Statehouse Report, June 2014
The ability to vote is such a privilege; please vote in today's primary before 7pm. The final week of the legislative session - sine die week or "without days" - is always a flurry of activity with a lot of scrambling to get important legislation finished. This past week was no exception. We took a big step forward on ethics reform, protected children from drug-abusing parents, and banned texting while driving, among many other things.Ethics House Passes Ethics Reform; Senate Doesn't
The House of Representatives passed Ethics Reform (again) on a vote of 110-12 with strong bi-partisan support. Approval came on the final day of the session after a compromise was reached earlier in the week by a House/Senate conference committee. Disappointment came when the legislation hit a Senate roadblock with Sen. Lee Bright filibustering the reform preventing a Senate vote. Fortunately, the Senate will take up this important legislation when the General Assembly returns to consider the governor's budget vetoes on June 17th.Ethics: Not All We Want or Need
Ethics reform cuts to the heart of good government. Citizens must have confidence in those they elect at every level. The Ethics Reform Act isn't just about the legislature; changes cover every elected official in South Carolina from county and city councils, school boards to water district commissioners.
For certain, this reform package doesn't give us everything we wanted. It doesn't give the citizens of South Carolina everything they deserve. However, it isn't "reform in name only." Too many times in the past decade, good reforms have been sacrificed at the altar of being perfect. Our ethics laws were written more than 20 years ago, before campaigns had credit cards, cell phone bills, or online fundraising. The law needs updating and the compromise consists of many critical and significant changes.Ethics: Significant Reforms
We approved increased transparency, more income disclosure, tighter rules on third-party money, eliminated Leadership PACs, required more proof of expenses, ended fundraising by government bureaucrats, increased regulation on lobbyists, and increased ethics enforcement and penalties.Ethics: What's Missing
What isn't in this legislation is a body that will do independent investigations of public officials - including statewide officials, members of the General Assembly, and judges. Senators on the conference committee told the media in no uncertain terms this week that they would not approve that reform. That's disappointing!
I'm part of a group of representatives committed to introducing legislation next year aimed at advancing ethics reform by seeking an independent investigative body to look into possible wrong-doing by elected officials.
The good news -- if the Senate approves the Ethics Reform Act in two weeks, Gov. Haley has indicated her support for the bill.
Other Successes in the Final WeekWhile Driving
We approved a ban on texting while driving. It has been sent to Gov. Haley, but she has not indicated whether she will sign it. Fines begin at $25, but divers would not receive points for a citation. South Carolina is one of the last states to pass such a ban, even though the House has given preliminary approval to such measures a few times.Protecting Children
One final piece of legislation we approved Thursday was Jaidon's Law. The bill gives our courts clear guidelines on when to terminate parental rights, specifically when the parents or guardians have a history of drug abuse or child abuse. It also requires drug-abusing parents pass drug tests and treatment programs as a condition of keeping their parental rights. Our thanks to Rep. Mike Forrester of Spartanburg for his dogged pursuit of this legislation over the last two years.Budget Approval
Both the House and Senate sent a proposed budget to the governor this week. Next year's spending plan includes more money for four-year-old kindergarten in high-poverty districts and a two percent pay raise for state employees.Kicking the Can Down a Bumpy Road
Most disappointing this year was the lack of more dedicated funds to repair our crumbling roads. Last year we funneled more than $1 billion into road repairs. This year, the House appropriated money from the sales tax on cars to road construction. Regrettably, the legislation did not make it out of the Senate. That would have dedicated an additional $41 million a year to fixing roads and bridges. Instead, the Senate budgeted only $15 million. Fixing our roads must be a top priority in the next legislative session.
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 803-748-1090.