Monday, May 30, 2011

From The House

This archived column is dedicated to my father, Donald William Herbkersman, an Army Ranger and Korean War veteran, as well as the Sun City Veteran’s Club and all Beaufort County veterans. We will never forget.

It was my intention to talk about the budget today. The state budget is important and a big part of what you send me to Columbia to get accomplished. It is a reasonably clear statement of the political philosophy held by the overwhelming majority of your elected officials as it applies to the day to day operation of the state. The budget is a statement of values above and beyond any political rhetoric, because we spend money on what we value. If we fund it, we care about it.

However, with Memorial Day upon us, and especially as we are at war, I have been thinking about some of the larger issues and some of the more enduring values than perhaps those that are simply represented as line items in a budget.

The South, as a region, contributes to the ranks of the armed forces in numbers proportionally higher than our population would suggest. South Carolina is very well represented, even by the southern standard. And Beaufort County, with its large concentration of active duty military personnel, as well as many military retirees, is more than passing familiar with the sacrifices entailed in the defense of the republic.

We have Memorial Day to remind ourselves that what we so often take for granted, the gifts that our splendid nation has so amply provided, were not gifts in the sense that they were without cost. My generation has fathers and grandfathers that did not return from the Second World War or the Korean Conflict. We have brothers lost in the jungles of Viet Nam and now we have children, sons and daughters, leaving their lives in the harshness of Afghanistan and Iraq. From Cowpens to Kirkuk, our freedom has been anything but free. From Camden to Quang Tri to Sadr City, brave young patriots gave their lives so that we might carry forward this great act of faith we call America.

I’m not a constitutional scholar and I don’t often try to sort out the size of the bricks in the wall between church and state. I do know the argument is suspended when you pass through the gates of the Beaufort National Cemetery. It has no currency when you view the thousands of silent markers at Arlington National Cemetery. Each of our national heroes was carried to his or her rest by the God of their individual understanding. The grief of those left behind was lightened by the rituals and ceremonies of the many faith traditions we together embrace.
I hope you have a good holiday. Get outside and enjoy our wonderful clean river and lush, green landscape. As you do, please also give some thought and perhaps a prayer of gratitude for those who helped secure the blessings we enjoy.

Next week, I will get back to the budget and let you know what we are doing with your money. I’m also going to start giving a little more mention to the many generous and interesting contributors to the vitality of our community.

Please indulge my Memorial Day departure from business as usual. I think sometimes we need to slow down and refocus on the big ideas. It may be another reason we call it the House of Representatives

Monday, May 23, 2011

From the House

I want to thank all of you who called, wrote, or emailed me this week as we begin to wind down the session. There are a number of outstanding issues to be dealt with, not the least of which is immigration. The immigration bill is coming forward and I will have much to say about what we are likely to do, but that will have to wait for a future column.

Today, it is redistricting and something of a “heads-up” on what our local legislative districts may look like.

As your representative for District 118, I have worked for the betterment of not only Beaufort County and Greater Bluffton, I have done whatever I could to help our friends in Jasper County take their place among the prosperous coastal areas of the state. Former Representative Thayer Rivers was one of my earliest legislative allies, and I have developed a good working relationship with his successor, Rep. Curtis Brantley. Also, I have always admired the idealism and keen political skills of Senator Clementa Pinckney, especially as we worked to make the Jasper Port a reality.

Even a cursory look at the map will show how all of our access to I-95 is through Jasper County. All our major rivers and estuaries make up in Jasper County as well. Consequently, much of our transportation effort and much of our environmental effort has been successful or unsuccessful largely to the degree we could enlist our neighbors in Jasper County. Needless to say, we in Beaufort County have much in common with our friends to the west.

It now appears very likely that the necessities of redistricting are going to draw us ever closer to Jasper County, Hardeeville, and even Ridgeland. To my way of thinking, this merger will be to the immense benefit of both counties, not only in efficiencies of proximity, but we will also potentially have the third most powerful delegation in the General Assembly.

