End of session wrap up

The Senate closed out the legislative session with some incredibly good news with regards to transportation and the state budget.

Late in the session, the House and Senate reached a deal on a transportation funding plan that allows for up to $1.17 billion in new road funding over the next decade.

Coming into the legislative session, this was obviously a big priority for the Senate Republican Caucus, because we recognize how important road funding is for a whole host of reasons – economic development, public safety and quality of life among them.

Over the next ten years, the plan will:
· Provide $250 million worth of one-time state and federal money, solely for bridge replacement and rehabilitation
· Redirect at least $420 million of vehicle sales tax into a fund dedicated to highway, road, and bridge maintenance, construction and repair.
· Bond up to $500 million dedicated to bridge replacement, rehabilitation projects, and expansion and improvements to existing mainline interstates.

Governor Haley has already signed the bill, and we’re pleased to have her support on this plan.

When it comes to the budget, education was a top priority for the Caucus.

For the first time ever, we allowed for the formation of scholarship granting organizations, which can receive private donations for providing school choice to special needs students. The donations made are eligible for a tax credit of up to 60 percent of the donor’s income tax liability.

In addition, we provided funds for 285 new school buses, expanded 4k education for at-risk children, and implemented the new “Read to Succeed” program to focus on early reading skills.

Some of the other highlights included:
· Defeating the Obamacare Medicaid expansion
· Providing $16 million to the Department of Commerce for its deal-closing fund
· Paid for 30 new Highway Patrol officers

Another of our top agenda items is very close to final passage. The Department of Administration bill moves the administrative functions of government to a newly created Department of Administration. The Department will include human resources, general services, and an executive budget and strategic planning office. It gets rid of the antiquated Budget and Control Board that prevented accountability in much of government.

A strong ethics bill remains on the Senate calendar, and is first in line to be debated again next year. A comprehensive proposal for road funding, and a spending caps bill also remain top priorities for next year, in the second half of our legislative session.

I look forward to continuing to serve you in the state Senate. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of service.

Election fix bill adopted

Columbia, SC – June 5, 2013 – The Senate today adopted a conference report for S.2, a bill that fixes the issues in state law that resulted last year in hundreds being thrown off the ballot. The bill was a top priority for the Senate Republican Caucus going into session. Senators Paul Thurmond and Chip Campsen were the Senate Republican conferees.

“What happened this past year was a disgrace and a disservice to voters,” Campsen said. “With this bill, we are ensuring it never happens again, and that there won’t be this level of confusion at the next filing time.”

“As someone who had to fight to stay on the ballot, I know firsthand how badly this law needed to be updated,” Thurmond said. “This bill is all about preserving options at the ballot box.”

Weekly Senate updates

With just a week left to go in the legislative session, the Senate Republican Caucus is working hard to make sure the bills important to the people of South Carolina are passed this year.

With today’s resignation of Democratic Senator Robert Ford over ethics violations, it again highlights the need to make updates to our ethics laws a top priority.

Late this week, we succeeded in setting for priority status an ethics bill aimed at providing greater accountability for public officials, and greater transparency for the public.

Among other things, the bill will increase the waiting period for former legislators to take lobbying jobs, remove ethics investigations regarding legislators to a new statewide board rather than being done within the chamber, strengthen conflict of interest and income disclosure rules, and establishes a Public Integrity Unit at SLED.

The Caucus believes that these and other changes are needed to make sure people can trust the government that represents them.

Over the past two weeks, the Senate has been working toward final approval of next year’s state budget. The Senate has passed its version, and now the work begins between the House and the Senate to iron out differences before sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Among the highlights, we were successful in beating back the Obamacare Medicaid expansion pushed by Senate Democrats, which would have cost our state untold millions once the federal government yanked its portion of the funding away.

We made education a priority, by for the first time ever allowing the formation of scholarship granting organizations, which can receive tax credits for providing school choice to low income and special needs students. We also expanded 4k funding for at risk students, and put $1.5 million toward the new “Read to Succeed” program. As well, we kept our commitment to safe, reliable school bus transportation by providing $23.5 million for new school buses.

