Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

We are a few days from the statutory end of the 2013-2014 session of the South Carolina General Assembly. Our signature legislation, an update of a 20 year-old Ethics law, was passed in the House 110-0. This bi-partisan measure has been in the works for years and should finally be within striking distance of becoming law. The main features of the House Ethics Reform Act are:

1: Independent Investigations of Reported Ethics Violations. We have created something of a 12-member “Grand Jury” to look at every ethics matter involving every member of all branches of government, including executive, legislative and judicial (to include local officials). This body will be composed of 2 members appointed by the House, 2 by the Senate, 4 by the governor, and 4 by the state Supreme Court. The adjudication of the complaints would return to another committee charged with enforcement of the law.

The makeup of this committee was contentious, as conflict of interest, or even the appearance of conflict of interest was to be strictly avoided. To that end, there will be no public officials on the committee, no office holders or family members of an official. There will be no person on the committee who was a lobbyist for at least four years, or a judge. Also excluded is anyone who had made a campaign contribution to the person nominating them, or a business associate of same. Finally, the members of the enforcement committee must also avoid making any political contributions or engaging in any political activities covered by the ethics act.

2: Income disclosure. The House version of the legislation requires the reporting of all sources of income of the filer and his or her immediate family. This is seen as an effective tool in preventing conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflict of interest, in public officials.

3: No Leadership PACs. Language is removed from existing law that allows political action committees (PACs), controlled either directly or indirectly by a candidate to exist.

4: Enhanced record keeping. Public officials, under this law, must keep banking records for four years, which document compliance with other aspects of the ethics regime.

5: No “Blackout” period. This legislation requires candidates to file a final pre-election report 48 hours before the election, disclosing all contributions and expenditures.

6: Detailed restrictions on campaign funds. This bill would add language detailing how candidates may reimburse themselves with campaign funds.
Unfortunately, my confidence level is not high that this version of the Ethics Reform bill, particularly item 1, will make it out of conference committee intact. Even after years of talking and negotiating with our Senate partners, it appears our colleagues in the “other” chamber are not willing to submit to ethical scrutiny by folks who do not have occasion to breathe that rarified senate atmosphere.

As with so much other good and necessary law that eventually was enacted, we will begin again on the second Tuesday of next year to fulfill our pledge to the voters that the General Assembly will conduct its business in a manner congruent with modern ethical standards. This time, we are looking at another “half a loaf” situation.

As a final ethics observation, it should be noted that even a comprehensive and enforceable ethics regime would be severely limited in scope and effectiveness without real reform to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We gave it a halfhearted effort early in the session, but again, we start over next year.

Next time, I will begin to discuss some of the positive results of the session. In truth, there is a whole lot of good news, especially for those of us in our gorgeous part of the Lowcountry.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

Today I would like to change the subject from politics and matters of legislation and law, to some thoughts on transition and change. Not being particularly introspective or philosophical by nature, there is, however, something about graduation season that gets me thinking about how we successfully move from one period of life into the next.

Our lovely daughter Shelby graduated college last Friday, and while I am capable of objective thought regarding most things, our daughter and her future are not necessarily among them. I remember with excruciating clarity her transition from crawling to walking, moving from elementary to secondary school, and her early attempts at being Shelby and not just Bill and Mary’s daughter. My instincts told me that I should always try to make everything OK, to keep her from mischief, from discomfort, and shelter her from the hard parts of growing up.

Fortunately, my wife Mary had more insight than I into the necessity of each transition, as well as the discomfort and sometimes the pain of moving to the next phase. I guess that, like many fathers, I had good intentions, but there is a reason why most of us have two parents.
Shelby graduated USC with honors and is very excited at the prospect of joining the world of work, of accomplishment and productivity. She and all of her friends are confident they have what it takes to manage and tame the seemingly chaotic level of change and disruption, which seems to characterize much of the contemporary economic world. As a father, I worry, but not nearly as much as I thought I would.

Here’s how I see it: In our efforts to nurture a smart, albeit headstrong young girl into womanhood, we allowed Shelby a fair amount of freedom to find her way. Like most young people, there were a few stumbles and setbacks. The absolutely heartening part of the story is that the stumbles didn’t result in depression and self-doubt. Far from it, they just motivated this young woman to work harder, to work smarter, to learn the right lessons from momentary immaturity, and to rise above her missteps. While I am not an impartial observer, I gained an immense amount of respect and regard for our daughter. She showed us the character, fortitude and resilience that I look for, and rarely find, in the folks I hire.

