State House Report Week 10 – Domestic Violence & SC State

This week, the House of Representatives advanced legislation cracking down on domestic violence. We also took decisive action by passing a resolution concerning the overhaul of South Carolina State University.

Studies show that South Carolina’s murder rate of women killed by men sits at twice the national average. It’s unacceptable, and my colleagues and I are committed to strengthening our laws to give law enforcement the necessary tools to reverse this pattern of abuse in our state.

For 6 months, the House Special Criminal Domestic Violence Ad Hoc Committee, under the direction of Chairman Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort), diligently studied all aspects of the issue. The committee listened to dozens of hours of testimony from both survivors of domestic violence and from the law enforcement and prosecutors charged with bringing justice to those who perpetrate crimes of domestic violence.

As a result of their findings the committee produced the Domestic Violence Reform Act. This comprehensive legislation:

  • Significantly enhances penalties for those found guilty of committing acts of domestic violence.
  • Paves the way for middle school students to receive instruction on how to identify and respond to domestic violence situations.
  • Creates the Domestic Violence Advisory Committee comprised of citizens, medical doctors, and law enforcement to review instances of death as a result of domestic violence and submit a public annual report.

Currently South Carolina’s domestic violence laws are occurrence based – an approach that has proven insufficient by itself. H 3433 institutes a hybrid model based on the number of occurrences and adds that penalties become more severe depending on the level of injury sustained, also accounting for any aggravating circumstances. I am committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence in South Carolina and this restructuring demands the punishment fit the crime.

The House unanimously passed H.3663, a joint resolution that:

  • Removes the current SC State board members.
  • Gives authority to newly appointed interim board members.
  • Allows the interim Board of Trustees to remove the current President if they deem that action necessary.

“It is my hope that our joint resolution – which received unanimous bipartisan support – will put SC State back on a path to success,” said House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington).

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate:

H.3204, the CERVICAL CANCER PREVENTION ACT. I did not support this bill as I have reservations that portions of it appear to be marketing a product – namely HPV vaccines – at taxpayer expense. Further, the bill provides that if anyone wants the vaccine, the state would pick up the tab – potentially costing taxpayers of SC $500,000 per year.

H.3849, a bill establishing CONFIDENTIALITY FOR TEACHER EVALUATION RECORDS as a means of promoting candid feedback for continuous improvement of teaching and learning. The legislation provides that records relating to educator evaluation that include personally identifiable information are exempt from public disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act provisions. I supported this measure. I supported this measure.

H.3847 which provides that an applicant for LICENSURE AS A SPEECH‑LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST ASSISTANT who earned a bachelor’s degree in speech‑language pathology from a nationally accredited institution of higher education is exempt from the recently-enacted requirement of having a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher education. I supported this measure also.

The House committed H.3343, a bill disallowing certain METHODS OF EUTHANASIA (such as gas chambers) IN ANIMAL SHELTERS, to the Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The House appointed a conference committee to address its differences with the Senate on H.3118, legislation relating to the HUNTING AND TAKING OF WILD TURKEY, including conservation measures that may be needed to address observed declines in the state’s wild turkey population.

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The lighter side of budget week

There were a couple of interesting things that happened at the State House this week. The first happened when we convened first thing on Monday. The computer systems were out and we started voting by voice vote on the uncontested parts of the budget. After an hour or two of making great progress, the Governor took to social media to blast the House for being secretive and breaking the law by not voting on the board (which wasn’t working). The computers eventually came back up and because of the outcry from the Governor, it was decided that we had to start all over and vote using the costlier and more time consuming board to vote. Wasted 3 hours catching up to where we were!

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The second happened when the House was standing ‘at ease’. We were waiting for some amendments to the budget to be composed and during the lull, my colleague Rep. Roger Kirby came to the well and was convinced to sing a song from the play ‘Les Miserables’. He was spectacular and it was a welcomed break from the stress of budget week!

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House Week in Review – The Budget

The House of Representatives amended and gave second reading approval to H.3701, the General Appropriation Bill, and H.3702, the joint resolution making appropriations from the Capital Reserve Fund, which together comprise the proposed FISCAL YEAR 2015-2016 STATE GOVERNMENT BUDGET. The budget proposed for the upcoming fiscal year includes $6.9 billion in recurring general fund revenue, $127.8 million in Capital Reserve Funds, $19.3 million in certified surplus revenue, and $323 million in Education Lottery Funds.

