Here are the highlights from the first week of 2016 legislative session in the Senate –
COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS – Senators selected committees on Tuesday, and I kept the same committees I have had. Here are my committee assignments for this session –
- Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Corrections and Penology
- Labor, Commerce & Industry
CAR DEALER CLOSING FEES – One of the hot issues early this year will be S. 911, a bill filed in response to a Supreme Court ruling on closing fees that some car dealerships charge. The General Assembly passed a law in 2000 that allows dealerships to charge closing fees as long as they notify consumers in advertisements, in postings at the dealership, and on the sticker on each car. The purpose was to make sure car buyers are informed of all costs so they can negotiate for the purchase of a car. Dealers who choose to charge closing fees have attempted to abide by that law, subject to guidance from the Department of Consumer Affairs, for the past 15 years.
In an opinion issued in November, a divided Supreme Court defined “closing fees” more narrowly than the Department of Consumer Affairs and car dealers have understood the term to mean. There are now more than 200 lawsuits pending against car dealers across the state based on that new definition.
I think the Supreme Court misinterpreted the 2000 law. More importantly, though, the court really changed the rules midstream for dealers who followed guidance from the Department of Consumer Affairs and thought they had been complying with the law for 15 years. I think the General Assembly needs to provide some protection for the more than 200 dealers who are facing lawsuits for doing what the Department of Consumer Affairs told them to do. I also think the General Assembly needs to act so car dealers and car buyers all know what the rules are. I will keep you updated.
AUTOMATED PHONE CALLS ABOUT ROADS AND BRIDGES – I have heard from many folks over the past few days about an automated phone call on Friday from Americans for Prosperity. The phone call deceptively suggested I am meeting “behind the scenes” to push a gas tax increase. That’s nonsense.
I was asked last week to work with other senators on ideas to address South Carolina’s infrastructure challenges. As I mentioned in several updates last year, the Senate is as divided on this issue as any issue I have seen. I appreciate being asked to help and having a seat at the table, but my overall position has not changed. And I assure you any proposal we come up with will be fully vetted and debated in public.
As I said in many email updates last year, every one of my town hall meetings last year, and in numerous conversations and email exchanges with people over the past several months, I am committed to fixing our roads and bridges. I think any objective look at the situation leads to the unmistakable conclusion that we need to devote more money to SCDOT for the specific purpose of repairing and maintaining roads and bridges. Having said that, I will not vote for a straight-up tax increase. For me, the package must include (1) sufficient funding for SCDOT to do what we all expect SCDOT to do, (2) significant income tax relief for South Carolinians, and (3) substantial reform at SCDOT to ensure more confidence in how decisions are made and who makes those decisions.
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. You should also be able to watch the speech online here.
Last Week’s Meetings
On Monday night, I attended the annual meeting for Edgefield County First Steps.
On Tuesday afternoon, I represented Senate Republicans in a panel discussion at an annual gathering of business and industry leaders at SC BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee). We talked about goals and expectations for the 2016 session.
On Wednesday morning, I spoke to 3rd Grade students at Clearwater Elementary School in Aiken County. The students are studying state and federal government, and I enjoyed talking with them and answering their questions.
On Thursday morning, I attended a board meeting for the Edgefield County Chamber of Commerce.
On Sunday afternoon, I attended McCormick’s commemorative service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
TOWN HALL MEETINGS – I have held around 120 town hall meetings throughout our district over the past 8 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’m already working on the next round of meetings, which I hope to schedule for February. I’ll get the schedule out soon.
PUBLIC HEARING ON WIDENING OF BELVEDERE–CLEARWATER ROAD – SCDOT plans to widen Belvedere-Clearwater Road in Aiken County from Old Sudlow Lake Road to U.S. 1. As part of that process, SCDOT will hold a public hearing on the proposals on Thursday, January 28, 5:00-7:00 p.m., at Lakeside Baptist Church in Clearwater. 5:00-6:00 will be an informal viewing of plans. 6:00-7:00 SCDOT will explain the project and accept public comments/questions. If you want to comment, you must sign up at the church between 5:00 and 6:00. If you would like additional information, please contact Ms. Michelle Shepherd, SCDOT Program Manager, at 803-737-4596.
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.
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.