Midlands Tech.
This year, $37.4 million is provided for the Deal Closing Fund that the Department of Commerce uses to recruit new business to the state. The Department of Commerce is afforded appropriations of $6.5 million for the Locate SC Site Inventory, $4 million for research initiatives, $400,000 for the Existing Business Program, $250,000 for the SC Manufacturers Extension Program, and $350,000 for the Community Development Corporation Initiative.
Funding for rural infrastructure grants is increased with $3 million in recurring funds. I believe this is a vital program that assists the rural areas of our state.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve you and your family in the South Carolina House. If I can help you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me at 803-748-1090.