Update – May 17 to May 23, 2010

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

State Budget: The House amended the Senate budget this week. After the House passed its budget in March, revenue estimates for 2010-2011 decreased by over $50 Million. To address this shortfall in its budget, the Senate proposed raising the following fees: (1) Department of Public Safety: $6 surcharge on annual vehicle registrations; (2) Department of Natural Resources: $5 surcharge on annual boat registrations and $2 surcharge on all hunting and fishing licenses; (3) State Courts: Increase in filing and motion fees (by separate legislation) and $50 fee on depositions for both Family and Circuit Courts. After receiving the Senate budget proposal, the House decided not to include these fee increases in its budget. Therefore, last week, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee proposed an amendment which cut funding to a wide variety of health care programs and eliminated the above fee increases. I supported the amendment with all other Republicans who were present and voted last Wednesday afternoon. Because of this amendment, the budget is definitely headed to conference committee with the Senate before the final version of the budget goes to the Governor for his consideration.

State Budget – Funding for Redistricting: One item in the amendment referenced in the above column was a one time increase in the House of Representatives operating budget of over $3 Million. This item has received little press coverage apparently because the increase is justifiable with redistricting of all Congressional, Senate, and House seats to be done in 2011. Initially, I did not plan to support the amendment because very little information was provided to members to justify the proposed increase. However, after I asked several questions, I learned that the funding is necessary every ten years following the census. A representative democracy is built upon fair elections. With the high growth in South Carolina’s population, we should be gaining a new Congressman and we will have to redraw our State House and State Senate lines. This task is not easy and will require statisticians, attorneys, cartographers and sophisticated mapping and computer software. The Clerk of the House further explained that this is a very expensive process which requires multiple public forums throughout the state, extensive training of staff, and the hiring of legal counsel to assist in the preparation of a redistricting plan in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent U.S. Supreme Court opinions. The legal costs are inevitable and someone will file a voting rights challenge to any plan that is approved by the legislature. The 1991 redistricting process was not finished until 1997 because of a series of legal challenges. The Clerk of the House advises us that he has reviewed the expenses associated with redistricting in 1991 and 2001 and the amount approved in the amendment is a conservative estimate of what will be needed to meet the challenges and obligations of redistricting in 2011 and beyond. I am assured that this is not recurring funding and is for expected expenses to be incurred in redistricting.

Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and the Employment Security Commission (ESC): The House passed a bill aimed at fixing the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund. First, the bill proposes using an “array method” which separates companies into 20 categories; reduces rates for those companies that use the unemployment system the least; and increases rates for those that use the system the most. The “array method” is currently being used by 11 other states. Second, the bill raises the taxable employee wage base from $7,000 to $10,000 in 2011, to $12,000 in 2012, and to $14,000 in 2014. The effective date to the changes is January 1, 2011. This bill is part of the reform effort at the ESC in the legislature this year. To recap, earlier this session, the legislature and the Governor approved a bill which creates a new Department of the Workforce in the Governor’s cabinet and moves several workforce and unemployment responsibilities from the ESC and the Department of Commerce to the new agency. The legislation also abolishes the board of the ESC and puts an executive director in charge. Another critical area of reform is restoring solvency to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund. This Trust Fund is empty and South Carolina, like at least 26 other states, has been borrowing money from the Federal Government in the past 16 months to pay unemployment benefits. The bill passed by the House this week is aimed at addressing the problems with the Trust Fund. The Senate has already passed the bill and the Governor is expected to sign it. I voted for this proposal.

Driving and High School Dropouts: This bill (H.3645) has passed the House is now in the Senate. It is set for a Senate Finance Committee Hearing this Tuesday, May 25. If it passes, it will go to the full Senate for consideration. To recap, 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 including where the young person has to go to work to support himself or his immediate family. South Carolina first recognized the need for this legislation in 1989 in the Governor’s Commission on the Future Report. Since then, a generation of children have passed through our schools. It is undisputed that the high school dropout rate perpetuates social ills such as crime, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency, and high unemployment. All of these areas cost taxpayers money in some way or another. The statistics show that about 80% of those who dropout do so in the 9th or 10th grade. If we can get more kids to stay in school until the 11th grade, then it is much more likely that they will graduate. The data also shows that those who finish high school will earn about $1 Million more on average over their lifetime than those who do not finish high school. Raising the average educational attainment of our citizens will also improve the quality of our state’s workforce helping make our state more attractive to new industry expansion. The bottom line is we have to encourage more kids to stay in school and finish versus dropping out. 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. If you also believe that this bill is long overdue, then I encourage you to contact as many state senators as you can and ask them to support passage of H.3645.