$50 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenues is transferred from the general fund to the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank to be utilized to leverage approximately $500 million in bonds to finance bridge replacement, resurfacing and rehabilitation projects, and expansion and improvements to existing mainline interstates.

For K-12 public education, $94 million is used for a $100 per pupil increase for the base student cost to arrive at an estimated $2,220.

$5 million is provided for an expansion of reading coach initiatives. $1.5 million is included for summer reading camp expansion.

$1.4 million is included for First Steps to School Readiness early childhood education local partnerships.

$29.3 million in Education Lottery funds is devoted to K-12 technology initiatives and $2.1 million in Education Improvement Act funding is included for technology. $4 million in EIA funding is included for professional development.

$14.5 million in nonrecurring funds and $6 million in excess unclaimed lottery prize money is provided for instructional materials.

$2.9 million is provided virtual education operations.

$11.9 million in Education Improvement Act funding is provided for South Carolina’s Public Charter School District.

A program is created to provide incentives for recruiting and retaining classroom teachers in rural and underserved school districts that are experiencing excessive yearly turnover.

$1 million in Education Improvement Act funding is appropriated for arts education grants and programs.

$17 million is provided from the Capital Reserve Fund for purchasing or leasing new school buses. School buses are also afforded $6 million in excess unclaimed lottery prize money and $4 million in excess lottery proceeds. $9 million is devoted bus shops.

Full funding is provided for the LIFE, HOPE, and Palmetto Fellows higher education scholarship programs.

The budget defunds the Commission on Higher Education in response to concerns that the commission is playing an advocacy role rather than adopting a posture of regulatory oversight with respect to the state’s institutions of higher learning. Funding is eliminated for CHE personnel and commission operations while all money tied to scholarship programs administered by the commission is transferred to the State Treasurer’s Office.

The budget legislation includes a provision that transfers oversight and control of South Carolina State University to an interim governing authority in order to address the school’s financial disarray and academic accreditation issues and ensure the continuing viability of the institution. The legislation removes the members of S.C. State’s Board of Trustees and provides for an Interim Board of Trustees composed of the designees of the five members of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority: the Governor, Treasurer, Comptroller General, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The Interim Board is authorized to remove the university’s current president and employ an interim president on an at-will basis. $4 million in nonrecurring funds is allocated for SC State’s vendor debt.

The State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education is afforded $5 million in recurring funds for its workforce scholarships and grants program. $5 million in nonrecurring revenue is devoted to worker training through the Ready SC Program at the state’s technical colleges. $5 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is provided for Workforce Pathways instructional materials. $500,000 in nonrecurring funds is included for Pathways to Workplace infrastructure development. $2 million in recurring funds and $2 million in nonrecurring revenue is provided for manufacturing, healthcare, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) training.

$20 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is provided for an Aeronautical Training Center.

The Department of Commerce is afforded appropriations of $500,000 for Regional Education Centers, $250,000 for the Office of Innovation, $200,000 in nonrecurring revenue for the SC Council on Economic Competitiveness, and $750,000 in nonrecurring revenue for the Military Base Task Force.

At the Department of Social Services, $2 million is devoted to child and adult protective services recruitment and $3.7 million is provided for child and adult protective services pay increases.   The budget provides for 120 additional case works to reduce sizeable caseloads. The 10% case worker salary increase provided in the budget combined with last year’s 10% increase, allows for a 20% salary increase as a means of stemming the high turnover rate at the agency.

$34.9 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 and no reductions in coverage.

Provisions are included to commission a comprehensive state employee salary study.

$68 million in Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funding is devoted to maintenance of effort in the Medicaid program. $11 million in recurring funds is included to address projected increases in enrollment.

The budget legislation furthers the Healthy Outcomes Initiative that has been implemented as an alternative to an expansion in eligibility for the state’s Medicaid Program as allowed by the federal “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” of 2010. Funding is continued for such accountability and quality improvement programs as: meeting the needs of chronically ill uninsured patients through home visits and care in other settings outside the emergency room; 100% cost reimbursement for rural hospitals; a Primary Care Safety Net utilizing such resources as Federally Qualified Health Centers and free clinics; and efforts to enhance provider capacity in rural and underserved areas. A pilot program is expanded into a statewide obesity education initiative.

The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to conduct a pilot program on all-inclusive health intervention for wrap-around care to vulnerable mental health patients who frequent the emergency room in hotspots and underserved areas within the state.

$2.7 million in nonrecurring revenue is included to revamp the state’s Medicaid eligibility system. $5 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is provided for Medicaid Management Information System replacement.

