Monday, December 28, 2009

He says ... One more time: Don’t drink and drive

He says ...
I hope everyone had afestive Christmas and plenty of good family time. We are getting good reports from the merchants and restaurants around Bluffton. It may be aproduct of modest expectations, but it seems that business around the holiday was apleasant surprise. Of course, there is still another occasion for celebration coming up which should also generate afinal year-end boost for business.

Consequently, I would like to simplify and amplify my Christmas party message and “regift” it for the New Year.

That message is this: DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE!

My friends Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner and Bluffton Police Chief Dave McAlister have assured me that every available asset will be on the road during the New Year celebration. If you are impaired, please don’t drive —not even for afew blocks. Have adesignated driver or call acab. Even if you manage not to wreck, you will attract law enforcement attention because they are extremely vigilant and you will notice they don’t care even atiny bit about your excuses.
You will go to jail. Celebrate, but be aresponsible adult about it.

Speaking of responsible adults, I want to extend aspecial thanks to a couple of good friends of mine whose support for our local charities not only makes them responsible adults, but extremely generous adults. Their gifts made the holiday more festive for quite afew Bluffton folks. They prefer to remain anonymous but somewhere in the cosmos, ledger entries are being made.

Now for some year-end housekeeping:

We are moving our local legislative offices back to the Commerce Building in the Calhoun Street Promenade. It is the first building on the left as you turn into the Promenade from May River Road, in Suite 202. Iapologize to any of you who might have tried to call and not gotten through. We were in the middle of the move. While Iwas reluctant to be down for any length of time, Ifigured the holidays would be the best time to be unavailable, even if for avery short time. While the phones are still not 100 percent, e-mail is up (schsdistrict118@aol.com). If you couldn’t get through last week, please give it another try. We are here to serve you.
The South Carolina Constitution mandates the new session begin the second Tuesday of January. This year, that means we officially kickoff on Jan. 12. In anticipation, our newly energized Coastal Caucus is preparing an aggressive agenda including clean water initiatives, tourism and jobs promotion, and the enhancement of the Waddell Center here in Bluffton. In addition, your Beaufort County Delegation, along with our Beaufort County Council, Board of Education and municipal partners, are bustin’ to get at it. This is going to be agreat year for Bluffton, Beaufort County and District 118.

Finally, our dedicated legislative office manager Cathy and Iwant to thank you for all the nice notes and cards we received during the holiday season. The count was nearly 500 cards and letters, which is pretty impressive. What really impressed us, though, was the kindness and generosity of the messages. We work pretty hard to justify your confidence and will certainly continue to do so. Nonetheless, Iamtouched that so many of you appreciate what we do, and were kind enough to write and say so.

It means alot.

Monday, December 21, 2009

From the soapbox: Don't drink and drive over the holidays

Bluffton Today

Mary and I want to wish you a merry Christmas, or happy Hanukkah, or whatever you might be celebrating this time of year.

Please give a thought to the more solemn aspects of your celebration and try not to get too carried away with the parties and the holly jolly. You are not only my constituents; a huge number of you are personal friends. We don’t want this holiday season to include avoidable family tragedy. In that spirit, please indulge me a moment on the soapbox.

When you party, have a designated driver. Failing that, make sure you have the number of a local cab company with you, log it into your cell phone, or pin it to your shirt. If you are impaired, call a cab. It’s so easy and so prudent to avoid what may be a life-altering event caused by a split second of inattention.

Forgive me if I sound like a scolding parent. If you must know, I am the father of a child with a driver’s license and as such, am always in a certain state of traffic-related anxiety.

I know that preparing for the holidays is a lot more fun that writing emails to your representative, so I want to express my gratitude and amazement at the incredible number of letters and emails we got in response to my column on government red tape. You not only had complaints about what you have endured, many of you included good suggestions for making things better and more efficient. Friends, your words and ideas are going with me to Columbia, and we are going to make a difference. Thank you.

I also want to thank the Democratic Club for their hospitality and kind reception of my remarks last week. I gave a brief overview of the upcoming legislative session and what they can expect from their legislative delegation in the coming year. They may have learned a little from me, but I learned a lot from them. Good ideas on good governance are always appreciated regardless of party affiliation.

Awhile back, I told you about Clemson student Rachel Bedowsky and how she had interned with the SC Dept. of Employment Security, and how she impressed all with her ability and dedication. I have been told that Rachel has taken another highly coveted internship in the private sector with a prestigious company, where her work ethic and drive continues to impress. Rachel’s successes speak volumes about solid family support, a good educational foundation, and the importance of personal initiative.

Finally, this may be the year when we break the shutout with regard to the state funding formulas of our public schools. Not only is the delegation gearing up for a battle on this, County Council Chairman Weston Newton and School Board Chairman Fred Washington have outlined their own aggressive strategies to finally achieve funding equity for our schools. We are prepared to utilize the courts; we will look at a charter school strategy, and even consider creating a unified school district to bring a fair share of your tax dollars back to support our local schools. Watch this space for play by play.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Red tape tied you up?

