Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Here is my end of session Legislative Update for 2015. The General Assembly recently concluded work on the regular legislative session. Although we approved a budget in extended session, we failed to approve other important legislation. Regrettably, this includes the various funding proposals for repairs to our state’s roads and bridges. While much remains unresolved, 2015 has yielded some noteworthy legislative accomplishments as listed below.
While the tragic events in Charleston, the death of 9 innocent lives, including our friend and colleague, Rev. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, could have divided our State, we came together in unity, love, and forgiveness, and decried this horrific act of violence and hate. I’ve never been more proud to be a South Carolinian!
We will reconvene next week to deal with Governor Haley’s vetoes and the issue of finally removing the confederate flag from the State House grounds.
During regular session, I had the privilege to congratulate and recognize on the House floor many of our Midland area schools for their academic and sports accomplishments. Richland Northeast Model UN team won 1st place in the nation for the 26th time; Spring Valley – Class 4A State Champions in Girl’s Basketball; AC Flora High School – Class 3A State Champions in Boy’s Tennis, Soccer and Golf; Cardinal Newman High School – SCISA State Champions in Soccer, Wrestling and Bowling; and Hammond – SCISA State Champions in Football, Basketball, and Cheerleading.
Congratulations to Whitney Free-Jenkins, a Spring Valley High School graduate who will be attending USC in the Fall. She is this year’s recipient of the Beth Bernstein Leadership Scholarship Award, a $1,000 one-time scholarship.
In closing, 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 electing me to serve you and our community at the State House.
2015 Legislative Update
The General Assembly approved the comprehensive Domestic Violence Reform Act (S.3) which includes recommendations of special committees appointed in both the House of Representatives and Senate to focus on the issue. The legislation revises criminal penalties for domestic violence so that they emphasize not only the number of previous incidents but also better address the severity of violence as well as take into account whether certain aggravating circumstances are involved. Under the revisions, enhanced criminal penalties apply if certain egregious elements are present in an incident, such as strangulation, abuse committed in the presence of children, abuse of pregnant women, and violence that is used to prevent someone from summoning emergency assistance or reporting a crime. Penalties are increased for Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature and all three degrees of Domestic Violence so that these crimes carry higher possible maximum terms of imprisonment. The legislation establishes firearms restrictions in conjunction with domestic violence offenses that include an automatic lifetime prohibition on possessing firearms and ammunition for those convicted of the felony Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature, an automatic ten year ban for those convicted of the felony First Degree Domestic Violence, and provisions that allow for a ban of up to three years in convictions for the misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. The legislation’s bond reform measures include a requirement that, whenever someone is charged with a domestic violence violation, the bond hearing may not proceed without the person’s criminal record and incident report or the presence of the arresting officer. The legislation includes provisions that allow victims of domestic violence, sex crimes, and certain other offenses to obtain a permanent restraining order against an offender which a judge puts in place for life so that the order would not need to be periodically revisited and extended. A new statewide multidisciplinary Domestic Violence Advisory Committee is established and charged with decreasing the incidences of domestic violence in South Carolina by undertaking public education efforts, studying domestic violence in the state, assessing the effectiveness of state laws and programs to combat the problem, and advising on policy and practice changes, including the issuance of an annual report. Circuit solicitors are authorized to facilitate the development of community domestic violence coordinating councils that bring together a diverse array of disciplines and backgrounds from the public and private sectors to spearhead local efforts for ensuring that domestic violence survivors and their families have access to needed resources, to promote interdisciplinary and interagency efforts to counter domestic violence, and to increase public awareness and understanding of domestic violence and its consequences. The legislation also requires the subject of domestic violence to be incorporated into the instruction that public school students receive in comprehensive health education in grades 6-8.
Lawmakers approved provisions (S.47) for equipping law enforcement officers with body-worn cameras that make audio and video recordings. The legislation requires state and local law enforcement agencies to implement the use of body-worn cameras according to guidelines established by the Law Enforcement Training Council that address such issues as which law enforcement officers must wear cameras, when they must be worn and activated, how recordings should be retained and released, and how consent should be obtained from victims and witnesses for recording their interviews. A Body-Worn Cameras Fund is established within the Department of Public Safety to assist agencies with implementation by addressing costs associated with such matters as the initial purchase of cameras, equipment maintenance and replacement, and data storage for recordings.
Legislation Passed in the House, not in the Senate
Some of the major legislation that the House of Representatives approved is not in a position to pass this year. This includes the “South Carolina Infrastructure Finance Reform and Tax Relief Act” (H.3579) which the House approved and sent to the Senate in April. This comprehensive legislation includes restructuring initiatives, along with funding mechanisms coupled with tax relief, as means of ensuring that the state can construct and maintain the system of roads needed for public safety and economic development.
The Senate has not approved the comprehensive ethics reform legislation (H.3722) that the House passed earlier this year. Further work on such important issues will have to wait until the January 2016 commencement of the second year of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly.
Although we passed by 83-27 a bill that I proudly sponsored, the “Cervical Cancer Prevention Act, ” the Senate failed to pass this important legislation because of one Senator’s objection, Sen. Lee Bright. This legislation would have saved SC lives! It would allow DHEC to offer the HPV vaccine to students enrolling in 7th grade and allow it to develop and provide informational brochures concerning the vaccine.
The “South Carolina Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act” (H.3154) was approved to better facilitate the casting of absentee ballots in elections by deployed military and other overseas voters.
The General Assembly approved legislation (S.153) to provide for the extension of a property tax exemption to the vehicle of a disabled veteran’s surviving spouse.
The “Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act” (H.3156) was approved to establish protocols to address issues of custodial responsibility that arise when a parent in the uniformed Armed Services is deployed, including provisions for temporary child custody orders and agreements that are put in place during the time of deployment.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3548) establishing notification requirements for child abuse and neglect allegations involving active military families which direct the Department of Social Services to make reports to designated authorities at military installations.
Legislation (H.3547) was approved to expand the provisions establishing reemployment rights of South Carolina National Guard and State Guard members so that they also apply to someone who is employed in South Carolina but has served as a member of another state’s national or state guard and honorably released from that duty.
Lawmakers revised eligibility criteria (S.391) for in-state higher education tuition rates for veterans and their dependents to ensure that South Carolinians can continue to take advantage of federal G.I. Bill provisions.
Legislators established (H.3324) a temporary committee to study state and local level veterans issues and make recommendations for improving the structure, delivery, and coordination of veterans services in South Carolina in a report that must be submitted to the General Assembly and the Governor by February 1, 2016.
South Carolina State University
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3663) removing the members of S.C. State’s Board of Trustees and establishing an interim governing authority for South Carolina State University in order to address the school’s financial crisis and academic accreditation issues and ensure the continuing viability of the institution. Composed of the appointees of key public officials in the executive and legislative branches of state government, the Interim Board of Trustees assumes duties relating to the oversight and control of the institution and is made solely responsible for the selection, periodic evaluation, and retention or termination of the university’s president. The Interim Board serves up to June 30, 2018, or until the General Assembly holds elections for a new South Carolina State University Board of Trustees.
Lawmakers approved legislation (S.341) requiring every hospital and birth center to provide educational information on sickle cell disease, sickle cell trait, and associated complications to the parents of each newborn baby who is at high risk for these medical conditions.