$2 million in recurring funds is provided for the state’s telemedicine network. $2 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is devoted to statewide telemedicine infrastructure.

$3.8 million is devoted to an enhanced fee schedule for primary care physicians.

$4.9 million is appropriated for expanded coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder. $7.9 million is devoted to children’s mental health.

$25 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is provided for a new children’s hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control receives nonrecurring revenue in the amount of $500,000 for Criminal Domestic Violence, $250,000 for the Best Chance/Colon Cancer Prevention Networks, $100,000 for the National Kidney Foundation, $100,000 for the J. R. Clark Sickle Cell Foundation, $100,000 for the Bleeding Disorders Premium Assistance Program, and $100,000 for Donate Life’s Organ Donor Registry.

$3.98 million in recurring revenue is allocated to DHEC for monitoring at the Pinewood Hazardous Waste Disposal Site. $3 million in nonrecurring revenue is directed to its water quality initiative and $50,000 in recurring revenue is provided for water quality testing.

$6.4 million recurring fund increase is directed to the Department of Mental Health to address budget cuts sustained by the agency during the revenue shortfall of recent years. DMH receives $3.2 million for forensic inpatient services, $500,000 for school based services, $500,000 for the telepsychiatry program, and $400,000 for community supportive housing. $2.7 million in nonrecurring revenue is included to continue the process of converting health records to an electronic format that is necessary for meeting federal hospital certification requirements.

The Department of Disabilities and Special Needs receives $6.4 million to reduce its waiting lists, $2 million towards provider maintenance of effort, $1 million for respite care services, and $500,000 for nursing care quality. $1.5 million in nonrecurring funds is included for autism services.

The Prosecution Coordination Commission receives $1.6 million for circuit solicitor caseload equalization and $400,000 for the SC Center for Fathers and Families.

$1 million is provided for defense of indigents per capita.

The Attorney General’s Office receives $269,915 for sex/violent crime prosecutors and $75,325 for a financial data analyst/forensic accountant.

The State Law Enforcement Division is provided $520,940 for insurance fraud investigators. $5 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is provided for a new SLED laboratory facility.

The Department of Public Safety is provided $2 million in recurring funds and $2 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for law enforcement vehicles. $100,000 is included for tasers and $800,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund is provided for body armor replacement.

The Department of Corrections receives $4.5 million in recurring funds and $1.5 million in nonrecurring funds for its mental health remediation plan, $927,806 for medical staff, $449,000 for youthful offender/addictions treatment, and $440,000 in nonrecurring funds for its education improvement plan/vocational equipment.

$2.6 million is provided to the Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services for 44 new parole agents.

$299,737 is appropriated to the Department of Natural Resources for 5 new law enforcement officers.

The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation is afforded $250,000 for School to Work Transition Services and $290,000 for job-driven vocational training.

The Department of Agriculture is afforded $500,000 for agribusiness development and $500,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund to expand “Certified SC” marketing.

$3.8 million is provided for the Water Quality Revolving Loan Fund at the Rural Infrastructure Authority.

The Forestry Commission receives $500,000 for 8 additional full-time firefighters and $500,000 in nonrecurring revenue for firefighting equipment.

The Department of Revenue is afforded $1.5 million from the Capital Reserve Fund along with $6.5 million in nonrecurring revenue for implementing an updated tax processing system.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism receives $1 million, half in nonrecurring funds, for the Undiscovered SC program to showcase the state’s rural areas, $2 million for the destination-specific advertising grant program, $1 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for renovations at the state’s welcome centers, $1 million, half in nonrecurring funds, for the Sports Development Marketing Program, and $500,000 for the Parks and Recreation Development Fund. $250,000 in nonrecurring funds is included for the Medal of Honor Museum.

$1 million in nonrecurring revenue is provided for Jasper Ocean Terminal Permitting. $250,000 in nonrecurring revenue is included for Port of Georgetown dredging.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Office receives $529,827 for the vulnerable adult guardian ad litem program and $750,000 for caregiver services.

