Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The crossover date is May 1. This means that bills and actions that have to be heard by the Senate in time to be made into law this year is coming up pretty fast. After crossover, it takes a supermajority vote to take up any matter from the other chamber.

There are a number of things we had to get out fairly rapidly. Most of these were housekeeping measures, such as a bill that realigned voting precincts in Jasper County to conform with election law and the maps of the Election Commission. In Beaufort County, we changed the law as requested by election chief Scott Marshall, so that he could allow election commissioners to stay in their positions until their replacements were appointed.

This action was made necessary by the fact that we sometimes run short of qualified volunteers to do these important jobs. Boards and Commissions are a key feature of government and form an essential point of connection between elected officials and staff. If you have the time and the desire to help out, please contact either the county or the municipalities, or for state appointments, call Christy White, our delegation staffer in Beaufort. They will give you an idea of what positions are available and help with any paperwork that might be required.

This term, the Judiciary Committee has been an important focal point in the effort to reform our ethics and transparency at the statehouse. Our newest delegation colleague, Rep. Weston Newton, has taken a significant part in the months of discussion and debate in this process. While this was no surprise to any in our delegation, it was somewhat unexpected that a freshman legislator be appointed to Judiciary, and especially to have then made the positive impact that Weston has made.

Among the highlights of their work: The State, House and Senate Ethics Committees are all abolished, to be replaced by a new commission with the power to investigate and sanction members in both the executive and legislative branches of state government. Also abolished are Leadership Political Action Committees (PACs). It was determined that this was just not a good or very transparent way of doing business.

A more controversial element of the reform effort requires all lawmakers to disclose all sources of income, in an effort to root out conflicts of interest. I believe this feature will be subject to further discussions, which we will follow with interest.

A feature with strong consensus support requires that persons lobbying local government or school districts be registered. For me, it just makes sense that folks working as lobbyists at any level of government must be identified as such and be subject to appropriate scrutiny.

Another area of habitual abuse will see significant change. It eliminates the blackout period right before elections on candidates not having disclosed donors. Voters should have an idea of who is contributing to candidates’ campaigns. To me, that is essential information for the voter to make an informed choice.

Finally, as a life-long hunter and Second Amendment supporter, I was pleased to join the overwhelming bi-partisan majority of the House in approving a measure to add people deemed mentally unstable by a judge to the Federal Gun and Background Registry. This follows an incident where a mentally ill woman came very close to shooting folks at Charleston’s Ashley House School in February. Our state narrowly avoided a terrible tragedy. We think this common-sense legislation will help keep firearms out of the hands of those with diminished mental capacity.

Next week, updates on government restructuring, angel investors and educational funding parity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

We are well into the festivities surrounding the RBC Heritage, Presented by Boeing. There are thousands of folks enjoying the golf along with our spectacular Lowcountry springtime. As much as the Heritage is about golf and tradition and fun, it is also about business. All those hospitality tents and skyboxes are great for watching the tournament, but you can be sure there are a ton of deals being made, customers shown proper appreciation, and good contacts being converted into good customers.

You have heard me talk for years about the millions of dollars of direct economic benefit to our area from this stellar event. The indirect benefit, whether it is socializing with potential customers in a pleasant atmosphere or seeing gorgeous images of fabulous Hilton Head Island on international television, simply dwarfs the millions in direct inflows. What we are talking about is jobs for our local folks, jobs for our region, and increased investment creating more jobs around our great state. This was the reason your representative and your entire delegation fought tooth and nail to preserve this event and its immense job creation capability.

As chairman of Provisos Subcommittee of Ways and Means Committee, I have been privileged to participate in the decision making process that has brought literally thousands of good jobs to our state. We have improved South Carolina’s business climate through tax and regulatory reforms, so that our efforts have successfully attracted the Michelins and BMWs, and now Boeing to our state. This is a tribute to our worker preparation and availability, but also to the efforts we have made to provide incentives that speak to the needs of the companies, large and small, that wish to locate in our state. Our successes have not only been relative to our regional competitors, but in relation to competitive offerings around the globe.
For example, our colleagues in the Senate approved a $120 million bond package to assist Boeing in a major expansion to its already substantial facility in North Charleston. In exchange, Boeing will invest another billion dollars and hire an additional 2000 employees to meet a greatly expanded mission for our part of its global business.

Without well-trained and educated employees, our incentive packages would be meaningless. This is why people like Tom Leitzel at Technical College of the Lowcountry and Jane Upshaw at USCB are so critical to the economic success of our state. It is also why I use every resource at my disposal to support their educational efforts.

When the process works like it should, all the parts support and complement each other, preparing our young people for careers or retraining older workers for new jobs. These well-prepared potential employees meet the needs of industries that find the business climate of our state attractive for the location of their production facilities. We have made tremendous progress in refining the process, which is exemplified by the great economic strides we are currently seeing.

Bringing the focus back to local folks, I want to congratulate Marc and Jaclyn Orlando as they welcome a nearly eight pound son, Benjamin Anthony Orlando, to their growing family. These are lovely folks and we wish them the best.