Also on the budget front, we made safe roads a priority by providing for 40 new highway patrol officers and committing another $50 million – yearly – to priority roads and bridges. This two pronged approach – public safety and infrastructure – is key not only to our quality of life, but economic development as well.

In addition to the ethics bill on priority status is the Obamacare Nullification Act. The Senate has already taken one strong stand against Obamacare this year by blocking the Medicaid expansion. This measure is essentially aimed at asserting that Obamacare’s individual mandate and other provisions cannot be enforced within South Carolina.

Lastly, an incredibly important bill that has been years in the making, the Department of Administration bill, has passed the Senate and House and is in a conference committee where differences between the two versions are being addressed. This bill will get rid of the outdated Budget and Control Board, and help bring our government structure into the 21st Century. It makes clear the lines of authority in state government, meaning greater accountability for all.

In short, we have had an incredibly productive year, and hope to continue that in the last week of the legislative session. As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns.

Recent Updates

For the past week and much of the coming week, the Senate is occupied with crafting the state’s budget for the coming year.

Much of the time has been spent discussing core government functions like adequately funding school bus transportation, and funding transportation infrastructure improvements. In addition to those big ticket items, the Caucus is continuing to look for other ways to save taxpayer money. For instance, Senator Chip Campsen proposed an amendment that was successfully adopted calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the state-owned plane.

This week the budget debate will shift to a school choice measure proposed by Senator Larry Grooms. The amendment would give tax credits to parents choosing to educate their children in a private school, home school, or in another public school that they weren’t zoned for. We expect this amendment to be thoroughly debated, as school choice has always been a contentious issue within the Senate.

In other matters, a bill sponsored by Senator Katrina Shealy was ratified and signed by the governor. The bill provides that flags atop state buildings will be lowered to half-staff when an SC resident in the military loses their life. The bill also requires the governor to identify the person being honored on the day of the funeral on the Governor’s Office website. It’s another small way we in the Senate believe we should recognize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

We also just passed the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) Integrity Bill. This legislation allows DEW to impose a penalty for fraudulent overpayments. This bill keeps SC in compliance with federal law which will allow employers to continue to receive certain tax credits for their employees. The savings are estimated to be up to $400 per employee for businesses in our state.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a tough new Ethics law that we expect to be debated on the floor of the Senate very soon.

The bill makes a number of important changes, all centered on making sure citizens can trust the government representing them to make decisions ethically and transparently.

Among other things, the bill will increase the waiting period for former legislators to take lobbying jobs, remove ethics investigations regarding legislators to a new statewide board rather than being done within the chamber, strengthen conflict of interest and income disclosure rules, and establishes a Public Integrity Unit at SLED.

As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns.

SC Senate Panel Advances Ethics Reform

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina Senate panel has advanced an ethics reform package that removes ethics investigations from legislators.

The bill sent Tuesday to the full Judiciary Committee overhauls the makeup of the state Ethics Commission board and puts it in charge of investigating possible ethics violations by legislators.

The measure keeps House and Senate ethics committees in place. But their roles would change. They would publicly determine how to punish members for non-criminal allegations only after the commission does its work and finds probable cause a violation occurred.

Republican Sen. Chip Campsen says that ensures an independent investigation while avoiding constitutional questions. The state constitution says each chamber is responsible for disciplining its members.

The House plan approved last week created a joint House-Senate committee of legislators and people they select.

Courtesy of WLTX.com

Senate leaders issue statement on Ethics Reform Bill

Columbia, SC-May 2, 2013-Senate leaders today issued the following statement on the House-passed ethics reform bill that was today assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Time is of the essence, and we appreciate the House’s passage of the bill so that we can consider it and get it passed before the end of the session,” Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler said. “The House bill represents a start, and we are committed to a strong ethics bill being passed by the Senate.”