This is how the maps are shaping up:

District 118, because of massive growth in Greater Bluffton in the last ten years, has twice as many residents as the average district. The new district will very likely contain much of present Bluffton south of Highway 278, much of Sun City, but also extend into Jasper County and include much of Hardeeville all the way to the Savannah River. There is another, new district that will likely have a part of eastern Bluffton, extend to the developments north of Highway 278 and follow Highway 170 as far as Ridgeland. District 123, represented by Andy Patrick, will gain Daufuskie Island, which is as it should have been anyway.

This new configuration is by no means carved in stone. There are any number of hurtles to be jumped, not the least of which is a blessing by the civil rights folks at the Federal Department of Justice. It does, however, use many of the favored criteria, such as county lines, roads, and rivers to draw districts that will not only give a desirable population distribution, but also does not dilute minority voting strength beyond reasonable percentages.

While this new configuration will take some getting used to, I believe the political strength of a Beaufort/Jasper delegation will more than compensate for any dislocation any resident might feel.

Next time, I hope the Amazon situation will be clarified to the degree that I can give you the real story of this somewhat bizarre tale of competing narratives.

Monday, May 16, 2011

From the House

The Bluffton Village Festival was, as always, a pleasure to attend. The Bluffton Rotary, and particularly Karen Lavery, did a great job of putting on this signature event. I’m certain that Miss Babbie Guscio appreciates the care and attention to detail with which the Rotarians are carrying on the festival she created and nurtured for so many years. Good job all!

Two things stood out for me at the festival. One thing was the number of folks that came by the office during and after the festival. After I made the rounds, we opened the doors and a multitude of old-timers, as well as new Blufftonians, streamed in. It was good to be able to chat with so many people that all seemed to be in a celebratory mood. One fellow said the day reminded him of his time in Carmel, California, only this was better. Take that Mayor Clint Eastwood.

The second thing that was certainly impressive was how the Bluffton Police managed the huge crowds. The police presence was so subtle and so effective it was hardly noticeable. It was like having experienced referees at a basketball game. Everything was smooth and calm. In my chat with Chief McAllister, he explained that smooth and calm is largely what community policing is about. Organize crowd control so you don’t even notice it. We are fortunate to have these skilled professionals on our side.

Speaking of outstanding law enforcement, my friends Sheriff P.J. Tanner and Solicitor Duffie Stone were both recognized for meritorious service at the South Carolina Republican Party Convention in Columbia. Sheriff Tanner was honored for his “287 (g) task force” which is seven deputies trained to enforce federal immigration laws. Solicitor Stone was recognized for creating the Career Criminal Prosecution Team in 2008, which has been credited with helping end overcrowding in the county jail by bringing repeat offenders to trial faster. He also put up some pretty gaudy conviction numbers as well. They won convictions against 54 out of 57 defendants in 2009 and 43 out of 47 last year. Those are Hall of Fame numbers in any league. Once again, I’m happy we have the pros on our side.

My School Choice bill came up and was passed out of full committee after some heated discussion. Part of that discussion was a suggestion that the bill was in some way a negative reflection on the professionalism of our hard-working schoolteachers and principals. This is not remotely the case. The vast majority of our teachers are dedicated, caring professionals who do hard, important work under often less-that-ideal circumstances. At its core, the School Choice bill is about incentivizing parents to become more involved in the education of their children.

In all candor, our state does not have a distinguished history when it comes to public education. Our outcomes do not adequately reflect the dollar amounts dedicated to education. In my view, doing more of what has not worked gets a failing grade. I support anything that has a plausible shot at improving the preparation of our young people as we launch them into the modern world. The School Choice bill provides another potential avenue to educational success.

Monday, May 9, 2011

From the House

Before we get into the hard news from Columbia, I want to take a moment to welcome a couple of new businesses to downtown Bluffton. Parrot Cove Ice Cream has opened next to Bear Comics in the north end of the Promenade, next to Booksalicious and Cork’s Wine Bar. These are more of the small businesses that help to drive the local economy by serving local folks and hiring locally. Also, what’s not to like about ice cream and comics?

I had the pleasure of pushing through the House of Representatives a good piece of legislation authored by my friend and fellow Beaufort County delegation member, Senator Tom Davis. The substance of the bill requires that any federal program, whether it requires matching funds, outright grants, or any other federal largesse, be made transparent as to whatever strings might be attached and what would be the state and/or local fiscal impacts of those programs as we go through time. In my view, it is a long-overdue effort to contain the unintended consequences of what might seem like handouts from the feds.

