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.