Many of you know Marc as a creative mainstay at the town of Bluffton. Even as Jaclyn was at Hilton Head Hospital preparing for the big event, Marc was confronted with a situation where a series of miscommunications had jeopardized the opportunity for a worthy veteran to buy one of the nice cottages the town had built in Old Town. Marc managed to assemble all the participants, smooth over the confusion, and bring the matter to a good close. There is a new freeholder in Bluffton, and Marc has demonstrated once again the true meaning of “public servant.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

After two weeks on furlough from the statehouse, it was catch-up time this week. At the request of a great many of you, I have been working diligently on legislation that would allow golf cart usage at night by folks with properly outfitted vehicles. This is an initiative that builds on the golf cart legislation we finally pushed through last year, which expanded the range of carts, which is especially useful to our friends in Sun City and on Daufuskie Island.

The ability to utilize golf carts at night has become important to those who now find themselves depending more and more on these inexpensive, non-polluting vehicles, now that they are not range-bound with the introduction of the new laws. Also, many of our neighbors in Old Town Bluffton like to cruise around in the evening and visit with friends or perhaps go out to dinner. I believe they should have that privilege without being tagged as law-breakers. Needless to say, when I hear it from so many of you, my colleagues in the House hear it from me.

You may remember several months ago, I floated an idea for consideration that involved a repair to one of the most glaring inequities of the much-maligned Act 388. I asked if it was a good idea to add another penny of sales tax, after a local referendum, to replace the current property tax paid by businesses and second home owners, those who are assessed at six percent, for school operations. This would mirror what was done under Act 388 for resident homeowners, assessed at four percent, who do not pay for school operations with property tax, but with a penny of sales tax.

At the time, my email ran strongly in favor of the additional sales tax, primarily because most folks understood this was NOT a new tax, but simply a tax swap, the replacement of an unfair property tax with a sales tax. They also understood that this unfair taxation dealt a serious blow to a large segment of our economy, which is real estate.

Well friends, it’s time to fish or cut bait. The way the matter is being structured, as an opt-in, local voter referendum, we get an opportunity to control our own destiny, to exercise our prerogative under home rule. Do we want to live with the current mess, to endure the inequity, as well as the serious economic downside, or do we swap an unfair tax for an opt-in sales tax that will also be partially underwritten by visitors.

You know that I’m not a fan of gratuitous taxation, but a patently unfair tax is the worst of the worst. In truth, the original Act 388 included a two-penny sales tax in exchange for lifting all local property taxes, from non-residents and businesses as well as resident homeowners. Due to a cynical assumption that since non-residents don’t vote in the county, the final version of Act 388 mandated only a one cent sales tax increase, but created essentially two classes of taxpayers, the four-percenters and the six-percenters, with the latter as an intentionally disadvantaged class. Unfortunately, it was the local economy that was also disadvantaged.

This coming week will see the introduction of the one cent sales tax swap for our disadvantaged property tax class. I need to hear your thoughts on this matter. If the current system is what you want to keep, I need to hear it. If, after two months of consideration, you feel it is wiser to correct this unintended negative consequence of our well meaning but flawed tax reform, with our voluntary swap of another penny in sales tax, I need to hear it.

Of course, there is no guarantee it will pass. If it does pass, and upon further consideration, we as a community decide it’s not a good idea, we can defeat it in the referendum. Regardless, we do have a choice.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Although we are in the second week of furlough, our constituent calls and emails are still running fairly high. This week we are at about the 150 mark, which is somewhat above average with no hot-button issues in the mix. We want to welcome a new staff member who is helping to keep us up to date on our constituent service. Christy White is the new delegation secretary for our north of the Broad office. She is pleasant, efficient, and looks to be a great addition to the team.

There were a few items debated before we began the budget marathon. One of those, which we completed and passed before the furlough, was a constitutional amendment bill to allow the state adjutant general to be appointed by the governor instead of being elected. This is one of the important matters you will determine in the November 2014 election.

Currently, we are the only state in the union electing our adjutant general. The present holder of the office, General Bob Livingston, has been an outspoken supporter of the constitutional amendment. As our reserve forces have assumed a greater role in our security posture, it is increasing important that an experienced military leader hold our highest state military position. The electoral process, for all its strengths, does not guarantee this. If this amendment succeeds, the governor can make certain we have an experienced and proficient military leader for our National Guard, and the governor will also be held responsible for his choice.

The House also passed legislation that banned the so-called “sweepstakes machines” that have been installed across the state by businesses exploiting a loophole in the current law. This comes a dozen years after the South Carolina Supreme Court essentially banned video poker. Even after video poker proved to be a serious detriment to the social fabric of the state, there are still those who support the industry and search for a roundabout way to return the machines to the state. If you are one of those folks, give me a call and make your best case, but right now, I’m vigorously supporting the ban.

The House has begun the ethics reform process with two bills out of subcommittee and working through the process. It has been decades since we have substantially updated our ethics laws. Since that time, social media, cell phones, electronic campaigning, and a host of technological and social changes have come online. These changes have made political campaigns, fundraising, and even basic transparency into a whole different ball game. I look forward to bringing this issue to the forefront and seeing how you, the voters of District 118, feel about the scope of necessary reform to make certain our electoral process is not overwhelmed by these technological and social developments. The protection of the integrity of our electoral process is a matter that should be taken very seriously, whether it is a simple matter such as making sure the person who shows up at the polling place is who they say they are, or determining who is financially supporting the various campaigns.

As always, I will place the ideas in current play before you for your opinions and suggestions. Its no secret that I have carved out a pretty fair legislative tenure by simply representing the collective wisdom of my district, for which I am grateful.

Next week, I will give you a half-time report on where we stand with Senate passage of Waddell Center funding, USCB parity funding, as well as May River protection funding.