Senator Davis got the bill through the senate in record time and we took it up in the house by unanimous consent after crossover and passed the measure in short order. I believe that is a testament to the quality of the bill as well as the value of the material coming out of your Beaufort County delegation.

This year, the House of Representatives took off two weeks during the session, thereby saving the taxpayers something like $100,000 for our efforts. In comparison with our $5 billion budget, that might seem like a drop in the ocean. However, when you consider that we have one of the longest constitutionally mandated legislative sessions in the country while being one of the smaller states, the situation needs attention. This is especially urgent when you consider the results of a study done in 1995 by George Mason University and the University of Connecticut that showed that the longer congress was in session, the longer and more complex legislation became. I personally see this phenomenon in action nearly every day.

In response, the house has tried and failed to shorten the session nine times since 1994. This year, we passed a bill to end the session the last Thursday in May rather than the first Thursday in June. It’s only a week but it’s a start. Perhaps number ten will be the charm. In truth, I think I can be more helpful to the constituents of District 118 if I am present in the neighborhoods I represent. This is a conversation that will be with us for some time.

The other big-ticket item on the agenda for this week was reapportioning the General Assembly districts as well as our congressional lines. This is a duty that follows our every-ten-year census results. It is a complex process that involves several criteria, not the least of which is blessing by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. As it stands, District 118 is the largest district in the state, nearly double the size it will be. Beaufort County will receive a new house district, which will bolster our delegation. South Carolina will also receive another congressional district, which also adds to our Electoral College clout. The reapportionment process is under way and will create what is likely to be seen as some startling changes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

From The House

There is understandable concern over the legislation put up by Rep. Robert Brown (D-Charleston), which would essentially create a new tax on docks. I have heard from a number of you on this, primarily from friends in Moss Creek Plantation. In my mind, such legislation is DOA. Just as soon as I heard about this profoundly ill-advised measure, we put a stop to it for this year, and probably for many years to come. The issue would have never been given even preliminary consideration if some of our inland colleagues were made aware of the fact that docks are already taxed as part of our property. All of us with docks are painfully aware of the degree that they add to our tax burden. In short, Rep. Brown’s dock tax is not going to happen on my watch. I do, however, appreciate all the calls and emails from my good friends at Moss Creek.

This was crossover week. What this means is that unless a measure is passed in either the house or senate by the end of crossover week, it most likely won’t be taken up by the other chamber before the end of session in June. There are special circumstances when a bill will make the crossover even late in the session. Such was the case for a bill put up by my friend Senator Tom Davis, which would require the federal government to publish, and for us to understand, any strings that are attached to federal dollars coming into South Carolina. It passed the senate on short order and since time was getting short, I had it brought up for unanimous consent to be heard next week. I like the bill, it makes good sense, and I think it is good for the people of the state.

You may remember last year in several columns, I asked you for examples of how state regulations or agency rules cut into productivity without necessarily achieving their intended effect. As always, you were more than forthcoming with story after story. I told you at the time; we were working on streamlining and making more rational the state’s regulatory regime. As a result of your stories, as well as many others from around the state, the leadership of the house, including your representative, included regulatory reform in this session’s agenda. I’m happy to say we are making great progress on this crucial agenda item.

Often when we pass legislation that must be enacted by an executive branch agency; there are aspects of the implementation that are more burdensome or complex than the intent of the legislation. Sometimes there are new fees to cover the cost of implementation that were not envisioned in the original legislation. This is the source of many of the stories we heard from you, which we now are addressing. A bill passed this week will require the General Assembly to take a vote on regulations proposed by South Carolina governmental agencies such as DNR and DHEC, as well as others. This is not to say that these good folks don’t know what they are doing, they are professionals hired to do certain jobs. This measure is simply a mechanism to check that the cost/benefit ratio of regulation is not out of whack. There is also new legislation that does the same thing with new fees. There are, of course, some caveats and exceptions, but in the main, this is a good faith effort to address your concerns with how we at the state do our jobs.