Wednesday, January 4, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

The colored lights are taken down and returned to their home in the attic for another eleven months. The Christmas tree has been reduced to mulch and placed around the azaleas. The holidays are behind us and the new year is looking bright and full of promise. Session begins in less than a week and your legislator and your delegation are ready to begin a truly productive several months on your behalf.

Last year, my office fielded and processed over 15,000 constituent contacts. That is almost a 20% increase over the previous year. Many of those emails, calls and letters were requests for information or help in navigating the unfortunately complex web of state government. A great number of your calls were in response to my requests for your opinions of the issues of the day. We are blessed with a tremendously efficient two-way communication in District 118. You tell me what you need or don’t need from your state government, and it is my duty and my pleasure to make your wishes the centerpiece of our legislative agenda. We’re confident that 2012 will continue as another example of how the good ideas of our people find voice in the General Assembly.

One of the issues that I have been particularly strong on over the years is one that I inherited from a political mentor, former Rep. JoAnne Gilham from Hilton Head. The culmination of Rep. Gilham’s service in the state house was a measure she originally sponsored that sought to close many of the loopholes in our DUI law. While JoAnne’s bill ultimately passed, it was seriously diluted in committee and was far from her goal. Subsequently, I, along with the Beaufort County delegation, have continued to work diligently to reform the DUI statute, consulting with Sheriff Tanner and Bluffton Chief McAllister. We have made good progress, but work remains to be done.

In this column, constant readers will recognize that I am always beating the drum for responsible alcohol consumption, designated drivers, and all those things that parents like Mary and I tend to go on about. Imagine our reaction when we got the call that a member of our family had been charged with DUI over the holidays. First was the relief that everyone was safe—then the gratitude to law enforcement whose astute professionalism detected and stopped the infraction before any of the “what if” situations could materialize. We all know families who have lost loved ones or whose loved ones became heartbreakingly diminished by such a momentary lapse of judgment. That family could have been us.

There are serious and appropriate consequences for driving under the influence, both financial and judicial. This is as it should be. We will, as a family, undergo these consequences with the seriousness appropriate to the matter. As onerous and complicated as the process might be, it is nothing compared to what it might have been. For that small blessing, we will always be grateful.

As for my legislative agenda, DUI reform remains a priority. In fact, it just climbed up the scale a place or two. As long as Sheriff Tanner and Chief McAllister tell me they don’t have sufficient tools to take impaired drivers off the road, I will be working on the law. As long as Solicitor Stone tells me he doesn’t have what he needs to make good DUI cases, I will be on it.

Before all this, my position was about good policy or delegation legacy—now it’s also personal. I ended the last column of 2011 on this topic with a two-word sentence. The first column of 2012 will end with the same words: No excuses.