Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Here is my year-end Legislative Update for 2014. The last several weeks have been busy. We approved a final budget, dealt with Governor Haley’s vetoes, and have now adjourned until January 2015. Although we were unable to pass an ethics reform bill, I already am working on a comprehensive ethics plan for next legislative session.
Over the last month, I also had the privilege to congratulate and recognize on the House floor many of our Midlands area schools for their sports accomplishments, as follows: AC Flora High School – Class 3A State Champions in both Baseball and Golf; Cardinal Newman High School – SCISA State Champions in Soccer; and Hammond – SCISA State Champions in Lacrosse and Equestrian.
I also would like to congratulate Eren Sakarean, a Spring Valley High School graduate, who will be attending Clemson University in the Fall, and to Hailey Streater, a Richland 2 Charter High School graduate, who will be attending Columbia College in the Fall. They are this year’s recipients of the ‘Beth Bernstein Leadership Scholarship Award’, a $1,000 one-time scholarship.
Please join me on Saturday, August 16 at 11:00 a.m. for a special tour of the State House. If you are interested in attending, please let me know. Parking will be available at my law office which is located across the street.
I hope you have a safe and happy Fourth of July as we remember the freedoms provided to us by our forefathers and the brave individuals, past and present, who have worked so hard to preserve them.
Thank you for the opportunity and privilege to serve our community and state.
2014 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
The House of Representatives amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4701, the general appropriation bill and H.4702, the joint resolution making appropriations from the Capital Reserve Fund, which together comprise the proposed FISCAL YEAR 2014-2015 STATE GOVERNMENT BUDGET. The $7 billion budget includes $6.6 billion in recurring state general fund revenue, $117 million in Capital Reserve Funds, and $337 million in Education Lottery Funds.
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. $83.2 million of these EFA funds represent a swap from the Education Improvement Act that is directed towards high-achieving students and students at risk of academic failure.
$30 million is included to provide for reading coaches in the state’s elementary schools who are to work directly with students to improve their reading skills and work with classroom teachers to provide professional development on best practices in reading instruction along with other support to enhance effectiveness.
The budget provides for a 2% state employee pay increase, with an appropriation of $30.6 million. $57 million is included to cover the increased costs of operating the state’s health insurance plan with no increases in the premiums paid by employees, no reductions in coverage, and relatively minor increases in coinsurance payments of no more than 9%.
$5.4 million is devoted to worker training through the Ready SC Program at the state’s technical colleges.
$37.4 million is provided for the Deal Closing Fund that the Department of Commerce uses to recruit new business to the state.
$30 million is provided for the local government fund.
Restores funding to the Certificate of Need Program at DHEC, $1.4 million.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3428, a bill that provides for the REAUTHORIZATION OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA FIRST STEPS TO SCHOOL READINESS INITIATIVE that provides enhanced early childhood development, education, and family support services to enable children to reach school ready to achieve academic success. The House and Senate passed S.516 as the SC READ TO SUCCEED ACT initiative which takes a comprehensive, systematic approach to student reading performance. The State Department of Education and State Board of Education must have a State Reading Proficiency Plan in place by January 1, 2015 that requires students Pre-K through 12th grade to be administered a readiness assessment, and requires retention for students at the 3rd grade level. The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3893, relating to the ADOPTION OF STATEWIDE EDUCATION STANDARDS AND ASSESSMENTS for use in the state’s K-12 public schools, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation addresses issues relating to national Common Core academic standards that have become aligned with federal programs and waivers offered through the U.S. Department of Education. The House and Senate passed H.3365, a bill creating a SCHOOL SAFETY TASK FORCE to: examine the various funding streams for school based mental health services and determine how the streams may be best utilized in order to provide for more accessible and efficient delivery of mental health programs.
State Election Commission
The House of Representatives concurred in Senate amendments to S.815, a bill providing for STATE ELECTION COMMISSION OVERSIGHT OF COUNTY BOARDS OF VOTER REGISTRATION AND ELECTIONS, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation charges the executive director State Election Commission with supervising the conduct of county boards of voter registration and elections and ensuring that those boards and all who are involved in the elections process comply with state voting law requirements, applicable federal law, and Commission policies and procedures regarding the conduct of elections or the voter registration process. In order ensure compliance, the State Election Commission is directed to conduct reviews, audits, or other postelection analysis. The State Election Commission is empowered to intervene when it finds that local election authorities have failed to comply with election or voter registration requirements or when local election authorities fails to certify the results of an election or referendum in a timely manner. If the State Election Commission determines that an official or an employee of a county board of voter registration and elections has negligently failed to comply with requirements or has failed to cooperate with a corrective plan, the Commission may order the decertification of that official or employee. In order to be recertified, the individual would have to participate in a retraining program approved by the Commission. If the Commission finds that the failure to comply is willful, it shall recommend the termination of the official or staff person. The legislation provides a statewide protocol establishing consolidated county boards of voter registration and elections. The State Election Commission must provide public notice on its website of all new state and local changes to voting procedures, including changes to precincts.
The House of Representatives amended H.3945, legislation ENHANCING ETHICS ACT REQUIREMENTS, and returned the bill to the Senate. The legislation expands financial disclosure requirements for public officials, candidates, and others who are required to file statements of economic interest, including new requirements for disclosing sources of private funds. 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. H.3945 creates a twelve-member South Carolina Commission on Ethics Enforcement and Disclosure, composed of no legislators, sitting judges, or other public officials, to have jurisdiction over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government in administering ethics requirements, receiving complaints regarding ethical conduct, and making investigations necessary to determine the validity of complaints. This bill did not pass in the Senate.
The House and Senate passed S.459 as to provide that it is unlawful for a person who holds a beginner’s permit or a restricted driver’s license to drive a motor vehicle while using a cellular telephone or text messaging device. It also restricts driving a motor vehicle through a school zone while using a cellular telephone or text messaging device when the school zone’s warning lights have been activated. This prohibits the use of a wireless electronic communication device to compose, send, or read a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle on all public streets and highways. The bill gives all law enforcement officers in South Carolina the ability to pull over drivers on suspicion of texting while driving, much like pulling over a swerving car on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The House of Representatives returned S.137 to the Senate with amendments. The bill enacts provisions, designated as “EMMA’S LAW”, to combat drunk driving through a MORE EXPANSIVE USE OF IGNITION INTERLOCK DEVICES INSTALLED ON THE VEHICLES OF DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OFFENDERS that are designed to prevent a vehicle from being started and operated by someone who has consumed alcohol. The legislation revises current requirements for ignition interlock devices to be installed on the vehicles of repeat DUI offenders and establishes a new requirement for installing an ignition interlock device on the vehicle of someone convicted of a first offense DUI violation who had a breath test that registered an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher. Those who refused a breath test and were subsequently convicted of a first offense DUI violation are subject to requirements for enrolling in the Ignition Interlock Device Program in order to be eligible to drive. The legislation imposes new ignition interlock requirements that apply following the release from prison of someone convicted of a DUI offense involving great bodily injury or death of another. Ignition interlock requirements are established for those found guilty of an offense involving the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants with at least one passenger younger than sixteen. The legislation enhances penalties for those who fail to comply with ignition interlock device requirements. Thank you to Senator Joel Lourie for working tirelessly on this bill!
The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3125, the “MICROENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT ACT”, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation provides for the Department of Commerce to establish the Microenterprise Partnership Program to promote and facilitate the development of microenterprises, which are businesses, whether new or existing, including startup, home based, and self employment, with five or fewer employees.