More importantly, I see in Shelby, and in many of her generation, the qualities that will allow them to take on the challenges of the less-than-perfect world we are about to leave them. They have grown up in what is for us, almost an alien environment. They see no problem in being a good citizen of the USA, while also understanding that our quality of life is no longer separate from the economic realities we share with our global neighbors. For our educated and idealistic emerging leaders, many of the old impediments, including racism and sexism, will diminish, in at least the developed world, as we in the current generation pass away.

One of the consequences of growing up in a hyper-connected world is that people are seen more in terms of what they can create, what they can organize, and how that creation and organization can generate an economy that allows us to grow a larger pie rather than fight over the existing pieces.

Finally, we congratulate our lovely daughter for her latest accomplishment. Growing up is hard. College is hard. Above all, change is hard. That said, we are prepared to be further amazed at who you, and your generation, are about to become, and what you will accomplish. Please remember that although change is exciting, those things that don’t change are still important. Among those constants are: truth, honesty, and most importantly, being nice to your parents.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

We are back at the statehouse for the last month of this year’s session. There are some important matters to be completed before the end of session this year, but first, I’d like to comment on the tremendous success of the 2014 version of the May River Cleanup.

There were literally hundreds of good folks, young and older, participating in this year’s event. As you may recall, Rep. Weston Newton and I challenged all the elected officials, board and commission members, and staff from Beaufort County and Town of Bluffton to come out and put in a good day’s work in cleaning up our river and surrounding areas. We were absolutely blown away with the level of participation in response to our challenge. There is a photo circulating that shows not only Weston and I, but also Bluffton Mayor Sulka and Beaufort County Councilman Tabor Vaux, wet and dirty from our efforts.

We were gratified to see so many of our friends from Greater Bluffton, Sun City, and even from Hilton Head Island. As always, the Sun City Kayak Club was well represented and leading the charge up into the coves to retrieve the hard to get and embedded trash items that will find homes in the landfill rather than our pristine estuary.

My friend Kim Jones, from the Town of Bluffton, assures me that our Saturday efforts netted nearly 4,000 pounds of trash, which has been pretty much the average for the last several years. To place this into a better context, the first May River Cleanup in 2000 brought out something between 40 and 60 thousand pounds of refuse from our river.

An additional sidelight to this already successful event was the competition at M.C Riley Elementary in Bluffton to have the most students, measured by class, at the Cleanup. The winner would receive a presentation from Joe Maffo and his colleagues at Critter Management called “Critters of the Lowcountry.” It is with pleasure that I note that Brooke Mendenhall’s 3rd grade Gifted and Talented class at M.C. Riley Elementary was the overall winner and will receive the presentation from Mr. Maffo and company. In truth, we are all winners in the sense that our youngsters are gaining an understanding that our natural gifts are worth protecting and nourishing. There is some comfort in the idea that as we pass along, those natural gifts that we have enjoyed and benefited from will be cared for by those who come after us. Friends, that’s the way to run a culture.

To return momentarily to statehouse business, the common sense gambling bill, S.0779, shepherded through the Senate by my friend and colleague, Senator Tom Davis, was passed in the Senate, just before furlough. It now is being considered in the House Judiciary Committee. The committee chairman, Rep. Greg Delleney, and I had a good conversation on the matter, with the upshot being that the bill will be considered in the next few days. My colleague Weston Newton will guide it through Judiciary, and I will debate for it on the floor of the House. After seven years of serious effort, we may be able to remove this 19th century prohibition from our 21st century law.

Finally, this coming Saturday is the 35th Annual Bluffton Village Festival. Started by the incomparable Babbie Guscio, and now continued by my pals at Bluffton Rotary, this event is truly wonderful. According to Rotary President, Dot Jeger, the show will include 200 or more exhibitors, each selected as exemplifying the Bluffton spirit. Event managers promise that the show will include some surprises along with the 32nd iteration of Richard Cofield’s “Ugly Dog” contest.

I hope to see you there.