State House Week 3/15 – 3/18/2016

Not So Fast, My Friend!

The 10th week of this year’s legislative session was again dominated by road talk. The top issue for the last couple of years has been how to effectively pay more for road and bridge improvements while ensuring your tax dollars aren’t wasted.

ROADS: Finally, the Senate Decides

After nearly a year, the Senate returned to us the House legislation designed to reform SCDOT and provide additional funding (beyond the gas tax) to fix roads. Senators couldn’t buck a filibuster so their proposed 12-cent a gallon gas tax hike didn’t get included. Instead, they proposed to dip into the General Fund budget to the tune of $400 million each year. They also voted to make the Department of Transportation (DOT) a cabinet agency reporting to the Governor with the hope that will bring efficiency.

ROADS: Governor Presses for Quick Agreement

Tuesday, the very day the Senate returned the roads bill to the House, Gov. Nikki Haley met with Republican House members and insisted we concur with the Senate’s approach immediately. The Senate took nearly a year to decide on their approach and we were pressed to agree within two days.  

ROADS: Department of Transportation Audit Scheduled for Release

Within the next two weeks the Legislative Audit Council (LAC) will release the findings of its investigation into the SCDOT. LAC has been probing DOT for a year and a half at our direction. It is their most extensive audit of any state agency. It will provide insights into any issues such as evidence of gross mismanagement and/or waste. We must review their findings and include their knowledge in the decision making process for roads. We must not let this opportunity for real reform of DOT to slip by for political expediency. It’s essential we await the findings and seize the opportunity to attempt to permanently fix this agency and create real accountability. That way we have improved chances that additional monies sent to DOT will be maximized to fix roads and not wasted. We’ll be busy in April and May sorting this out.

Budget Week in the House

Next week the House focuses on one issue – approving its version of the state budget for 2016-2017 before sending it to the Senate. The state’s General Fund budget has staggered back from the ‘Great Recession’ and we’re in a lot better shape financially because business is booming in SC.

  • The last General Fund budget before the ‘Great Recession’ totaled $6.7 Billion (FY 2007-2008)
  • The General Fund spending was slashed 23% during the recovery and bottomed out at $5.1 Billion (FY 2010-2011) with many critical state services severely hampered.
  • The current General Fund budget (2015-2016) totals $7 Billion. That’s 4.3% more than the previous high of $6.7 Billion.
  • The budget proposed for next year is $8 Billion. Factor in only inflation (and not population growth) to the pre-recession budget and this year’s proposed budget represents a 5% real increase.

A big thanks to the House Ways and Means Committee and Chairman Brian White (R-Anderson) for their hard work on crafting a responsible and conservative State Budget this year.

Want to know more? Review this summary presentation of the proposed General Fund budget.

 In Other House Business:

The Tucker Hipps Transparency Act (H.4521) (Rep. Putnam, R-Piedmont)  won unanimous House approval. The legislation requires the state’s public universities and colleges maintain online for all to see a report detailing student misconduct investigations related to fraternity and sorority organizations formally affiliated with the institution. The bill was named in memory of the Clemson University student who died during a fraternity activity in 2014.

The House unanimously passed The Anti-Money Laundering Act (H.4554) (Rep. Clemmons, R- Myrtle Beach) rectifying South Carolina’s current status as the only U.S. state with no regulatory authority over money transfers of smaller amounts which has made the state a center for money laundering. Such activities facilitate organized criminal enterprises and terrorist activities.

The House unanimously passed the SC Founding Principles Act (H.3848) (Rep. Huggins, R- Columbia) requiring the study of the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the structure of government and the role of the separation of powers and the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

Save a life by moving over! The House approved a bill by Rep. Donna Hicks (R-Boiling Springs) of which I am a co-sponsor, designating April every year as ‘Move Over  Awareness Month’ (H.4562) that emphasizes the importance of drivers moving over into an adjacent lane whenever possible when approaching or passing through a highway work zone, an emergency scene, or any other traffic incident. My nephew was severely injured and is now in a wheelchair when he was working an accident scene in October of 2014. Hopefully, this will reduce the chances of this happening to someone else.

The House again showed its support for training high school students CPR. We amended H.3265 (Rep.  Don Wells, R-Aiken is the sponsor and I am a co-sponsor) and returned it to the Senate. I’m hopeful differences can be worked out so at least one time during high school each student will receive instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Oftentimes, local entities will provide the materials and training for this so that no cost is incurred by the school districts.

