Monday, April 25, 2011

From The House

For the first time in the nine years I have been your representative, we received less than 100 constituent contacts for the legislative week. I’m fairly certain this has to do with it being a holiday week in both the Christian and Jewish traditions. It is proper, in my view, that these special times be spent with family and loved ones and not so much in political and governmental pursuits.

For those following the golfing tradition, last week was also Heritage week. As always, it was a grand spectacle, with excellent play in a relaxed atmosphere. It is my hope that after such a well-executed event, the next title sponsor will finally step up and commit. In truth, your representative has been working the phones and making the case for the Heritage and the entire Lowcountry experience. We got an amazing amount of national exposure for our gorgeous South Carolina springtime, which I am positive will bring new businesses and new residents to share what we have been given in such abundance. In any case, I will continue to support the continuation of the Heritage by whatever means at my disposal. If we lose this treasure, it will not be for lack of effort.

Bill Wylie was a friend of mine, and a legislator who passed away suddenly last year. One of his last projects was a bill that would give certain investors a nice tax break for supporting job creation in our state. The bill he originally authored has been named the Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act of 2011. It passed the house and moves to the Senate Finance Committee this week. This is a particularly nice piece of legislation in that it rewards early investment or “angel” investment in small startup businesses that meet certain criteria. As much as we like BMW and Boeing, the bulk of the new jobs created in our state are going to be small and mid-sized outfits that often can live or die on a well-timed strategic investment. The Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act of 2011 encourages that investment.

Incidentally, there is a new company headquartered in old town Bluffton called BottlesUp, which might be a beneficiary of the Bill Wylie legislation, if it passes this session. BottlesUp is the creation of local glass artist Laurel Herter. They are designer water bottles made from recycled glass with silicone rings and lids. They were introduced two weeks ago at the Chicago Home Show to rave reviews and several hundred wholesale orders. Locally, they can be found at Jacob Preston Pottery and Outside Palmetto Bluff. It’s always good to support homegrown products and homegrown jobs.

Continuing in the glass vein, the South Carolina Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act, or H.3735, was given second reading in the house. Simply put, we just don’t want the federal government regulating what we can and cannot do with light bulbs. This may seem like something of a symbolic issue, but there are folks who just don’t care for the illumination cast by the newer compact fluorescent bulbs, and they feel, justifiably, that the feds are once again overreaching.

I’ll have more to say on both the Point of Sale legislation and the Amazon Sales Tax conundrum in a future column. The former is hotly controversial and the latter is kind of awkward for Amazon supporters who seem to want to have it both ways when it comes to local legislation. No one ever said that making the sausage is pretty.

Monday, April 18, 2011

From The House

Bluffton Today

The General Assembly is on furlough this week and many of your senators and representatives will be on Hilton Head Island for the Heritage Golf Tournament.

It is our time to shine as many of our visitors will enjoy the golf and the festivities, but also tour the mainland and all that we have to offer this side of the ICW. Please be helpful and patient with those who may not know their way around.

Remember they are here to enjoy what we often take for granted. They are also leaving us a gigantic financial windfall — something around $80 million in direct and indirect benefit.

With regard to my efforts to save this showcase event, we in the House have come up with a plan that may well see a vote next week or soon thereafter. We are first going to continue our work with Commerce, Parks Recreation and Tourism, the Governor’s Office, the Heritage Foundation, as well as all stakeholder groups. We are beating the bushes hard to find a proper sponsor.

As late as Wednesday night, I spent hours with Duane Parrish, director of PRT talking about possible scenarios. We both have generated leads for Commerce, as well as Gov. Nikki Haley. The obvious preferred solution is to find a sponsor in the private sector. However, failing that, the financial contingency plan is quite simple from the state’s viewpoint. We will simply reinvest part of our revenue from the Heritage back into a fund to provide the necessary time to find a sponsor. This assumes the town of Hilton Head and Beaufort County also come forward with their committed funding.

