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.