Update – February 23 to February 25, 2010

The House of Representatives met this past week and meets again this Tuesday, March 2. I hope that you find this update helpful and informative:

Yucca Mountain: This week, Attorney General Henry McMaster announced that the State will be joining the legal action to obtain an injunction to prevent the federal government from stopping the Yucca Mountain program without congressional approval. State and Aiken County leaders have been working on ways to combat the recent Obama Administration decision to close Yucca Mountain as the permanent site for the nation’s spent nuclear waste. Despite nearly thirty years of public investment and research in the Yucca Mountain project including hundreds of millions of dollars from South Carolinians during that time, the Obama Administration’s recent budget decision to close Yucca Mountain is being made without congressional input or approval. It is critical for our leadership to work together to ensure that high level spent nuclear waste currently stored at SRS does not remain there permanently.

State Budget: The House Ways and Means Committee finished its work on the state budget this past Friday. The budget shows substantial additional cuts in every state agency as the state continues to experience the economic downturn and decreased state revenues. I joined with several other House members in asking that the Committee “zero out” some essential of state agencies before cutting teachers, law enforcement, and health care programs. My understanding is that the Committee did not do this because there is not enough support to make such cuts. The Committee did vote to raise the cigarette tax 30 cents per pack to help pay for substantial cuts in the state Medicaid program. The full House will debate the budget the week of March 15. At $5.1 Billion, the budget is about $2.0 Billion less than two years ago. I assure you that I will do all that I can to make the best of this tough situation.

Tort Law Changes: The House Judiciary Committee approved changes to state tort law including setting reasonable limits on punitive damage awards, adopting a sliding scale on outside counsel fees when attorneys are hired by the Attorney General to represent the State, addressing the Statute of Repose on building code violations, limiting appeals bonds, and allowing admissibility of the use or non-use of seat belts. The bill now heads to the House floor where I plan to support it.

Economic Development: The economic development bill prepared by House leadership this past fall was approved in committee two weeks ago and will come up for a vote on the House floor this week. The legislation includes several tax and regulation changes that businesses said are necessary to help business in creating more jobs. I am working with several House members to identify ways to help small businesses in South Carolina. If you have ideas on what the State can do to help small business in the current economic climate, please email me back with your input.

Sunset Commission: The House passed a bill setting up a “Sunset Commission” which will examine government agencies and programs to evaluate whether they are effective and still need to exist. President Reagan once said that “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” There is a lot of truth to this statement and the hope is that this commission will put to bed programs and agencies that are not performing or woefully out-of-date. The bill now heads to the Senate where it has stalled in the past.

Restructuring/Secretary of State: Last year, at the beginning of the session, I filed several restructuring reform bills including legislation to allow South Carolina voters to decide whether to amend the State Constitution so that certain constitutional officers who are currently popularly elected would in the future be appointed by the Governor as part of the Governor’s cabinet. The bill concerning the Secretary of State was the first to reach the House floor for a vote. Two thirds of the House (83 votes) had to approve the bill. On Thursday, the bill passed with 85 votes. It will now head to the Senate.

Driving and High School Dropouts: I expected this bill to come up this past week in subcommittee. Unfortunately, it did not. It should at the next meeting. This bill prohibits possession of a driver’s license until age 18 unless the young person is enrolled in, or has completed, high school. The bill does have a hardship provision for some limited exceptions. I am confident that if it becomes law this year, then it will be a way that we can combat the high school dropout rate in the short term.

Texting While Driving: The bill that will ban both texting and cell phone use while driving is on the House calendar. I have received lots of feedback on this issue. Nearly everyone who has talked to me has stated that they want a ban on texting while driving. However, as to cell phone use, folks are mixed on that issue. I have listened to all the feedback and I am leaning toward supporting the bill as is without dropping the cell phone ban. It is important to know that the bill will not prohibit cell phone use when the phone is being used with a hands free device. I welcome feedback on this or any other issue.

Judicial System Funding: Chief Justice Toal addressed the General Assembly on Wednesday expressing the difficulties that the Judicial System has with its funding. State revenues have dramatically decreased as a source of judicial system funding over the past nine years. Businesses like Boeing want a stable judicial system and one of the tasks facing this General Assembly is making sure that we continue to fund the system to ensure its stability and viability.

Warrantless Searches: After a long debate, the House approved a bill allowing law enforcement to conduct warrantless searches of persons who are on either probation or parole. This bill has substantial support from law enforcement agencies and local governments across the state as it is widely viewed as a way for authorities to combat criminal activities by repeat offenders. The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration of House amendments.

Zero Based Budgeting: Last week, an editorial in the Aiken Standard advocated zero based budgeting principles for state and local government. Last year, I cosponsored legislation that is currently pending which will require state agencies to use zero based budgeting principles. The bill has to get a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee to begin its way through the legislative process. I am hopeful that after the House finishes the budget then this bill will get a hearing this session. If you know other House members, encourage them to support this legislation.

Tax Realignment Commission: As many of you know, this group was established last year by legislation and was charged with reviewing all of the state’s tax structure and revenue sources in order to propose ways to reform the tax code and to improve the state’s revenue stream. The one exception was that the Commission was not to review the property tax problems created by Act 388 in 2006. However, this week, I cosponsored legislation that will require the Commission to review everything including the property tax issues created by Act 388 and to include recommendations addressing those problems in its report which is due by November 15, 2010. This bill should pass the House this month.

Legislative Score Cards: Some interest groups “score” legislators based on certain limited votes in the House. Recently, the S.C Chamber of Commerce issued its 2009 legislative scorecard and I scored a perfect 100. Additionally, the South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee (BIPEC) issued its 2009 scorecard and I scored a 96 out of 100. The SC Club for Growth issued its card and I had a “C+” which was equal to or better than 108 of the other 123 members in the House.

Job Fair: Early last Fall, I asked the Employment Security Commission to host a Job Fair here in greater Aiken to assist those who are looking for work. That Job Fair is set for Saturday, March 27 at a location and time to be determined. I will post more information when I know it.

Road Issues: If you see a road problem, you can call the SCDOT at 641-7665 or Aiken County at 642-1532 to report the problem. If you do not get a prompt response, please let me know at TomYoung@schouse.gov or call me. In the past five weeks, I have received many different reports of problems and I have relayed those to the appropriate agencies.

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