Update – April 19 to April 24, 2010

The House of Representatives met this past week. I hope that you find this update helpful and informative:

Driving and High School Dropouts: 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. We worked with representatives from both the Department of Education and Department of Motor Vehicles to redraft the bill. I presented the amended version in subcommittee this past Thursday morning. The subcommittee unanimously approved the bill. We then were successful in getting unanimous consent on the floor of the House to move the bill to the House calendar for this Tuesday bypassing a full committee hearing. Because of the upcoming May 1 “crossover deadline” for House bills going from the House to the Senate, this move was critical if the bill is to pass the House and have a chance to become law this year. This week, we will be working hard to get the bill passed. All of the Aiken House delegation are cosponsoring the bill with me including Reps. Jim Stewart, Bill Clyburn, Roland Smith, Don Smith, and Kit Spires. Although this bill is not the “silver bullet” to the high school dropout problem, it is part of the solution in our effort to combat the high school dropout rate in the short term.

Warrantless Searches: This bill allows warrantless searches of people on either probation or parole. The 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. Both the House and Senate passed the bill earlier this year. Governor Sanford vetoed this bill. The Senate then overrode the veto. However, this past week, the House failed to override the Governor’s veto. Another vote is expected soon in the House to try to override the veto. I support overriding the veto.

Cigarette Tax: The House agreed to a 50 cents a pack increase to the cigarette tax. Under the plan, most of the money (about $130 Million) will go to fund Medicaid programs. A fraction will go toward cancer research and smoking cessation programs. A push to lower the tax to 30 cents failed in the House. The House removed any funding for projects in communities located along I-95. The bill now heads back to the Senate. Governor Sanford is expected to veto the bill. A two thirds vote of both the House and Senate will be necessary to override the Governor’s veto. If the veto is not overridden, then the cigarette tax will stay at 7 cents a pack for at least another year. I voted for the 50 cent increase based largely upon the overwhelming feedback from hundreds of people in District 81. Some interesting facts that you may be interested in on this issue are as follows: 34% of people in South Carolina over the age of 18 smoke. In North Carolina, that number is 29% and in Georgia that number is 28%. The health-related costs to taxpayers in South Carolina of people who have smoking-related illnesses is very substantial. At 7 cents a pack, South Carolina’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation and has not changed in nearly 35 years. North Carolina’s current cigarette tax is 45 cents a pack. Georgia’s current cigarette tax is 35 cents a pack. Both states have recently considered legislation to raise their cigarette tax again.

Sprinklers Bill: This bill did not come up this past week. I expect that we will get to it this week. To recap, South Carolina has adopted certain portions of the model residential building code effective January 1, 2011. One of the requirements of the code is that newly constructed single family homes after January 1, 2011 will have to have sprinklers installed in them. The cost can add several thousand dollars to the expense of building a new home. Legislation is pending which eliminates the sprinklers requirement in new single family homes. It should be noted that the sprinkler requirement will not apply to new mobile homes. I plan to support the bill to eliminate the sprinkler requirement.

Handguns Stored Under the Seat: The Full Judiciary Committee did not meet last week to take up this bill that would allow people to store a handgun under the seat in their car. Current law allows a handgun to be stored in the glove compartment, console, or trunk of a motor vehicle. I am talking with law enforcement and others about this bill to form a position. I received lots of feedback on this bill last week.

Cumbee Center: Recently, an issue arose as to whether state law would allow local government and local citizens to approve local option sales tax revenue for infrastructure improvements at the Cumbee Center in Aiken. (The Cumbee Center provides assistance to domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Aiken County has the highest rate of domestic violence incidents in the State.) Because the issue involved an interpretation of state law and I represent the area where the Cumbee Center is located, I requested an Attorney General Opinion for an interpretation of the statute. Last week, the Attorney General Opinion came back stating that state law would allow local government and local citizens to use local money for infrastructure improvements at the Cumbee Center if approved in the local option sales tax referendum. Whether that happens or not is a decision for local government and local citizens in the Local Option Sales Tax process.

State Budget: The Senate is still working on its version of the State Budget. I will provide more information when the Senate bill comes back to the House in the next couple of weeks.

Aiken High School Culinary Team at State House: Aiken High teacher Jean Gorthy and her students from Aiken High’s Culinary Arts Class were at the State House on Wednesday cooking as part of the annual “Taste of South Carolina” event sponsored by the State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (“PRT”). The Aiken High team was the only cooking team from any traditional high school in South Carolina invited to participate in the event. They were able to attend with the assistance of a grant from PRT and food donations from Houndslake Country Club. They did a great job!

SCE&G Rate Hike Request – Local Hearing Scheduled: The State Public Service Commission (PSC) will hold a public hearing on SCE&G’s proposed rate hike request on Thursday, May 6 at 6:00 p.m. at Aiken Tech. The PSC will have to approve the rate hike request. Currently, the PSC has public hearings scheduled in Columbia (May 24), Summerville (April 26), and Charleston (April 27). I will not be able to attend the hearing that night, but I will be provided a summary of the comments. If you want me to know your thoughts, please let me know.

Federal Government Settlement with Norfolk Southern: Recently, the Federal Government proposed a settlement with Norfolk Southern as to the Government’s lawsuit for environmental contamination after the 2005 chlorine spill in Graniteville. The proposed terms of the settlement include $4 Million being paid by Norfolk Southern to the Government’s Oil Spill and Hazardous Waste funds. Also, the local communities affected by the spill will receive 3,000 fish released into Langley Pond and some trees to be planted along Horse Creek. I filed an objection during the 30 day period to object to the proposed settlement. A public hearing is expected in Aiken at the Federal Courthouse when the Federal Court considers whether to approve the settlement. When I find out when the hearing will be, I will post it in this column. The proposed Settlement may be examined on the following Department of Justice Web site: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent-Decrees.html.

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 three months, I have received many different reports of problems and I have relayed those to the appropriate agencies.

Responding to Email Feedback: I have received a large volume of email feedback in the past two weeks. I am responding to it as quickly as I can. Please know that if you have not heard back from me, you will soon.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent you. Please let me know if I can help you in any way or if you have questions about these or other issues.

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