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State House Week 8

The House of Representatives amended, passed (and I voted for-after an amendement failed)  and sent the Senate H.3374, a bill that replaces the current Local Government Fund and its set funding level of 4.5% of the previous year’s state general fund revenues with a new LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVENUE SHARING FUND structured to deliver a revenue stream to counties and municipalities that is adjusted according to whether the state is projected to experience revenue growth or shortfall. The legislation discontinues the retrospective approach for funding political subdivisions that is tied to the previous year’s revenues and, beginning with Fiscal Year 20172018, implements prospective budgeting that draws upon state revenue forecasts. A $212 million recurring base is established for the Local Government Revenue Sharing Fund and, in a year when state general fund revenue is projected to increase, the revenue sharing fund must be increased by the same percentage as the growth estimate, up to a cap of 5%. When the state experiences revenue shortfalls, the Local Government Revenue Sharing Fund must share in the necessary budget cuts ordered for agencies and other state government functions. The requirements of the Local Government Revenue Sharing Fund must be satisfied before funds are made available for appropriation to other government needs in the budgeting process.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate Joint Resolution H.3014, a PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE SOUTH CAROLINA CONSTITUTION ON SHORTENING THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION. I supported this measure. The proposed constitutional amendment provides for legislators to begin their annual session one month later by requiring the General Assembly to convene at the State House in Columbia on the second Tuesday in February, rather than January, each year. Authorization is included for legislative committees to meet during the weeks before the new later commencement date to conduct preliminary work in preparation for the session. The proposal also establishes a new constitutional requirement for the General Assembly to adjourn for the year by the last Thursday in May, rather than the first Thursday in June, the current deadline for final adjournment of the annual session that is established in statute. Should the proposed constitutional amendment be approved by the General Assembly, it will be submitted to the state’s voters as a ballot question at the next general election.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3722, legislation that compiles the provisions of the twelve freestanding ethics bills approved by the House this year into a single consolidated ETHICS REFORM bill. I supported this bill as we need to continue reforming ethics laws in SC.

The House returned S.196, legislation enhancing provisions for COMBATTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING, to the Senate with amendments that convert the bill to the provisions that the House approved earlier this year in H.3125. The legislation includes within the jurisdiction of the state grand jury human trafficking offenses that involve more than one county. The legislation provides new requirements for posting National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information that apply to a list of establishments such as adult businesses, massage parlors, hospital emergency rooms, agricultural labor contractors, hotels, motels, airports, train stations, bus stations, rest areas, and truck stops. Penalties are established for failing to comply with the posting requirements. I voted in favor of this bill.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3522, a bill establishing PUBLIC NOTICE REQUIREMENTS FOR SAFE HAVENS FOR ABANDONED BABIES provisions that allow mothers who intend to abandon their infants to leave babies at hospitals, police stations, fire stations, staffed houses of worship, or certain other sites designated as safe settings. The legislation requires a facility, agency, or other location designated as a safe haven to post a notice prepared by the Department of Social Services on its premises that is prominently displayed for view by the public stating that it is a safe haven at which a person may leave an infant. I also supported this bill.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3251. In response to a maternal death rate in South Carolina that exceeds the national average, the legislation establishes the MATERNAL MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY REVIEW COMMITTEE under the Department of Health and Environmental Control to review maternal deaths and develop strategies for their prevention. Committee members shall serve without compensation or reimbursement for expenses. The committee is set to dissolve after five years, unless reauthorized by law. I voted in favor of this bill.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3324, a joint resolution establishing a COMMITTEE TO STUDY STATE AND LOCAL LEVEL VETERANS ISSUES and make appropriate legislative recommendations for improving the structure, delivery, and coordination of veterans services in South Carolina. The committee is comprised of the members of the Joint Legislative Veterans Issues Study Committee created in 2010 or their successors, three members appointed by the Governor, and three members appointed by the Adjutant General. The committee is charged with studying and evaluating: the current relationships between the county veterans affairs offices and the executive and legislative branches of state government; the relationships between the county veterans affairs offices and the South Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs; and, the relationships between the South Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, the committee is tasked with reviewing the current mission of the 2010 Joint Legislative Veterans Issues Study Committee and determining whether its functions should be expanded or codified. The committee must submit a written report of its findings and recommendations to General Assembly and the Governor by February 1, 2016, at which point it is dissolved. Veterans issues are very important to me. I supported our veterans with an affirmative vote.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3165, a bill INCLUDING MOPEDS AMONG THE MOTOR VEHICLES THAT ARE SUBJECT TO DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OFFENSES and certain other traffic violations. The legislation revises the definition of “motor vehicle” under the Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on the Highways by removing the specific exemption currently provided for mopeds so that the operator of a moped may be charged with DUI violations and ticketed for certain other traffic offenses. I supported this measure.

