This week was another busy week in Columbia. We continued to review the comprehensive education reform bill and this year’s budget was passed out of the Ways and Means Committee. I look forward to reviewing where every dollar is being spent in the 2019-2020 budget and do what I can to protect the pocket books of my constituents along with those around the State. With a new Ways and Means Chairman this year, the budget is built on the foundation of protecting taxpayers, funding only core functions of state government, and providing value for every dollar. In addition to efficiently funding the normal core functions of government, this year the budget is making substantive investments in education and workforce development. The budget prioritized public and higher education to ensure our students are prepared for the workforce. Highlights from the House Ways and Means Committee Budget Proposal
Almost $160 million to provide teachers a pay raise, helping to ensure that we recruit and retain the very best teachers.
$40 million for new, paper-backup voting machines to ensure our election process is secure and fair.
$20 million to exempt from income taxes the retirement income of military veterans and first responders, saving the average first responder and military veteran $350 each year.
Amendments to the Education Bill On Wednesday, Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, and State Sen. Greg Hembree held a press conference in support of the comprehensive education reform bill. After hearing input and concerns from teachers, parents, students and the business community, the original legislation was amended. The Education K-12 Subcommittee began hearing debate and amendments following the press conference and passed the amended bill out of the subcommittee on Thursday morning. The bill is scheduled to be taken up in the full House Education Committee next week which I am a part of. I look forward to diving into the changes and ensuring the amendments perform what they are intended to do for our students, teachers, and schools. Veterans Bill Besides term limits and ethics reform, Veterans Bill H.3438 was one of the first bills I sponsored coming into the State House. It ensures there is more uniformity for caring for our Veterans in the State. The bill also makes the South Carolina Veterans Affairs Division a Cabinet Level agency. Currently, it is a sub-department within the Department of Administration. I held a press conference with Governor McMaster, Major General Van McCarty of the South Carolina National Guard and others about the importance of this bill to provided better care for our Veterans. Take a look at the coverage below.
See Video of the Press Conference here. The State: See how Gov. McMaster and lawmakers plan to elevate veterans’ issues in South Carolina The Post & Courier: McMaster backs elevating Veterans Affairs to SC Cabinet-level agency
Legislative News Regulating Hemp The House passed H.3449 to remove the cap on the number of permitted hemp farms. Farmers will still need to apply for a permit with the S.C. Department of Agriculture, but there will no longer be a cap for the number of permits available or limits on the number of acres that can be planted with hemp. SC Energy Freedom Act On Thursday, I voted for the "SC Energy Freedom Act,” that will expand Solar Energy options in SC. The bill passed the House unanimously and will extend current rooftop solar customer "net metering" until 2021 and provide for the long-term net-metering rate to be set by the Public Service Commission. The bill requires utility companies to create programs for individuals to participate in community-based solar projects and establishes requirements to ensure access for low and moderate-income individuals. Palmetto Scholarship Protection H. 3936 was introduced in the House this week to protect high-performing students from paying a penalty for starting at a two-year or technical college. This bill closes a loophole in the law and will now ensure that a student who uses a Palmetto Fellows Scholarship to attend an eligible two-year or technical school can receive a maximum of four continuous semesters that can also be used to attend an eligible four-year college. Move Over Month The House voted approval of a bill H. 3388 designating March as "Move Over Awareness Month" in S.C. DOT and Public Safety are charged with conducting programs during the month of March every year that emphasize the importance of motor vehicle drivers moving over into an adjacent lane whenever possible when approaching or passing through a highway work zone, an emergency scene, or any other traffic incident.