Bluffton Today

Two weeks ago in my column devoted to extolling the success we are enjoying with creating new jobs in Old Town Bluffton, I made a mistake. I inadvertently omitted the Choo Choo Barbeque from my recitation of great places to eat we now have in the neighborhood. These folks work hard and put out a good product and I apologize for the oversight.

In this same column, I introduced an idea that will play large in the next session of the General Assembly as we reconvene after the first of the year. That idea is to create a mechanism or a process to cut through the red tape that oftentimes seems to be binding, and in some cases choking, our entrepreneurial creativity.

The current thinking is we need a blue-ribbon commission to come up with ways to balance the regulatory obligations of the state with the need for a reasonably simple and coherent pathway for the small businessman to start and run a company. Much of the complexity at the local level is prompted by state regulation. If we can come up with ways to balance and streamline these processes, I know we can unlock job creation in the private sector.

I plan to work with Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee, as well as Judiciary, to define the scope of what is possible in this endeavor. My sense is that once we start to simplify our regulatory and administrative processes, we will find that our state manpower needs will shrink somewhat and the private sector will expand.

As is often the case, I need your help. If there are any of you who have experienced instances where red tape has wasted your time or impeded the progress or profitability of your business, I want to hear about it. If you have been caught between two levels of government that have seemingly overlapping jurisdictions in the same matter, tell me about it. If you have run into a state constructed roadblock instead of a helpful person directing traffic, I want you to send me a short, concise narrative, preferably via email, explaining the particulars.

What I want to do is take your stories and use them as testimony as our red tape reduction initiative makes its way through the committee system. As always, the end point of this process, as far as I am concerned, is jobs. Part of making government smaller, more efficient, and less intrusive, is to constantly pare away the unnecessary or redundant functions. It is a difficult and frustrating exercise, but now is the time for us to begin. Let me hear your stories.

Last week, our contact count went from average, around 350, to more than 600. Many of those contacts were kind words and stories from veterans who appreciated the comparison between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events of 9-11-01. One of the things about living more than a few years is that we are able to make the connections between the past and the momentary present.

For many of us, 9-11 was the end of our sense of security and invulnerability. In contrast, these older vets could see it in a larger and more complete context. They don’t call them the “greatest generation” for nothing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Car insurance is mandatory but health care is not

Bluffton Today

It looked like we got a little of what Miss Babbie always used to keep the rain off her Bluffton Village Festival. For whatever reason, the rain magically stopped just in time for the Bluffton Christmas Parade last Saturday. The parade route was lined with thousands of Bluffton folks and wannabe Bluffton folks, and the event, as always, more than met expectations.

There was, however, something of a mystery in that my pal Steve Tilton and some of our Rotary compatriots were organized into a clean-up crew following the politicians in the parade lineup. I seem to remember them behind the horses in years past. What could that be about?

Much of last week I was at the annual meeting of a group of medical insurance providers trying to get some visibility on the future of healthcare and health insurance. They shared with me some interesting facts about the breakdown of who is insured and who is uninsured in our state, and what that might imply should we end up with a government mandate for health insurance. I was able to share with them some of your stories of frustration in dealing with both private and government insurers. As with many service providers, the issue of effective communication is a constant challenge for the insurance industry.

According to the insurance group analysis, around 20 percent of South Carolinians are without health insurance. Interestingly, we have mandatory car insurance but 15-20 percent of South Carolinians are uninsured. This will be a conundrum regardless of what comes out of Washington next year.

As a member of Ways and Means, I am very interested in how the new legislation is going to affect our state Medicaid obligation. Right now it looks like the feds will contribute to the funding mandate. However, the funding likely will sunset while the obligation continues. Consequently, we do not have good visibility on our healthcare budget beyond 2 or 3 years, at best.

The cigarette tax is the obvious revenue stream to help fund Medicaid and related items, but many of my colleagues want to backfill the budget with these dollars. 90 percent of Beaufort County voters want a cigarette tax, but only for healthcare support. The politics of this is tricky, but with leadership support, we must get it done and properly allocated. I am already on it.

I want to send a special Christmas hello to Bluffton High School graduate Jennifer Hays. Jennifer is from Prichardville and recently completed Marine Corps basic training and is headed to Camp Lejeune. If you see Jennifer, let her know how proud we are of her. She is one of the bright stars of our local youth.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. December 7, 1941 was the 9-11 of our parents and grandparents. All the horror and anguish we felt watching the towers fall is what they felt hearing the radio accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Two hideous acts bind us across the generations and speak to the evolution of the threats we as a nation face. To Jennifer Hayes and all those who volunteer to face down and vanquish those perils, we owe more than we can ever hope to repay.