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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Week in Review

Transparency, Ethics, & Protecting our Citizens

This week the work of the House of Representatives was described by House Republican Majority Leader Bruce Bannister as a “sprint in the midst of a legislative marathon.” We made significant strides toward increasing transparency in government, ensuring our state is adequately prepared to deal with natural disasters, and adding significant protections for the unborn – a busy week.

As part of our larger series of highly-focused ethics legislation, this week the House passed three more important reforms (all of which I supported). The first strengthens campaign finance reporting laws shortening the “black-out period” of ethics reports filed prior to elections from 2 weeks to 72 hours. The second clarifies how campaign funds should be attributed to primaries and primary run-off campaigns. The third provides certain exemptions to encourage state-funded university employees to develop intellectual property that benefits institutions of higher learning, making South Carolina more competitive in the effort to attract and retain top quality researchers.

On Wednesday, a House Judiciary panel gave initial approval to several more pieces of “sunshine legislation” aimed at increasing transparency while simultaneously decreasing the amount of time and red tape associated with obtaining public records. It sets an important precedent by adding more sunshine to the processes of government.

The House took preemptive action this week by giving initial approval to a bill that would guarantee the State of South Carolina is adequately equipped to deal with emergency situations. Preparation for emergency scenarios is a vital aspect of protecting South Carolinians for decades to come, which we can ensure by giving our state law enforcement agencies the ability to obtain necessary resources in our times of greatest need. It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and emergency arrangements should not be made in the midst of a crisis.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act once again (a similar bill made it through the House last year, but died in the Senate) made its way through the committee approval process. Providing statutory protections for the unborn remains a top priority for many House members. We will begin debate on this important issue next week on the House Floor.

This was also the last week of budget hearings, and the House Ways and Means Committee now begins the mammoth task of writing the state budget. Unlike Congress, we produce a balanced budget in South Carolina each year. I’ll be sharing more on that with you in the coming weeks.

I want to thank the many citizens who have shared their ideas with me on how we should proceed as a state on fixing our roads and bridges. Your feedback is valuable and necessary as part of our democratic process, and I look forward to continuing these conversations as I carefully examine the best path forward.

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 (864) 366-4112 or via email at craiggagnon@schouse.gov.

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Starting the new Session

On Tuesday, January 13, 2015, the House of Representatives convened in Columbia for the commencement of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly.
As the House begins its legislative session, the body operates under the rules it adopted (H.3001) at last month’s organizational session. The membership adopted REVISIONS TO HOUSE RULES recommended by the bipartisan Ad Hoc Rules and Procedures Committee which the Speaker of the House appointed and charged with examining current practices and rules, holding public meetings, and seeking input from House Members and the public in order to identify ways the legislative body can be more transparent and accountable. These House Rules revisions include:

• New term limits imposed upon the offices of House Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore so that those who are elected to the offices by the body may serve in these leadership positions for no more than five consecutive terms.

• Authority for the Speaker Pro Tempore to assume the duties of the Speaker should a conflict of interest arise involving the Speaker and the performance of his duties.

• A prohibition on leadership PACs that disallows the use of these political action committees by prohibiting a House Member from, directly or indirectly, establishing, financing, maintaining, or controlling a noncandidate committee or any other sort of arrangement that receives or makes campaign contributions. This prohibition does not apply to a candidate committee or a legislative caucus committee.

• Provisions that require the Speaker to consult with the majority and minority political party leaders when making appointments to the conference committees and free conference committees that are formed to address differences with the Senate over legislation and to appoint at least one member of the minority political party to these conference committees.

• An alteration in the procedure that allows a newly-introduced bill to bypass the committee process with the unanimous consent of the body. Under the revised rules, such unanimous consent requests for a bill to go without reference to a committee can only be made after the day’s roll call has been taken and the Speaker has determined that a quorum is present.

• A new requirement for all House committees and subcommittees to take roll call votes when deciding whether to give a favorable report on legislation so as to record the names of those voting and how they vote.