The House amended H.3142, legislation establishing SAFETY REQUIREMENTS FOR MOPEDS, and gave the bill second reading approval. The legislation establishes requirements for moped operators and passengers to wear reflective vests and for a moped to be equipped with a rear red tail light that flashes continually while the moped is in motion. The legislation provides that it is unlawful for a person to operate a moped on the public roads in this state that have a speed limit of greater than fiftyfive miles per hour. A moped, while traveling along a multilane highway, must be operated in the farthest right lane except when making a left turn. The original bill prohibited mopeds from operating on roads with a speed limit above 35 mph. I fought for an amendment proposed by Rep. Walt McLeod (D-Newberry) that would increase it to 55 mph. The amendment passed, so I voted for this bill.

The House returned H.3118, legislation relating to the HUNTING AND TAKING OF WILD TURKEY, including conservation measures that may be needed to address observed declines in the state’s wild turkey population, to the Senate with amendments. I supported this bill.

The House approved S.411 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation designates the month of October of every year as “ITALIAN AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH” in South Carolina in order to recognize Italian Americans for their many contributions to our state and nation. I supported this measure.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3305, legislation INCLUDING ORAL FLUIDS TESTS AMONG THE ACCEPTED FORMS OF DRUG SCREENING REQUIRED FOR RECEIVING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. I supported this bill.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3576, a bill relating to the STATUS OF A NONPROFIT YOUTH SPORTS ORGANIZATION COACH. The legislation establishes conditions under which a written agreement between a nonprofit youth sports organization and a coach constitutes conclusive evidence that an independent contractor relationship, rather than an employment relationship, exists between the nonprofit youth sports organization and the coach for purposes of workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance coverage, and federal and state income tax withholdings requirements. This bill had my support.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3464, legislation updating LICENSING REQUIREMENTS FOR BARBER SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL INSTRUCTORS with language that would allow the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to continue to receive Title IV funding from the federal Department of Education for barber schools. I supported this measure.

The House approved S.177, regarding CERTIFICATION OF DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN RECORDS, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The bill amends Rule 902 of South Carolina’s Rules of Evidence relating to self-authenticating documents, adding two types of self-authenticating documents (Certified Domestic Records of a Regularly Conducted Activity and Certified Foreign Records of a Regularly Conducted Activity) so that South Carolina conforms to Federal Rule 902. I voted for this measure.

The House approved S.397, legislation providing for the ALIGNMENT OF STATE INCOME TAXI LAWS AND THE FEDERAL INTERNAL REVENUE CODE, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation updates year references in provisions relating to the application of the federal Internal Revenue Code to state income tax laws. This is a bill that appears each year.
I voted for this this measure.

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State House Review Week 7

Education Reform, Other Action, and a Judicial Update

The House adjourned Wednesday due to inclement weather, shaving a legislative day from the calendar, but not before we moved on education reform, considered some bills, and received an update on the state of South Carolina’s judicial system. On Tuesday, House Speaker Jay Lucas set priorities and expectations for the work the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force is undertaking. The diverse task force, made up of citizens, business leaders and elected officials, begins work to develop recommendations that will lead to long-term substantial education reform in South Carolina. The group is required to submit a report of their findings to Speaker Lucas by the beginning of next legislative session.

The House approved and I supported the following bills:

S.342 and enrolled the bill for ratification (by the Governor). The legislation equips the Department of Insurance with AUTHORITY TO INVESTIGATE INSURANCE HOLDING COMPANIES. The changes are necessary for South Carolina’s Department of Insurance to maintain its accreditation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

H.3575, legislation revising the definition of “solid waste” under the state’s Solid Waste Policy and Management Act to exclude STEEL SLAG, a product of the electric arc furnace steelmaking process, so long as the steel slag is sold and distributed in the stream of commerce for consumption, use, or further processing into another desired commodity and is managed as an item of commercial value in a controlled manner and not as a discarded material.

H.3646, a bill that deals with PASSIVE SOIL-BASED ON-SITE DISPOSAL SYSTEMS used to collect, treat, discharge, or reclaim wastewater or sewage. Current law allows soil dispersal systems to be sized two-thirds of that required for a conventional gravel trench. Current law also requires manufacturers to maintain financial assurances, provides for installer certification programs, and limits installation to single-family dwellings. As a result of these systems being used successfully for the past ten years, the legislation increases trench sizing from two-thirds to three-quarters of that required for a conventional gravel trench and repeals, as unnecessarily burdensome, requirements such as financial assurances, installer certification, and single-family dwelling limitations.

