Wednesday, January 28, 2015

From the House

Bluffton Today

Second week of session finds your delegation hard at it. This representative has been working mainly on putting the budget in shape. One of our most important deliberations on Ways and Means Committee is to decide how we are going to invest your tax dollars, once we have provided for the regular, ongoing expenses of the state. One of those investments that I know to be a winner is the initiative to produce homegrown teachers for our public schools.


I am particularly pleased that the governor shares my enthusiasm for this measure, which offers qualifying high school graduates from some rural districts the opportunity to receive a tuition subsidy if they agree to teach in those districts for not less than two years following graduation and certification as teachers. Not only do we return smart young folks as teachers to their home areas, they will likely be role models for others who are coming along behind them on the education ladder. I believe we will see good results from this very modest investment.


Another modest educational investment that has already paid a handsome dividend locally, is the subject of a joint resolution filed by my delegation colleague, Hilton Head Island Representative Jeff Bradley and I, along with co-sponsor, Representative Joe Daning, our friend from Goose Creek. This joint resolution creates a pilot program for two years that essentially mirrors what Jeff had done in Beaufort and Jasper counties for some time, in conducting General Education Development (GED) Camps. These six-week intensive training and mentoring camps, staffed and taught by qualified volunteers, prepare motivated young people, who left high school without graduating, to take and pass the GED exam. GED certification opens the door to return for either higher education or technical training that gives people an exponentially better chance at economic and personal success. Again, a very modest investment likely to produce more successful South Carolinians.


With the governor’s State-of-the-State comments on the possibilities for greater transportation infrastructure investment, we may be looking at a break in the funding logjam that seemed to be clouding those prospects for some time. This is especially so as Representative Simrill’s transportation study committee is scheduled to report next week on their recommendations. This is an evolving situation, and I will report more fully as it clarifies. I would like to report, however, on a related investment designed to leverage the improvement to our roads, particularly as they relate to our visitor economy.


As the chairman of the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT) Subcommittee of Ways and Means, I have been concerned for some time about the state of our welcome centers along the major roads around our state. In my view, they were old, somewhat outdated, and just needed attention. One of the problems was that they came under the purview of Department of Transportation (DOT), whose expertise is building safe roads and bridges, and not necessarily building attractive and technologically up-to-date welcome centers. Consequently, PRT is now in charge of welcome centers and DOT can get back to doing what they really do.


Fortunately, my friend Duane Parrish has recently signed on to continue as Director of PRT for another four years. As a hospitality professional, Duane is amply qualified to oversee the redesign and refit of our welcome centers. The first center to receive his attention is in Landrum, near our border with North Carolina. Next on the list are Fort Mill and Hardeeville. They should begin to take shape around Labor Day, with completion on or about year’s end.


Finally, we are still receiving good comments on our medical marijuana column, for which I am personally grateful.