• A requirement for House Members to receive explanations of all the legislation they consider which provides that, whenever a bill or joint resolution is up for second reading approval before the House, the legislation’s sponsor, the chairman of the committee that has reported out the legislation, or some other House Member must explain the legislation for at least ten minutes or until all questions from House Members are addressed, whichever comes first.

• Mandatory waiting periods established at key phases of the state government budget-writing process that afford House Members more time to see what alterations might have been made since last they considered the budget legislation. The revised rules do not allow the General Appropriations Bill and other appropriations legislation that has been returned from the Senate with amendments to be considered until their number and title have been printed in the House Calendar and their contents, as amended, have been made available online to the public for at least fortyeight hours. A Conference Committee or Free Conference Committee report on appropriations legislation may not considered until the report has been printed in the House Journal and made available online to the public for at least twentyfour hours. The House may, however, waive this mandatory waiting period for budget conference reports with a twothirds vote of the membership present and voting, a quorum being present.

• A requirement for House committees to review legislation that has been substantially rewritten by Senate amendments. The revised rules require, rather than simply allow, the Speaker to send to a committee any bill, joint resolution, or concurrent resolution returned from the Senate with an amendment that has so materially changed the legislation’s contents as to make it no longer substantially germane to the legislation as it passed the House. The House may, however, waive this requirement with a twothirds vote of the membership present and voting, a quorum being present.

• The creation of the Legislative Oversight Committee formed to fulfill new legislative duties under the “South Carolina Restructuring Act of 2014″ to conduct periodic reviews and launch special investigations for the purpose of determining which state government programs continue to serve worthwhile purposes and which should be scaled back or eliminated altogether. Under the committee’s review cycle, each agency, department, and office of government will be scrutinized every seven years, and special investigations may be performed as needed.

• The creation of the Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee which is established to receive all proposed state agency regulations submitted for legislative review under the Administrative Procedures Act rather than having these proposed regulations divided up among the various standing legislative committees for review according to their subject matter. This committee must be composed of at least two members from each of the House’s six standing legislative committees.

• A revised composition for the Operations and Management Committee whose members are elected by the House to advise the Speaker on matters relating to personnel, administration, and facilities management. The revisions provide for an eight-member committee that is divided equally between the majority and minority parties and chaired by one of the majority party members.

• New procedures for hiring House staff under which the Clerk’s Office receives and reviews all applications for employment vacancies and then submits a list of the most qualified applicants to the appropriate committee chairman or other supervisory authority for consideration. The supervisory authority’s selection is then submitted to the Speaker for final appointment as a member of the House staff. Provisions are also included for conducting House employee salary reviews.

• Revisions concerning the House of Representatives Legislative Ethics Committee, which is elected by the House membership to address allegations of unethical conduct. Provisions are included under which the committee addresses alleged violations of Ethics Act provisions and provisions governing the conduct of lobbyists and refers any matters, regardless of a finding of probable cause, that are violations of law not under its jurisdiction to the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency. New transparency requirements are included which provide that, unless otherwise indicated by rule or statute, all meetings, deliberations, actions, issuance of advisory opinions, debates, recommendations, and other activities of the committee are subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Provisions authorize the committee to obtain outside assistance when needed and to employ counsel who is not employed by any other House committee or office other than the House Clerk’s office.

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A Great Day in SC

I was present for the Inauguration of Governor Nikki Haley for her second term. It was very cold and I give kudos to those who braved the elements to show support for our Governor! image image

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Meeting with Governor Christie

I took a break from the busy week at the State House to drop in for an event featuring NJ Governor Chris Christie. Had a nice chat and he made an inspiring speech on America’s future.image

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State House Convenes – New Committee Assignment

The State House convened on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 2nd and 3rd, 2014. We elected a new Speaker of the House and Speaker Pro Tempore. We also voted on new procedural rules, among many other things. Committee assignments were given and I was selected to serve on the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee. I am excited to serve on this committee as Agriculture and Natural Resources are an important part of our District. I feel this assignment will help me to more effectively serve our District as Rural Development is also part of this Committee.

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