H.3264, a bill providing authority for the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue AMERICAN RED CROSS SPECIAL LICENSE PLATES.

The last three bills will go to the Senate for their consideration.

Each year the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court is tasked with giving the State of the Judiciary to a joint session of both House and Senate lawmakers. Chief Justice Toal delivered her remarks on Wednesday primarily focusing on the innovation instituted in the judicial process over the past decade. State courts that previously didn’t have internet access now operate with high-speed internet access, and large portions of the judicial branch now operate in a secure web-based cloud through a partnership with Clemson University.  A new pilot program begins this year in two counties that will test an online system used to file legal paperwork, streamlining the process for the citizens of South Carolina.

As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact me at home at (864) 366-4112 or by email at craiggagnon@schouse.gov.

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House Week Update

The South Carolina House of Representatives had a busy week producing an initial state budget, moving again on ethics reform, and continuing to push for increased transparency in government.

In an overwhelming 90-16 vote, which I supported, the House passed H.3191, the first major update of S.C.’s Freedom of Information Act in nearly thirty years. It puts enforcement teeth into the law to prevent governmental bodies from refusing to hand over public documents. The legislation will utilize the ‘Office of Freedom of Information’ within the Administrative Law Court allowing citizens and public bodies to resolve FOIA disputes without having to file a costly lawsuit. Among other things, the legislation cuts the time for receiving a requested response for documents from 15 days to 10, sets limits on costs to search for items, and requires copies be provided at the prevailing local copy rates.

I also supported H.3192, clarifying a law following a Supreme Court ruling. Receiving final passage, this bill makes clear that a public agenda is required before a government body meets – giving no less than 24 hours public notice. It also states that only agenda items may be considered during the meeting, but does provide an exemption in cases of emergency. This gives greater public awareness and ensures government on all levels in South Carolina is not allowed to operate in secret.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3044, a bill establishing School Calendar Flexibility provisions by revising various statutory requirements that set the length of the school year in terms of a minimum number of days so that these requirements may also be satisfied with an equivalent number of hours. Under the revisions, a local school district is afforded greater authority in deciding how best to structure the instructional day and how many days of instruction comprise the school year. The number of instructional hours in an instructional day may vary according to local board policy and does not have to be uniform among schools in the district. Limitations are imposed that relate to school year start dates and set times for the administration of the statewide testing program. I supported this bill.

 

The House amended and gave second reading approval to H.3432, a bill to provide that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Memorial Day must be recognized as holidays for all local school districts of the state and that the schools and offices of the districts must be closed on those dates. This new requirement will begin with the 2016-2017 school year and districts may not schedule make-up days on either holiday. Although I agree that these days should be holidays, I did not support this bill as I felt calendar options are best left to the local School Districts.

 

The House amended, approved and sent the Senate H.3265, a bill that includes within Comprehensive Health Education Programs new requirements for public high school students to receive Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training. At least one time during the entire four years of grades nine through twelve, each student must, under the new requirements, receive instruction in CPR that includes training in such matters as hands‑on CPR and awareness in the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). I supported this bill as it an important skill for our students to learn and many local Red Crosses and other groups have expressed a desire to provide the instruction at little or no cost to the schools.

 

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3037, a bill revising eligibility criteria for in-state higher education tuition rates for Veterans and their dependents. The legislation provides that an honorably-discharged veteran of the Armed Services of the United States, who has evidenced intent to establish domicile in South Carolina and their dependents, are entitled to receive in‑state tuition and fees at state institutions without the requirement of a one year of physical presence in this state.

I supported this bill to help our veterans.

 

Finally, for those of you who are interested in charitable raffles, the House approved (which I supported) and sent the Senate H.3519, a bill to provide for the ratification of the Amendment to the SC Constitution authorizing charitable raffles conducted by nonprofit organizations that was approved by the state’s voters at the last general election. With the Senate’s approval and the Governor’s signature, we can no longer be in technical violation of the law when we conduct raffles – like the ones at the High School football games that many groups use to raise money.

