Legislative Report—June 6, 2014

The final week of the 2013-2014 Legislative Session ended in sine die (meaning “without days”) is always a flurry of activity with a lot of scrambling to get important legislation finished. This week was no exception. We took a big step forward on ethics reform, protected children from drug-abusing parents, and banned texting while driving, among many other things.

The House passed Ethics Reform (again) on a vote of 110-12 with strong bi-partisan support. Approval came on the final day of the session after a compromise was reached earlier in the week by a House/Senate conference committee. Disappointment came when the legislation hit a Senate roadblock with Sen. Bright filibustering the reform preventing a Senate vote. Fortunately, the Senate will take up this important legislation when the General Assembly returns to consider the Governor’s budget vetoes on June 17th.

Ethics reform cuts to the heart of good government. Citizens must have confidence in those they elect at every level. The Ethics Reform Act isn’t just about the legislature; changes cover every elected official in SC from county and city councils, school boards to water district commissioners.

For certain, this reform package does not give us everything we wanted. It doesn’t give the citizens of SC everything they deserve. However, it isn’t “reform in name only” as the small group of political activists would claim.

Our ethics laws were written more than 20 years ago, before campaigns had credit cards, cellphone bills, or online fundraising. The law needs updating and the compromise consists of many critical and significant changes.

We approved increased transparency, more income disclosure, tighter rules on third-party money, eliminated Leadership PACs, required more proof of expenses, ended fundraising by government bureaucrats, increased regulation on lobbyists, and increased ethics enforcement and penalties.

What isn’t in this legislation is a body that will conduct independent investigations of public officials, including statewide officials, members of the General Assembly, and judges. Senators on the conference committee told the media in no uncertain terms this week that they would not approve that reform. The good news—if the Senate approves the Ethics Reform Act in two weeks, Gov. Haley has indicated her support for the bill.

We approved a ban on texting while driving. It has been sent to Gov. Haley, but she has not indicated whether she will sign it. The bill allows for texting while stopped at a stoplight or stop sign, but not while the vehicle is moving (except in case of emergency). Fines begin at $25 and no points for citation. SC is one of the last states to pass such a ban.

One final piece of legislation we approved was Jaidon’s Law. The bill gives our courts clear guidelines on when to terminate parental rights, specifically when the parents or guardians have a history of drug abuse or child abuse. It also requires drug-abusing parents pass drug tests and treatment programs as a condition of keeping their parental rights.

Both the House and Senate sent a proposed budget to the Governor this week. Next year’s spending plan includes more money for four-year-old kindergarten in high-poverty districts and a two percent pay raise for state employees.

Most disappointing this year was the lack of more dedicated funds to repair our crumbling roads. Last year we funneled more than $1 billion into road repairs. This year, the House appropriated money from the sales tax on cars to road construction. Regrettably, the bill did not make it out of the Senate. That would have dedicated an additional $41 million a year to fixing roads and bridges. Instead, the Senate budgeted only $15 million. Fixing our roads must be a top priority in the next Legislative Session.

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