“The House bill represents a solid step toward ethics reform, but there is still room for improvement,” said Senator Wes Hayes. “We need to make sure this bill is as strong as possible and has the teeth it needs to give our citizens confidence in the system.”

“We plan to move quickly on this bill in order to get it on the floor for consideration,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin. “Addressing ethics reform is something that we have to get right when the opportunity arises, because we won’t get another bite at this apple. Half measures won’t cut it.”

Alexander Ensures Every Newborn Has a Healthy Heart

Columbia, SC – April 11, 2013 – Getting every newborn in South Carolina screened for congenital heart defects is one step closer to reality today, after the state Senate passed a bill introduced by Senator Thomas Alexander.

Today the Senate passed the “Emerson Rose Act,” that will require all newborns to receive a special screening for critical congenital heart defects prior to discharge. Congenital heart defects are the number one killer of infants with birth defects, and have unfortunately taken a significant toll on families across the U.S. Pulse Oximetry is a non-invasive screening test that helps identify newborns at risk for heart defects. New research suggests that wider use of “Pulse Ox” screening in conjunction with the routine practices would help identify more than 90 percent of congenital heart defects.

The bill was named for Emerson Rose, an infant born with a heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Her parents, Jason and Susan Smith of Clemson, SC, started the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation in her honor.

“With medical technology where it is today, there’s simply no reason that this potentially life-saving screening should not be given to every South Carolina newborn,” Alexander said. “I am pleased the Senate moved forward with this bill, and am hopeful the House does so as well.”

The American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Cardiology Foundation recommend that every state passes Pulse Ox legislation, and Senator Alexander is passionate about getting the bill passed in SC.

For additional information on Pulse Ox Screening contact: Carolyn Bivona, Government Relations Director, American Heart Association, carolyn.bivona@heart.org 803-806-3027.

Lawmakers presenting measures to change SC student athletics

COLUMBIA (WACH) – Some state lawmakers are presenting measures that would change who oversees high school sports. However, they don’t see major changes coming soon.

Charleston Sen. Chip Campsen is one of several lawmakers ready to see changes in how student athletics is handled across the state.

“Athletics was probably the most important activity I ever engaged in my life as far as teaching me discipline,” said Campsen.

Campsen says the South Carolina High School League, the system that currently oversees athletics, has structural flaws that allow rivalries and coaches to influence the system.

“Those rivalries will always be imported,” said Campsen. ” They are not independent arbitrators of disputes and rules when it comes to interscholastic athletics.”

Several proposals that would change how athletics operate in the state are being debated. One bill looking to change the structure would have the state superintendent of education appoint a new commissioner to oversee high school athletics. Another proposal put forth Wednesday would give home schooled children the chance to compete alongside public school athletes in their school district.

“The state should respect those parents decision, but not deny those children the ability to participate in athletics because their parents have made a decision about what is best for their education,” said Campsen.

Sonya Timmons has been home schooling her son for almost four years, and he has become an avid runner.

“We just don’t feel like just because we made an academic choice for our children it negates the fact that they do know how to run, they do know how to play baseball, they do know how to play football,” said Timmons.

Timmons helped create a tract team for home schoolers and they’ve had an easy time competing against other schools at tournaments until this year. The high school league worries that students could leave traditional schools and create an all-star team of home schoolers to compete for state championships.

“The notion that somehow parents of great athletes are going to decide to home school their kids simply so these great athletes can form a great team and go out and beat the Goose Creeks and the Gaffneys of SC on the football field is absurd,” said Campsen.

“If you say it’s for the competition and you want to beat the best of the best if we ever got there, why not?” said Timmons. “They’re just kids running. There are kids in public and these are home school kids. They’re just kids running.”

It’s a debate that is sure to keep running on and off the field.

Courtesy of Midlands Connect.

Upstate senator proposes bill to provide $200M for S.C. roads

COLUMBIA – The Senate’s majority leader is proposing a comprehensive transportation bill that would provide more than $200 million for the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, move the State Infrastructure Bank and add a second appointee by the governor to the state’s highway commission.