The House unanimously approved and sent to the Senate H.4718, a bill creating a SC Retired Educator Certificate. This bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Anthony (D-Union) and I am a co-sponsor.  A retired educator certificate does not require completion of professional learning or renewal credit.

The House unanimously approved Rep Todd Rutherford’s (D-Columbia) bill authorizing Home Detention for Certain Non-Violent Drug Offenses (H.3130) so long as individuals are monitored by a GPS tracking device and bear the cost of the monitoring program.

The Emergency Anaphylaxis Treatment Act (H.3706) this bill, sponsored by Rep. Putnam and co-sponsored by me,  won House unanimous approval. It authorizes institutions, organizations, and businesses, such as colleges and universities, daycare facilities, places of worship, restaurants, places of employment, recreation camps, youth sports leagues, amusement parks, and sports arenas, to keep supplies of EpiPens, in stock to administer this potentially life-saving medication to those who are experiencing severe allergic reactions.

Election Time! Wednesday was the first day for filing to run in the June Republican Primary Election in SC. My paperwork was submitted at the Abbeville County Election Commission. I’m honored and humbled to serve the constituents of House District 11 and ask for your continued prayers and support.

I’m Available and AT YOUR SERVICE 

If you need assistance navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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State House Report

The House of Representatives concurred in Senate amendments to H.3145, a bill SHIELDING FROM LEGAL LIABILITY THOSE WHO TAKE ACTIONS TO PREVENT HOT CAR DEATHS of children and vulnerable adults who are left unattended in locked motor vehicles, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. The legislation provides that a person is immune from civil liability for property damage resulting from his forcible entry into a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a minor or vulnerable adult from the vehicle if the person has a reasonable good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the minor or vulnerable adult is in imminent danger of suffering harm.

The House and Senate adopted the free conference report on S.255 and enrolled the legislation for ratification. The legislation establishes new provisions TARGETING MUGSHOT PUBLICATION EXTORTIONPRACTICES where individuals issue publications of booking photographs and other booking records of those arrested in South Carolina or post these records on websites and require payment in order for those records to be removed or revised. A misdemeanor criminal penalty, carrying a maximum fine of one thousand dollars and/or imprisonment for up to sixty days, is provided for those who engage in the extortion and a civil cause of action is established for those harmed by such practices. The legislation revises provisions for the EXPUNGEMENT OF CRIMINAL RECORDS when charges have been dismissed or the accused individual is found not guilty. The legislation revises the protocol governing how and when records should be retained or destroyed following orders of expungement. Revisions and clarifications are included to better allow individuals to avail themselves of expungement provisions. The legislation provides that if a person pleads guilty to a lesser‑included offense and the solicitor deems it appropriate, the solicitor shall notify the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and SLED shall request that the person’s record contained in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database or other similar database reflects the lesser‑included offense rather than the offense originally charged.

