Last week was a wild one for the Senate. Here are the highlights –
LT. GOVERNOR KEN ARD RESIGNS – On Friday morning, Ken Ard resigned as Lt. Governor after being indicted on campaign violations. Senator Glenn McConnell (Charleston), the Senate’s President Pro Tempore, will be sworn in as next Lt. Governor on Tuesday. I expect next week will be interesting, as well, as the Senate must elect a new President Pro Tempore. I will give another update in next week’s email. Here is an article from the Associated Press detailing the events leading up to the resignation. Here is another article, from The State.
LEROY SMITH, DIRECTOR OF DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY – On Tuesday, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Governor Haley’s nominee to be the new Director of the Department of Public Safety, Major Leroy Smith. Director Smith was a 22-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol before being appointed by Governor Haley in November. To read an article about Director Smith’s background and career, go here.
MARK KEEL, CHIEF OF SLED – In a previous email update, I mentioned that Governor Haley nominated Chief Mark Keel for a full 6-year term as Chief of SLED. On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm that appointment.
OPT OUT OF OBAMACARE’S REQUIREMENT FOR ABORTION COVERAGE – One of the central provisions of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as “Obamacare”) is the creation of health insurance exchanges in each state. That law provided that health insurance offered through those exchanges must provide coverage for abortions, but it allowed states to opt out of that provision. Although South Carolina has refused to implement a health care exchange on our own, the federal government will likely create one and force it upon us. On Thursday, the Senate passed S. 102. If passed by the House, S.102 will prevent insurance offered through an exchange from providing abortion coverage except in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother. That provision is consistent with existing law in South Carolina and most other states. I voted to opt out.
HOUSE TO BEGIN BUDGET DEBATE – The House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debate on the 2012-2013 budget this week. I expect the House will pass the budget later in the week. I will give an update in next week’s email.
BILLS OF INTEREST
SCHOOL CHOICE – On Tuesday the House Ways & Means Committee passed a bill that would provide tax credits to parents of students who attend private school, homeschool, or public school in another district. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last week. The bill must be approved by the full House and Senate before it becomes law. Similar bills have failed in both bodies in previous years. To read an article about the House bill, go here.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING – On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed legislation to prohibit texting while driving a motor vehicle. The House has passed similar bills in past years, but those bills have snagged in the Senate. To read an article discussing the House vote, go here. You can read a copy of the bill here.
CHANGES TO SC RETIREMENT SYSTEM – On Tuesday the House Ways & Means Committee passed a bill that would make changes to the State Retirement System. Among the proposed changes, the bill would require newly hired state employees to work 30 years (up from 28) before collecting retirement benefits, increase employee contributions to their retirement plan from 6.5% of their salary to 7.5%, and set the employer (taxpayer) contribution at 10.6% of the employee’s salary. The bill now goes to the full House for debate. Before becoming law, these changes would also have to be approved by the Senate and Governor Haley. To read a summary of the proposed changes, go here.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES
BRIDGESTONE HIRING – The Bridgestone plant in Graniteville announced a significant expansion last Fall. They are now hiring for the new positions. For information on how to apply, go here.
If you know of a business that is hiring, please let me know. I’d love to include that information in the next newsletter so we can get the word out.
LAST WEEK’S MEETINGS
On Monday night I attended the Merriwether Community Coalition meeting at Merriwether Middle School. There were probably 75 people at the meeting to hear about plans for growth in the Merriwether area. To read a recap of the meeting, go here.
On Tuesday night I held a town hall meeting at Gilbert High School. We had a great meeting, but, unfortunately, several people were unable to get into the building because one set of doors was locked. I will try to set another meeting in the Gilbert area this Spring. Please see the list of upcoming town hall meetings below.
On Wednesday morning I visited with the Lexington Dawnbusters breakfast club. I had a good time talking with the breakfast crowd at Lizard’s Thicket in West Columbia about statewide and local Lexington issues.
On Wednesday night I attended a meeting of the Persimmon Hill Investment Club in Saluda. I really enjoyed the meeting, and I appreciate the invitation.
By far, my best meeting of the week was on Thursday morning when I visited my daughter’s 2K class for “Donuts with Dad.” In the midst of all the minute details we all get caught up in, it’s nice to be reminded of the important things in life. Last Thursday morning was a great reminder for me.
STROM THURMOND HIGH SCHOOL MOCK TRIAL TEAM – STATE CHAMPIONS – In late February teams from 40 high schools across South Carolina competed in mock trial regional competitions in Charleston, Conway, Greenville, and Lexington. The top 12 teams advanced to the state competition, held this past Friday and Saturday in Columbia. Two schools from our district – Lexington High School and Strom Thurmond High School – competed among the top 12 in Columbia. After all was said and done, Strom Thurmond won the 2012 state championship! STHS will represent South Carolina at the national mock trial championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico May 3-6, 2012.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH COMING TO GRANITEVILLE – Former President George W. Bush will visit our district on April 18 when he comes to speak at the First Tee Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville. Here is an article announcing the event.
Red Oak Grove Bridge (Edgefield County) – As everyone who lives in the Westside of Edgefield County knows, the bridge on Red Oak Grove Road has been closed for about 1½ years. SCDOT plans to reopen the bridge in late April or early May. I will give you more information as I receive it.
Town Hall Meetings – I held a town hall meeting at Gilbert High School last Tuesday night, and I’ll be holding meetings at Lexington High School and the Circle Fire Department (Saluda County) this week. These meetings are great opportunities for me to keep you updated about what is happening in the General Assembly and, more importantly, allow me to hear from you. I hope you can make it to one of these meetings. Here is a list of meetings scheduled so far –
Lexington High School
2463 Augusta Highway
Circle Fire Department
3321 Columbia Highway (U.S. 378)
Richland Ruritan Club Building
217 Richland Creek Rd.
Leavelle McCampbell Middle School
82 Canal Street
Edgefield County Council Chambers
225 Jeter Street
Midland Valley High School
227 Mustang Drive
Jefferson Elementary School
170 Flint Drive
Merriwether Elementary School
565 Spring Haven Drive
North Augusta, SC
I am still working to schedule a couple town hall meetings in McCormick County. I hope to have those set soon. I will announce the meetings as they are scheduled.
NEW SENATE DISTRICT – Our Senate district has changed because of the 2010 census. The district now contains all of Edgefield County and parts of Aiken, Lexington, McCormick, and Saluda Counties. If you’d like to see the new 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.