Midland Valley Monthly – June 2010

Since my last column last month, a lot has happened in our district and at the S.C. House of Representatives. I hope that you find this update for the month of May helpful.

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, on May 19, 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, Rep. Roland Smith, and I did not learn that this happened until May 24, 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 month’s column.

Driving and High School Dropouts: This bill (H.3645) has passed the House and is now in the Senate. It passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, May 25. It is now in the 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 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.

Cigarette Tax: The House and the Senate voted in May to override Governor Sanford’s veto of the cigarette tax legislation. The new law will go into effect on July 1 and it raises the cigarette tax 50 cents a pack. Under the plan, most of the money (about $130 Million) will go into a Medicaid Reserve Fund. A fraction will go toward cancer research and smoking cessation programs. I voted to override the veto based largely upon the overwhelming feedback from hundreds of people in District 81. Additionally, when I campaigned two years ago, I stated several times that I would oppose other tax increases but I would vote to raise the cigarette tax and part of the money should be used for health care including Medicaid. Further, statistics show that for each pack of cigarettes sold in South Carolina, the cost to our State government and taxpayers in smoking-related healthcare costs and lost productivity is $7.59 per pack. Finally, the U.S. Attorney in Charlotte recently documented that cigarette trafficking in the United States has been linked to direct funding for terrorist organizations including al Qaeda. Much of that cigarette trafficking includes purchasing large quantities in South Carolina and then selling the cigarettes on the black market in extremely high cigarette tax states such as New York. I appreciate all of the feedback on this issue during the past two years.

Handguns Stored Under the Seat: The House in May passed a bill that would allow Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) Holders to store a handgun under the seat in their automobile. Current law allows a handgun to be stored in the glove compartment, console, or trunk of a motor vehicle. The bill was amended to allow Concealed Weapon Permit Holders to store a gun under the seat of a vehicle. I supported the amendment.

Protection of Police Officers: The House also passed legislation that will require those convicted of certain violent crimes to have an indicator placed on the back of their South Carolina driver’s licenses and state identification cards. If the person is not convicted of an additional violent offense within 5 years of completing his sentence or while on probation or parole, in the discretion of the judge, then the indicator could be removed. The indicator cannot be used as grounds to search or detain a person but is utilized only as an officer safety procedure. The intent is to alert police officers to former violent crime offenders in a roadside stop quicker than the time it takes for the officer to go back to the patrol vehicle and enter the driver’s license information and criminal history. The bill has already passed the Senate. I support the legislation.

Voter Identification: The House approved legislation in early May that will require voters in South Carolina to present a valid photo identification when casting a ballot in elections. The bill is now in a conference committee because there are differences in the House and Senate versions as to the length of time to be allowed for in person early voting and absentee voting. Requiring photo identification to vote has been instituted in other states and upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. If a resident voter does not have a photo identification, then the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is authorized to issue one under the legislation. I voted in favor of the bill.

MCA Sign Company Investment for Aiken County: In May, the S.C. Department of Commerce and the Aiken/Edgefield Economic Development Partnership announced that MCA Sign Company (“MCA”) will locate its new company headquarters in Aiken County. MCA has been in business for over 100 years and is consolidating its operations in several states into one location here in the former Avondale Horsecreek building in Graniteville. MCA’s investment will total $12 Million and it plans to employ 125 people at the site.

SCE&G Rate Hike Request: The State Public Service Commission (PSC) held a hearing in Aiken at Aiken Tech on May 6 to receive comments from the public on SCE&G’s rate hike request. In early May, 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 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.
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.

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.

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.

Weekly Legislative Updates by Email: I am sending a weekly legislative update by email. If you would like to receive it, please send your email address to me at TomYoung@schouse.gov.

Please know that I can be reached by telephone (649-0000 or 215-3631); email (TomYoung@schouse.gov); regular mail (P.O. Box 651, Aiken, SC 29802); or just pull me aside when you see me. Remember to check my website for updates about what is going on at the State House and in our district. Thank you for the privilege and the opportunity to represent you.

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