As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia.  If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact me at home at (864) 366-4112 or email me at craiggagnon@schouse.gov

 

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Week 5 State House Review

The House of Representatives approved and sent the Senate H.3114, the “SOUTH CAROLINA PAIN-CAPABLE UNBORN CHILD PROTECTION ACT” which establishes a prohibition on the performance of abortions beginning at twenty weeks following fertilization. The bill includes legislative findings regarding substantial medical evidence indicating that an unborn child has developed sufficiently to be capable of experiencing pain by twenty weeks after fertilization and the state’s interest in protecting the lives of unborn children beginning at the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain. This legislation provides that, except in the case of a medical emergency, no abortion must be performed, induced, or attempted unless a physician has first made a determination of the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child or relied upon such a determination made by another physician. Any person who intentionally or knowingly fails to conform to this requirement is guilty of a misdemeanor subject to a fine of not less than two thousand dollars nor more than ten thousand dollars and/or imprisonment for not more than three years. No part of the minimum fine may be suspended. For conviction of a third or subsequent offense, the sentence must be imprisonment for not less than sixty days nor more than three years, no part of which may be suspended. Failure by any physician to comply constitutes unprofessional conduct. The legislation prohibits abortions from being performed, induced, or attempted when the determination has been made that the probable post-fertilization age is twenty or more weeks. An exception is allowed for cases in which the mother has a condition that so complicates her medical condition as to necessitate the abortion to avert her death or to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions. When an abortion must be performed where the probable age of the fetus is twenty or more weeks, the legislation requires the physician to proceed in a manner which provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, unless terminating the pregnancy in this manner would pose a greater risk of either death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions, of the woman than would other available methods. Physicians performing abortions must provide certain information, including post-fertilization age, on required reports to the state registrar, Department of Health and Environmental Control. The legislation includes provisions for reports made by physicians to protect individual patient information as well as for the reporting of abortion statistics to the public by the department. The legislation includes penalty provisions for any physician who fails to submit reports within certain timeframes. Intentional or reckless falsification of any report by a physician is a misdemeanor. Any woman upon whom an abortion has been performed or induced in violation of these provisions, or the father of the unborn child, or any woman upon whom an abortion has been attempted in violation of these provisions, may maintain an action against the person who performed or inducted the abortion in intentional or reckless violation of these provisions for actual and punitive damages. The legislation allows for a cause of action for injunctive relief against any person who has intentionally or recklessly violated these provisions. If judgment is rendered in favor of the plaintiff in an action, the court shall render judgment for a reasonable attorney’s fee in favor of the plaintiff against the defendant. No damages or attorney’s fee may be assessed against the woman upon whom an abortion was performed or induced or attempted to be performed or induced. The legislation includes provisions requiring the court to rule in every civil or criminal proceeding brought under these provisions whether the anonymity of any woman upon whom an abortion has been performed or induced must be preserved from public disclosure if she does not give her consent to such disclosure.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3125, legislation enhancing provisions for COMBATTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING. The legislation includes within the jurisdiction of the state grand jury human trafficking offenses that involve more than one county. The legislation provides new requirements for posting National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information that apply to a list of establishments such as adult businesses, massage parlors, hospital emergency rooms, agricultural labor contractors, hotels, motels, airports, train stations, bus stations, rest areas, and truck stops. Penalties are established for failing to comply with the posting requirements.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3194, a bill ENHANCING CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS. The legislation expands the definition of a candidate who is subject to the requirements of the Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act so that it also includes someone who maintains an open bank account containing campaign contributions. The legislation also revises requirements for maintaining records of contributions, so as to authorize the appropriate supervisory office to request in writing the disclosure of certain mandatory financial records for the purpose of verifying campaign disclosure forms. A candidate, committee, or ballot measure committee must comply with such written requests within thirty days.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3189, a bill establishing REPORTING REQUIREMENTS FOR INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES AND ELECTIONEERING COMMUNICATIONS that are made to influence the outcome of an election or ballot measure question. The legislation requires reports to be made to the State Ethics Commission by those individuals and groups, not already subject to the campaign finance requirements imposed upon committees, who make an independent expenditure in excess of five hundred dollars during a year or who engage in electioneering communications. Electioneering communications are mass communications making use of broadcast television, cable, satellite communication, mass postal mailing, or telephone banks during set periods before elections and primaries that refer to a clearly identified candidate for elected office or ballot measure. Such things as online activity through social media, news coverage, and candidate debates are not considered electioneering communications. The required reports must include such matters as detailed descriptions of expenditures, identifying and contact information for those filing the report, and identification of contributors who have made donations exceeding one hundred dollars.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3195, a bill revising campaign finance provisions for candidates and elected officeholders that relate to the USE OF CAMPAIGN FUNDS. The legislation prohibits campaign funds from being used to pay penalties, fees, or fines imposed by the State Ethics Commission or other supervisory body or by a court in a criminal matter. The legislation provides clarification on what qualifies as reasonable and necessary expenses that may be paid for with campaign funds. Any campaign account payments or reimbursements of mileage for travel associated with the campaign or office must be at the rate established for the year by the Internal Revenue Service. Payment or reimbursement for any lodging, food and beverage, or travel expenses, other than mileage, for the candidate, a member of the candidate’s immediate family or staff must be for travel for the purpose of campaigning for office or otherwise a part of the official responsibilities of an officeholder. Official responsibilities of the officeholder include such things as political party events, official appearances or meetings for which reimbursement is not offered by a governmental entity, and educational forums or conventions to which an officeholder is invited in his official capacity. The legislation eliminates the specific authorization for American Legislative Exchange Council conventions and conferences from the exceptions of allowed functions paid for by a lobbyist’s principal that legislators may attend. Communication equipment or other office equipment, such as cell phones, computers, printers, and copiers, purchased with campaign funds is considered the sole property of the campaign and must be disclosed as a campaign asset at the time of purchase. This equipment must be accounted for upon the final disbursement of a campaign account. Any payments to campaign or office staff must be made contemporaneously with the work provided. A campaign may not compensate an immediate family member of the candidate. The legislation disallows cash payments from campaign accounts by eliminating petty cash provisions and providing instead that all expenditures, regardless of amount, must be made by a check, a debit or credit card, or an online transfer.