Pay Day Lenders – Closing Loophole: Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation imposing strict regulations on the pay day lending industry. Before the effective date of that new legislation, some lenders in the state late last year switched their licenses to become supervised lenders. Supervised lenders can charge any interest rate as long as they are licensed, notify the state, and post the rate. They can offer small unsecured loans for terms longer than a two-week pay day loan. To fix this loophole, the Senate passed a bill making the terms of a supervised loan 120 days or more and requiring such loans to be secured by personal property and not a post-dated check which is the collateral for a pay day loan. The Senate bill arrived in the the House on April 20. Since that time, the bill is in the House Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee and not made it to the floor for consideration. Thus, efforts are ongoing in the House and the Senate to amend bills already on the floor of either body to include the language closing the supervised lending loophole. In the meantime, the bill is set for another committee hearing this week on Wednesday, May 26.

Order of Succession in Absence of Governor: The House passed legislation this week defining when the Lt. Governor is to assume control of the State under the State Constitution in the “temporary absence” of the Governor. Last summer, when Governor Sanford disappeared for five days, the lack of a formal system for succession when the Governor is temporarily absent became evident. This legislation is aimed to correct that problem. The House amended the bill this week to delete the veto power from the scope of the Lt. Governor’s power if he/she serves for a brief period as Governor in the “temporary absence” of the Governor.

SCE&G Rate Hike Request: As reported last week, SCE&G lowered its rate hike request from nearly 10 percent to 4.88 percent. The rate increase would be phased in over three years: 2.5 percent in July 2010, 1.2 percent in July 2011, and 1.18 percent in July 2012. Under the proposal, the average residential customer’s bill would go up about $69.48 a year, or about $5.79 per month if approved. The State Public Service Commission (PSC) has to approve the request and a decision is expected in July of this year. The PSC has held public hearings on the request in Charleston, Summerville, Columbia, and Aiken. A transcript of the May 6 Aiken hearing can be reviewed by clicking here: ———-.

Federal Government Settlement with Norfolk Southern: As you may recall, Senator Massey and I both filed objections to the proposed settlement with Norfolk Southern. Additionally, other local residents did. We have all been waiting to learn of a date for a public hearing to be held in Aiken at the Federal Courthouse when the Federal Court considers whether to approve the Federal Government’s settlement with Norfolk Southern. Apparently, last week, without our knowledge, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice obtained the federal judge’s approval to the settlement without a public hearing. Senator Massey and I just learned this today and we are very upset that the public was not given an opportunity to attend a public hearing even after objections were noted requesting that a public hearing be held. We are looking into what, if anything, can be done at this time. I will report more in next week’s column.

Locals Elected by General Assembly: Local dentist and Clemson graduate Dr. Ronnie Lee was elected to the Clemson Board of Trustees this past Wednesday, May 19. Aiken County has not had a resident on the Clemson Board of Trustees in a decade. Additionally, local businessman Tim Dangerfield was one of three people elected to serve as an appellate panelist for the newly formed Department of Employment and Workforce.

Congratulations to South Aiken’s Teams: The South Aiken High School baseball team, girl’s soccer team, and boy’s soccer team all played this week for the state championship. Although they all fell short of winning the State Championship in their respective sports, they all are Lower State Champions. Congratulations to all of the players, coaches, and staff on their Lower State Championships! We are proud of you!

Aiken County Public Library Summer Reading Program: The annual summer reading program for children through the 5th grade starts Monday, May 24 at the Aiken County Public Library. The Program runs through July 31. Children who read the required number of books will receive a medal and a certificate of completion. Reading is essential to doing well in school. Please encourage as many young people as you can to read this summer. For more information, call the Aiken County Public Library or go to this link: http://www.abbe-lib.org/.

Email Updates: Many people in District 81 are receiving this email update. However, there are many others who do not receive them because I do not know their email addresses. If you know of people who do not receive my updates but they would like to, please email their names and email addresses to me.

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

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. Your feedback is meaningful and appreciated.

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