The House concurred in Senate amendment to H.3874, a bill providing for RENEWABLE ENERGY INCOME TAX CREDITS, and enrolled the legislation for ratification. The legislation makes provisions for an income tax creditfor a taxpayer who constructs, purchases, or leases and places into service large-scale nonresidential solar energy equipmentlocated on property in South Carolina that is included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List, National Priority List Equivalent Sites, or on a list of related removal actions, as certified by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The income tax credit covers twenty‑five percent of the cost, including the cost of installation, of the property up to a cap of $2.5 millionfor each installation of solar energy property. A sunset provision is included so that new credits will only be allowed through 2017. The legislation also expands the renewable energy tax credit geared towards residential customers that allows an income tax credit to address a portion of the cost of purchasing and installing solar energy systems or small hydropower systems so that this tax credit also applies to geothermal machinery and equipment. A sunset provision is included so that these income tax credits for geothermal machinery and equipment will only be available through 2018.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4579, a bill to implement in statute changes authorized with the adoption of the amendment tothe South Carolina Constitution which provides for the JOINT ELECTION OF THE GOVERNOR AND LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR and related matters beginning with the general election of 2018. Under the revised system, a gubernatorial candidate selects a running mate for the post of Lieutenant Governor in a manner comparable to the selection of the President and Vice President at the federal level. The Lieutenant Governor’s legislative duties are eliminated in statute, and provisions are made for the office of the President of the Senate who is elected by the Senate from its membership to preside over the legislative body and perform other prescribed duties. Beginning with the Lieutenant Governor elected in the 2018 General Election, in the case of the removal of the Lieutenant Governor from office by impeachment, death, resignation, disqualification, disability, or removal from the State, the Governor shall appoint, with the advice and consent of the Senate, a successor to fulfill the unexpired term. The legislation revises the order of succession for filling unexpected vacancies that occur in the state’s executive branch.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.4665, a bill that makes provisions for the SCREENING OF MAGISTRATE CANDIDATES by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to ensure that the candidates meet the qualifications for the office. Under the provisions, the commission submits its reports and recommendations on magistrate candidates to the appropriate Senate delegation and the Senate delegation, with the advice and consent of the Senate, in turn submits the name of the magistrate candidate of choice for appointment by the Governor. A person found not qualified by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission may not be submitted to the Governor for appointment.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.4703, a bill revising the state’s provisions for immunity from criminal prosecution and civil actions for the JUSTIFIABLE USE OF DEADLY FORCE AGAINST INTRUDERS. The legislation establishes a procedure for an evidentiary hearing on a pretrial motion to dismiss based on the justifiable use of deadly force and makes provisions for a court judgment, order, or decree denying legal immunity to be immediately appealable.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.3521, a bill PROHIBITING AN APPLICATION OF SECULAR OR RELIGIOUS FOREIGN LAW THAT VIOLATES RIGHTS GUARANTEED BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS STATE OR OF THE UNITED STATES, such as due process, freedom of religion, speech, or press, and privacy rights. This prohibition applies to any ruling or decision of a court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency. The legislation includes provisions specifying that this prohibition does not apply to purely ecclesiastical matters and should not be not be interpreted by any court to conflictwith any federal treaty or other international agreement to which the United States is a party to the extent that such treaty or international agreement preempts or is superior to state law on the matter at issue.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.4816, a bill designating June 27th of each year as SOUTH CAROLINA POST‑TRAUMATIC STRESS INJURY (PTSI) AWARENESS DAY.

The House approved and sent the Senate H.4709, revising fishing limitations imposed in the SOUTHERN COBIA MANAGEMENT ZONE which encompasses all waters of this state south of Jeremy Inlet, Edisto Island. The legislation provides that, subject to the size limit established by federal regulation, possession of cobia caught in the Southern Cobia Management Zone is limited to one person per day, and no more than three per boat per day, from June 1 to April 30. It is unlawful to take and possess cobia in the Southern Cobia Management Zone from May 1 to May 31, and at any time federal regulations provide for the closure of the recreational cobia season in the waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.

The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4708, a bill revising provisions dealing with importing, possessing or selling imported fish, to clarify language in current law that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources will continue to issue permitsfor the importation, breeding, and possession of GRASS CARP or grass carp hybrids.

 

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Abbeville Panthers at the State House

I had the great privilege to honor the 2015 AA Div II State Champions today at the State House! I’m so proud of these “Band of Brothers”!  Fine young men! Got many compliments from the Staff and Security for their respectfulness and demeanor. 

 

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SC Chamber of Commerce Business Advocate Awards

I am pleased to announce that I have been recognized with a Business Advocate Award from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce for 2014.

There were a total of 47 legislators recognized (all from the House of Representatives).

Each legislative session, the Chamber tracks roll call votes on key business issues and tallies them to determine an overall score for each member of the General Assembly. This year, the Chamber weighted the issues on importance to the business climate and economic competitiveness. In 2015, the Chamber tracked key votes on infrastructure, workforce development, tort reform, workers’ compensation reform and unsafe used tires

You can see more at: https://www.scchamber.net/media-center/article/south-carolina-chamber-commerce-releases-2015-legislative-scorecard#sthash.v9GFVOUq.dpuf

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Faith and Freedom Barbecue

Congressman Jeff Duncan’s Faith and Freedom Barbecue was held on Monday, August 24th at the Anderson Civic Center. The event raised money for our Veterans and collected school supplies for veteran’s children. It was a great event and featured Presidential candidates Dr. Ben Carson, Governor Scott Walker ( R-Wisconsin) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The crowd of over 1400 welcomed these candidates and their messages of freedom, liberty and the rebirth of the American Dream.  

  
   

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House Week 16

The House wrapped up the week with House negotiators having resolved the serious issues surrounding SC State University. This plan closely resembles the previous House plan I wrote about a number of weeks ago. Under this proposal the Governor, Treasurer, Chairman of Senate Finance, Chairman of House Ways and Means and State Superintendent of Education all designate one appointee to the newly created SC State Board of Trustees. The other two members will be appointments of the chairmen from the House Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee and the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee. These 7 members will serve as the only voting members, while the student body president and president of the alumni association will both serve as non-voting members. The new board establishes a fresh start in the effort to eliminate waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars at SC State University.

