Here are the highlights from the last week’s action in the Senate –
Turkey Hunting Season and Bag Limit – The Senate and House of Representatives agreed on a final version of H. 3118. Starting next season, the hunting season for male wild turkeys will be March 20 – May 5. Also, there will be a bag limit of three turkeys per season plus the possibility of one additional turkey with bow and arrow. These rules will be in effect until November 7, 2018, giving the Department of Natural Resources time to conduct a study of wild turkeys in the state and issue a report recommending changes to the season and bag limit. If the legislature does not pass more permanent rules before November 7, 2018, the current laws will go back into effect. The bill now goes to Governor Haley for her consideration.
Electronic service of tax bills – The Senate passed S. 460, a bill that would authorize counties to serve tax bills via electronic mail rather than U.S. Mail if taxpayers choose that method. Counties would not be required to offer the service, and taxpayers would not be required to use; it would be purely optional for everyone involved. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Civics education initiative – South Carolina’s high school students are currently required to take a course in United States government, typically during the sophomore year. Last week the Senate passed S. 437, a bill that would require students in U.S. government classes to take the 100-question test that is given to applicants for U.S. citizenship. The bill now goes to the House.
Mental Health Court programs – The Senate passed S. 426, a bill designed to encourage solicitors to create mental health courts in the judicial circuits. The idea is to allow individuals who have committed non-violent offenses because of a mental illness to be diverted from the criminal justice system and into a mental health treatment program. You can read more about the bill here.
Funding for Roads and Bridges – The hottest issue of this legislative session is funding for our state’s roads and bridges. In the six town hall meetings I have held so far this Spring, this issue has dominated the discussion every time. Last week, committees in the House and Senate advanced proposals. Here is a brief summary of the two versions:
The House version would raise an additional $400 million per year by:
- Reducing the state’s 175 cents per gallon gas tax to 10.75 cents and creating a new sales tax paid at the wholesale level on gasoline and diesel fuel
- reduce income tax by about $48 for the average income tax filer
- restructuring the governing boards of SCDOT and the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
The Senate version would raise an additional $800 million per year. It provides for:
- increasing the state’s gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over a period of three years
- adjusting the gas tax for inflation each year starting in 2018
- doubling the fees for obtaining a South Carolina driver’s license and registering vehicles every two years
- imposing new fees for alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles and commercial vehicles
- raising the cap on sales taxes for vehicles from $300 to $600 and adjusting that cap for inflation
- no income tax reduction
- no structural changes to the SCDOT or State Transportation Infrastructure Bank
These bills have been passed by the respective committees, but neither the full House nor the full Senate has taken up the bills for debate yet. Governor Haley has indicated she would veto both versions if they pass in their current forms. Stay tuned.
General Assembly’s work schedule – The General Assembly typically takes some time off around Easter. This year, the House of Representatives will not be in session this week or next week. The Senate will be in session Tuesday and Wednesday of this week; we will not be in session this Thursday and all of next week.
Last Week’s Meetings
On Monday afternoon, I attended a celebration for the Nancy Moore Thurmond Boys & Girls Club’s 20th anniversary. This Club offers great after-school opportunities for children in Aiken.
On Monday night, I held a town hall meeting in Edgefield. We discussed the state budget, roads and bridges, the Convention of States, and many other issues.
On Tuesday night, I held a town hall meeting at the Circle Fire Department in Saluda. We had a large crowd and a great discussion about many different issues. As has been the pattern at these meetings, roads and bridges dominated the talk.
On Thursday night, I held a town hall meeting at Merriwether Middle School. We had a good discussion about roads and bridges, ethics, the state budget, and keeping our communities safe.
Town Hall Meetings –These meetings are great opportunities for me to update you on what is happening in Columbia and, more importantly, for you to share your ideas and concerns with me. We have had nice crowds for the six meetings so far. I enjoyed the discussion and really appreciate the participation. I have one more meetings scheduled for this week:
Midland Valley High School
6:00 – 7:30
Want to see the General Assembly in Action? – The Senate meets in statewide session on Tuesdays at 12:00, Wednesdays at 2:00, and Thursdays at 11:00. Committees and subcommittees meet Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings, and Thursday mornings. You can watch live coverage of the Senate, House of Representatives, and committees here.
Taxpayer Hero – The South Carolina Club for Growth named me one of its Taxpayer Heroes for 2014. You can read the press release here, see the scorecard here, and see the explanation of scored votes here.
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.