State House Update for Week of February 17-19, 2009

The House of Representatives met three days this week with work taking place in committees and on the House floor. The full Ways and Means Committee met again to discuss the state budget. Because of the federal stimulus package uncertainty, the Ways and Means Committee will not submit a budget to the full House until late next week. The House will debate the budget the week of March 9. The budget situation is very fluid due to requirements attached to some of the money being offered in South Carolina’s portion of the federal stimulus package.

The Agriculture Committee met and approved bill a bill important to many folks in our district. We have native freshwater turtles being caught in huge numbers and they are being sent overseas as part of the Asian turtle trade. The bill prohibits the capture and export of certain wild turtle species from South Carolina. The bill now advances to the House floor next week. I am a cosponsor of the bill.

On the House floor, we spent part of Tuesday and Wednesday debating a bill that will allow school districts greater flexibility in how they spend their funding from the state. One hotly contested amendment that passed requires that districts spend a minimum of 65% of their operational budget on classroom instruction as defined by the State Department of Education. I supported this amendment because I strongly believe that we need to get as much of the money being spent on education to the children and the teachers in the classroom.

The state budget difficulties that necessitate the cuts being considered by our public education system underscore deficiencies in our state’s tax structure. Because our state is so dependent on sales tax revenue, our state’s annual budget appropriations are especially vulnerable to downturns in the economy such as we are experiencing in the current recession. When this happens, we have no choice but to make deep cuts which result in critical economic foundations such as education, workforce quality, infrastructure, and research and development being substantially underfunded. Additionally, we have $2.7 Billion in annual state tax exemptions including many that have existed since the early 1950’s. Certainly, many of these exemptions make no sense to exist in 2009. For these reasons, I support a meaningful and thoughtful comprehensive overhaul of our state’s tax structure and I am cosponsoring a bill in the House which is intended to do that.

On Thursday, I filed a bill as primary sponsor with several cosponsors to make it against the law to have a secret compartment in a vehicle for the purpose of hiding illegal drugs and other contraband. This bill is strongly supported by our law enforcement community.

During the week, I attended two meetings at the State Department of Transportation from which Aiken County should receive $5.5 Million for road resurfacing and $2.9 Million for new road construction.

On Wednesday, students from the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind – including Chase Sizemore from Aiken — came to the legislature. They sang on the House floor. Their visit was most appreciated.

Several constituents called or emailed me during the week regarding pending legislation and matters in the district including the Graniteville/Vaucluse water system; funding for K-12 education; and charter schools. I appreciate all of the insight from folks in our district.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent and to serve you.

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