Sen. Harvey Peeler of Gaffney, the Senate’s Republican leader and the bill’s author, said he knows the bill is ambitious.

“I agree it’s a big bill,” he said. “It’s a big bill because it’s a big problem. And it’s getting bigger every day. If I accomplish nothing today, it will at least create a conversation on the needs of our infrastructure in South Carolina.”

Sen. John Scott, a Richland County Democrat, said he thinks Peeler may be trying to do too much.
“I think in trying get it all done in one comprehensive bill, we might not be able to get anything out because of so many different issues,” he told Peeler.

Transportation funding has been the focus of debate in both chambers this year following an estimate by a DOT task force that found it would take $29 billion over 20 years to bring the state’s roads and bridges up to good condition. A business coalition has estimated the state needs $6 billion over 10 years.

The state operates the fourth-largest state-maintained road system in the nation with one of the lowest gas taxes, at 16.75 cents per gallon. It was last raised in 1987.

The House has responded by passing a measure authored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell that would send $80 million of the revenue collected from car sales tax to DOT. The remainder would go to education needs, as is now allocated. The House also appropriated $60 million towards bridge needs.

Peeler said he doesn’t believe an increase in the gas tax is possible and while he is not opposed to Sen. Nikki Setzler’s idea to borrow $500 million through bonds, he doesn’t yet support spending it all on secondary roads.
“I’ve tried to be as realistic as possible in funding our infrastructure needs,” he said of his proposal. “Granted, it’s a drop in the bucket but it’s still a drop. It’s an empty bucket right now.”

The bill’s funding would come from a bevy of sources, he said. Like other bills, his would send money collected from the sales tax onvehicles to the state Department of Transportation. But Peeler’s bill would split the money, currently about $103 million, between DOT and the Infrastructure Bank, which his bill would move into DOT so the DOT board could take over those responsibilities. The money sent to the bank could then be leveraged for bonds, he said.
Peeler and others have complained that the Infrastructure Bank has spent most of its money on projects in a handful of counties in the state.

The bill would require that 20 percent of any new revenue would be used for bridge repairs and construction. This year that would amount to about $100 million, he said.

Other money would come from out-of-state truckers’ fees.

He said state inspectors under the bill would check to be sure ethanol is being blended properly at the pump and that it is being listed as a motor fuel so it is taxed.

The bill also would make the last overhaul of DOT, which resulted in the governor appointing DOT’s director, now called the state transportation secretary, permanent. The law otherwise is set to expire in 2015.

He said the bill would require any future infrastructure bank projects fall under the same priority requirements as other state road projects and only be approved if funding is available.

The bank’s last approved project, final funding for an 8-mile extension to I-526 in Charleston, is to be financed through future revenues because the bank has used up its bonding capacity on the project.

Sen. Paul Thurmond of Charleston asked if Peeler’s bill would impact the I-526 project.

Peeler replied he wasn’t sure but believed the state should be funding repairs to I-85 before paying for an extension of I-526.

“You can have pot holes on Maple Street and live with it,” he said. “But we can’t have pot holes on interstate highways. We have potholes on I-85 today. It’s dangerous to ride on that stretch of road.”

Peeler said he believes I-526 should only be funded after the state pays to widen I-85 to six lanes from North Carolina to the Georgia line.

Courtesy of Greenville Online.

The SC Senate Republican Caucus continues to “crank out the bills”

This week was especially productive in the Senate. Here are some things you may have missed:

On Monday, The State published an article titled “SC Senate Cranking Out Bills,” and only three days later, the South Carolina State Senate moved three more important bills, continuing its quick work for South Carolina families.

The early voting and the NDAA nullification bills both passed the Senate on third reading, while a bill expanding gun rights for CWP holders was placed in special status.

S.4 will allow South Carolinians to cast ballots during a seven-day period before Election Day.

S.92 nullifies the enforcement of the federal National Defense Authorization Act that deals with unlimited detainment of any American citizen suspected of terrorism.

S.308 will allow people with concealed weapons permits to legally carry firearms in restaurants.