I continue to hear from all sides of this issue and will continue to take comments for as long as you have them. Philosophical reservations notwithstanding, I don’t think anyone will convince me to abandon my efforts to preserve this showcase event. Even if we discount the direct economic benefit (which is considerable), or the jobs created and preserved by the Heritage, there is simply no more effective vehicle for us to show the world a sampling of the many features of our magnificent Lowcountry. The intangibles are over the moon. Who knows how many new residents, full- and part-time, are moving to Beaufort County because of the arresting visuals they see during the televised portions of this golf event?

On the education front, I want to give all you dedicated school teachers a heads-up on what you will read in the latest issue of “Member Matters,” the newsletter of the S.C. Education Association. The head lobbyist, Jackie Hicks, had some pretty harsh things to say about your representative and several of my colleagues on the Ways and Means subcommittee. We are described as “bullying” and employing “verbally violent attacks” against those giving testimony on our school choice bill.

In my view, those characterizations are exaggerated beyond any reasonable standard of accuracy. Having said that, the topic is one that seems to excite the emotions of those on both sides of this important issue. If you want to discuss this matter, please call or come by the office. I think you will find the real story is immeasurably more benign than what was reported by the lobbyist.

Finally, please visit the new gathering place at St. Joseph’s Park in the heart of the Promenade. It is the community project of the Leadership Bluffton/Hilton Head class of 2011. They did a superb job.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Golf Cart Bill to Senate

Bluffton Today

Last week, we handled 578 constituent contacts, which may be a new record for us. As always, I am grateful for your suggestions, your comments, and even your criticism. As long as our back and forth is active, your wisdom has a clear channel to Columbia. As I continue up the legislative ladder, your voice has more and more influence. Let me hear you.

A fair number of those constituent contacts were kind words regarding my recent op-ed in the “other paper”. My preferred venue is, of course, this space. However, my school choice bill was unfairly assailed in the Island Packet in an op-ed by a lobbyist for an organization of school boards, and I responded. It just didn’t make sense to allow intentional distortion and mischaracterization of a good bill to go unchallenged. Apparently, many of you agreed.

Speaking of good bills, our Golf Cart Bill passed the house and is on the way to the senate. I say “our bill” because in the three years since this bill was originally brought up, your input has been pivotal in refining this measure into its current form. The current law states that properly equipped and insured golf carts are allowed on certain roads for a distance of two miles from the owner’s driveway. The original version amended the law to allow two miles of travel from the gate of the property. With additional input, primarily from Sun City and Belfair, the recently passed house version has language that allows travel from any gate of the property. This is important because the back gates of many plantations are near commercial clusters that house needed services and are within the prescribed range.

Another feature of the new law applies to barrier islands of a certain size, which exactly fit Daufuskie Island. While our Daufuskie friends have been using golf carts since there were golf carts, they were not within a legal framework that would keep them from getting sideways with their insurance carriers. In fact, much of the value in this new bill has to do with staying on the right side of the insurance companies. This is why your representative has worked not only with the law enforcement side on this matter, but also with the Department of Insurance. Now, if the senate will do the right thing, many more folks can use non-polluting, convenient golf carts for shopping, doctor visits etc.

Also, under the new bill, an adventurous entrepreneur could even rent golf carts on Daufuskie Island, which would have a tremendous effect on the success of the growing number of shops and galleries on the island. This is a perfect example of how talking with your representative and sharing your good ideas can make for more responsive, more appropriate, and more commonsense government.

In that same vein, I had a great conversation with my good friends Capt. Fred Mix and David Harter, among others, about the Cobia Program. This program is only one of the many great things the Waddell Center does for us. It has a huge economic impact while helping to keep our rivers and estuaries clean and productive. Once again, this is government that is responsive, appropriate, and commonsense.

Finally, want to welcome Dr. Michael Campbell and his crew to the Promenade. As planned, local medical services that most folks in Old Town and surrounding neighborhoods can access either by golf cart or a short walk. How great is that?