The House Legislative Oversight Committee is continuing their diligent efforts to improve our state government. The committee is currently conducting studies on the following agencies:

  1. South Carolina Comptroller General’s Office
  2. South Carolina Department of Transportation
  3. South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness
  4. South Carolina Department of Social Services
  5. South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice

The Road Fix

After months of work, last month the House sent the Senate a plan to fund statewide road improvements. As soon as it arrived in the Senate it was shredded and replaced with their plan to raise nearly $800 million in taxes each year by increasing the state gas tax more than 70%. Conservative senators balked at the huge tax hike. This week Senate Republicans floated a proposal they said would raise more money for road work, but also provide some income tax relief and change how the state’s transportation agency is governed. That plan is more aligned with the House plan. Prospects are dim to pass a road plan this year.

By keeping informed about what’s being done in the legislature, you’ve proven to be a citizen that’s concerned with the advancement of your state. The House Oversight Committee needs opinions like yours. Please take the survey as part of the effort to make government more efficient and effective.

You have the option to complete all or some questions, but survey responses must be received by May 31, 2015.

Survey Link: https://www.research.net/s/HouseLegislativeOversightCommitte1

As always, it is an honor to serve you in the General Assembly.  If you ever find yourself in need of assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me at (864) 366-4112 or by email at craiggagnon@schouse.gov

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State House Week 15 Update

The South Carolina House of Representatives finished up an extensive amount of committee work in preparation for Crossover Week. Each year, lawmakers spend roughly 4 months hearing testimony and crafting legislation. The end of that 4-month period concludes with the beginning of the crossover period which lands on May 1st for 2015. The crossover period simply demands that no more legislation can be considered by House or Senate, forcing each body to act on the legislation passed by the other body instead of new items in the remaining days of the session. In short, if a bill is going to be passed this year, it has to make it out of at least one chamber prior to this deadline.

If there is a particular piece of legislation you’re concerned about that hasn’t been passed leading up to crossover date, I hope you’ll contact me about it.

This week, the House debated and passed a bill that I co-sponsored allowing Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) holders from other states to have reciprocal rights in South Carolina (H. 3025). Upon third reading on Tuesday, the bill will head to the Senate.

House Committees passed numerous pieces of legislation, some of which I have listed below:

House Ways and Means Committee

Certificate of Need H3250

Needy Children’s Clothing Tax Exemption H3062

Giving Back to Our Veterans Act H3147

Capitol Police Force H3022

Wetlands Conservation Act H3868

Property Tax Grace Period for Deployed Military H3149

House Judiciary Committee

Body Cameras for Law Enforcement H3997

Overdose Prevention H3083

Protecting Homeowners H3248

Humane Methods of Animal Euthanasia H3343

Patent Infringement Act H3682

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act H3766

House Education Committee

In-State Tuition Rates for Military Personnel and Their Dependents H3037

Pilot Program for GED Camps H3353

Jurisdiction of State Board of Technical and Comprehensive Education H3170

Sign Language Interpreters H3390

Snow Days H3512

Hearing Officers for Teacher Dismissal H3560

The bills listed above along with many others head to the House Floor next week where a whirlwind of debate will occur. I’ve highlighted two of these.

Body Cameras for Law Enforcement H3997

Recent events have prompted many to look at the viability of body cameras for law enforcement officers. This week the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure developing a pilot program administered by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council to study the use of body cameras on law enforcement officers. The program would span 3 counties and 6 municipalities on an opt-in basis. The Training Council will report their findings to the General Assembly after a 6 month period. Both civil liberties organizations and the law enforcement community support this pilot program and the bill moves to the House floor for debate next week.

In-State Tuition Rates for Military Personnel H3037

Rep. Joe Daning (R-Berkeley) sponsored H3037 which grants in-state tuition rates to active duty military and their dependents. Currently, active duty military personnel who have been stationed in South Carolina do not receive in-state tuition rates. This bill grants them that privilege and allows them and their dependents to continue receiving an in-state tuition rate as long as they remain continuously enrolled. I’m look forward to supporting this measure on the House floor next week.

Each year we recognize a Teacher of the Year. I’d like to give my congratulations to this year’s Abbeville County School District recipient Leslie Schaffer, along with my sincere appreciation for each of our educators in South Carolina.

As always, it is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly.  If you ever find yourself in need of assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me at home at (864) 366-4112 0r email me at craiggagnon@schouse.gov.

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