The General Assembly returned last week for the first week of the 2014 session. For the first week of a session, it was extremely productive. Here are the highlights from the first week in the Senate –
GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING – My updates over the past couple years have focused a good bit on legislation that would restructure South Carolina’s government. The idea is to abolish the Budget & Control Board, a 5-member board that runs much of state government, and shift those duties to a new, cabinet-level Department of Administration. It would prohibit agencies from deficits without General Assembly approval (yeah, that actually happens), and it would require the legislature to conduct oversight of executive agencies.
I have been a frequent critic of the Budget & Control Board over the past several years. In my view, the Budget & Control Board acts as a shadow government, allowing state agencies to run deficits, making executive decisions that should be left to the Governor, and usurping essential legislative functions.
Last year, the House and Senate each passed different versions of S. 22, the South Carolina Restructuring Act. I was appointed as one of the Senate’s 3 members on a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions. I’m happy to report that the conference committee reached an agreement last Thursday. I expect the House and Senate will take up the comprehensive restructuring plan this week.
For a brief overview of the conference committee’s report, check out this article
CONCEALED WEAPONS PERMITS – In South Carolina a citizen can carry a concealed weapon if he has a concealed weapons permit (CWP). To get a permit, a person must undergo a SLED background check, be fingerprinted, successfully complete a firearm training class, and pay a fee. Even with a permit, though, CWP holders are prohibited from carrying their weapons in certain areas, including restaurants that sell alcohol (such as Applebees and Outback). Interestingly, SC is one of 5 states that specifically prohibit CWP holders from carrying in these restaurants; Georgia and North Carolina permit it.
Last year the House and Senate passed different versions of S. 308, a bill that would allow CWP holders to carry their concealed weapons in restaurants that sell alcohol as long as (1) the restaurant does not prohibit the carrying of weapons and (2) the CWP holder does not consume alcohol while carrying the weapon.
Last week, the Senate passed the bill with minor changes. I expect the House will agree with those changes this week before sending it on to Governor Haley.
COMMON CORE – I have received a large number of emails, letters, and phone calls over the past year about Common Core, new curriculum standards that are being implemented in 2013-2014. The Senate Education K-12 Subcommittee will hold a series of meetings this year to explore the positives and negatives of Common Core. The first meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, January 29, 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon, Room 105 in the Gressette Building on the Statehouse complex. In the first 30 minutes of this meeting, the Subcommittee will hear from several content experts opposed to Common Core; this will be followed by a half hour of several presentations in favor of implementation, then an hour of subcommittee members’ Q&A and discussion.
NEW FACES ON SCDOT COMMISSION – The SC Department of Transportation is governed by a commission of 9 individuals, with one commissioner selected by the legislative delegations in each congressional district and two statewide commissioners appointed by the Governor. This year new commissioners will be elected for the 2nd District (including Aiken and Lexington) and the 3rd District (including Edgefield, McCormick, and Saluda).
John Hardee of Columbia will be the new commissioner for the 2nd District.
If you are interested in applying for the opening to represent the 3rd District, you must apply by Tuesday, January 28. For more information, go here. Note – the linked notice gives January 25 as the deadline. The deadline is actually January 28.
INFORMATION STOLEN FROM DEW – Last week the SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) announced that a former employee had stolen personal information on 4,658 current and former DEW employees and family members. SLED responded quickly and believes it has recovered the flash drive used to download the information. Here is a brief article on the announcement and an article about a lawsuit filed by the fired employee
A PENNY FOR SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS IN AIKEN? – Aiken County School District has been considering ways to pay for new schools and facility upgrades for the past several years. Under current law, their options are limited: use existing funds, intended for educational services and salaries, or gain public approval of a bond proposal to borrow money and increase property taxes to pay off the loan. A bond proposal was soundly defeated in a public referendum in 2012.
Across the state, 20 school districts have the authority to ask voters to impose a 1% sales tax to be used solely for capital improvements to school facilities. Aiken is not one of those 20 districts. However, this week legislation was introduced to give Aiken that option. If the legislation passes, it would not increase taxes; it would, however, give the school district the opportunity to ask voters for a 1% sales tax to be used for specific, identified capital projects. The voters would then make that decision in a public referendum, most likely at this year’s general election in November. You can read the bill here and an article about the bill here.
STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS – Governor Nikki Haley is scheduled to deliver her State of the State Address on Wednesday night. If you’d like to watch the speech, tune in to ETV at 7:00.
Meetings So Far
On Tuesday, January 7, I visited with the leadership team at the SC Department of Mental Health and toured the forensics hospital in Columbia. Gov. Haley and the General Assembly have been working to make mental health more of a priority in our state budget, so I wanted a better understanding of the services offered and the challenges faced by the department.
On Wednesday, January 8, I presented Frank Clayton of McCormick with the Order of the Silver Crescent, South Carolina’s highest civilian award for significant contribution at the local level. Frank has been extremely involved in bettering McCormick County for more than 15 years. He’s well-deserving of the honor!
On Thursday, January 9, I participated in the SC Press Association’s annual legislative preview. I was invited to talk about efforts to restructure government and reform our state’s ethics laws.
On Thursday, January 9, I attended a joint meeting of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation and Aiken Technical College’s administration and governing board to discuss the state of the college and its vision for the future. Aiken Tech is a tremendous partner with local industry, making our area one of the leading manufacturing centers in the southeast.
On Monday night, January 13, the Aiken County Legislative Delegation held its first meeting of 2014. Rep. Roland Smith, the chairman of our delegation, announced he will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives in 2014. Our agenda focused on recreation funding requests, building and facility needs within the school district, and a proposal to seek a constitutional convention.
On Monday night, January 13, I attended the West Metro Republican Women’s meeting in Lexington. We had a good discussion about issues to come before the General Assembly this year.
On Tuesday morning, January 14, I attended the Lexington Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast. The meeting included some very interesting and creative vision proposals from 8th grade students.
On Saturday, January 18, I attended a retirement celebration for Phil Perry, Saluda County’s Extension Agent. Phil has earned a well-deserved retirement after helping Saluda County’s farmers for nearly 40 years.
TOWN HALL MEETINGS – I have held about 100 town hall meetings throughout our district over the past 6 years, and I really appreciate the hundreds of folks who have participated. These town hall meetings give me a chance to keep you updated about what’s going on in Columbia and, more importantly, allow me to hear what’s on your mind. I like to do meetings in the Spring to discuss current happenings in the legislature and in the Fall to give a round-up of the session and look ahead to the next year.
In 2013, I held 10 meetings in the Spring and 5 meetings in the Fall. I’m already working on the next round of meetings, which I hope to schedule for February and March. I’ll get the schedule out soon.
OUR SENATE DISTRICT – Senate district 25 consists of all of Edgefield County and parts of Aiken, Lexington, McCormick, and Saluda Counties. If you’d like to see the district map, go here
SPEAKING WITH GROUPS – Several groups, clubs, and classes around our Senate district have invited me to attend their meetings and provide legislative updates. If you would like for me to come speak with your group, please let me know.
EMAIL UPDATES – If you know of people in or around District 25 who do not receive my updates but would like to get them, please email their names and email addresses to me. You can also forward this email to them and encourage them to sign up for the updates at www.senatormassey.com.