The House approved and sent the Senate H. 3199, a bill relating to RETIRING CAMPAIGN DEBT. This legislation requires that funds raised under Ethics Act provisions that allow a candidate to accept contributions in order to retire campaign debt must be used for the sole purpose of retiring campaign debt.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3006, a bill providing for a FIVE-YEAR DURATION FOR STATE AGENCY REGULATIONS. The legislation provides that every new regulation promulgated under the Administrative Procedures Act expires five years from the date on which it becomes effective. The legislation eliminates current requirements for agencies to review their regulations every five years.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3202, the “SOUTH CAROLINA WHISTLEBLOWER AND PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PROTECTION ACT”. The legislation adds the Inspector General to the list of appropriate authorities who can receive a public employee’s report of alleged government wrongdoing. The legislation specifies that these reports must be filed in written form in order for a public employee to receive the legal protections afforded whistleblowers. The legislation enhances the rewards that are available for public employees whose reports of government waste or fraud result in savings of public money by removing the current cap of two thousand dollars and allowing a reward in the full amount of twenty-five percent of the first year’s estimated net savings. The legislation enhances what can be recovered through civil actions brought by public employees who are dismissed, demoted, or otherwise retaliated against because of their reports of alleged government misconduct by including such things as lost health care or retirement benefits. A more expansive statute of limitations is provided to allow whistleblowers more time to avail themselves of the law’s protections.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3168, the “SOUTH CAROLINA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT LAW ENFORCEMENT ACT”. The legislation establishes procedures for the use of out-of-state law enforcement officers who are deployed to this state during declared emergencies or disasters under the provisions of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact that South Carolina has entered into with its fellow states.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3179, a bill relating to the REGULATION AND OVERSIGHT OF CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANTS. The legislation revises the composition of the South Carolina Board of Accountancy by expanding its membership from nine to eleven, providing for each congressional district to be represented by one certified public accountant board member, and by requiring that one of the two at-large members selected from the general public be a licensed attorney. The legislation revises certified public accountant licensure requirements by providing authorization for applicants to undergo state and federal criminal records checks and by requiring continuing education or additional experience, as applicable, for applicants who delay submitting an application for a substantial period of time after passing the certified public accounting examination or obtaining accounting experience. The legislation revises qualifications for registration of a certified public accounting firm, so as to provide that a simple majority, rather than a supermajority, of the firm ownership must be certified public accountants. The legislation further provides qualifications and continuing professional education requirements for noncertified public accountant owners of these firms. In conducting investigation of complaints and disciplinary proceedings, the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation may require state and federal criminal records checks. The legislation establishes deadlines for filings applications for obtaining and renewing licenses and registration.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3519, a bill to provide for the RATIFICATION OF THE AMENDMENT TO THE SOUTH CAROLINA CONSTITUTION AUTHORIZING CHARITABLE RAFFLES CONDUCTED BY NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS that was approved by the state’s voters at the last general election.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3247, a joint resolution to provide for the CONTINUATION OF THE STUDY COMMITTEE ON THE EXPUNGEMENT OF CRIMINAL OFFENSES until December 31, 2015.

 

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