The final week of the legislative session – sine die week or “without days” – is always a flurry of activity as legislators and senators scramble to get important legislation complete.
This week was no exception. We took a big step forward on ethics reform, protected children from drug-abusing parents, and banned texting while driving, among many other things.
The House Republicans were disappointed that the Senate stalled on Ethics Reform (again) after a compromise was reached early in the week and the House approved the compromise 110-12. One Upstate Senator filibustered the reform until a compromise was reached for the Senate to consider the legislation when we return to consider the governor’s budget vetoes on June 17th.
The Ethics Reform Act doesn’t give us everything we wanted. It doesn’t give our constituents everything you said you wanted. But too many times in the past decade, we have sacrificed good reforms at the altar of being perfect. Our ethics laws were written 20 years ago, before campaigns had credit cards, cell phone bills, or online fundraising. The law needed to be updated, and the compromise consists of many critical changes.
We approved increased transparency, more income disclosure, tighter rules on third-party money, eliminated Leadership PACs, required more proof of expenses, ended fundraising by government bureaucrats, increased regulation of lobbyists, and increased ethics enforcement and penalties. This isn’t “reform in name only” as many who are fearful of true reform may charge.
What isn’t in the bill is a body that will do independent investigations of public officials – including statewide officials, members of the General Assembly, and judges. Senators on the conference committee told the media in no uncertain terms this week that they would not approve that reform.
Ethics Reform cuts to the heart of good government. We must trust our leaders. The House decided to follow in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps and get what we could today and come back for the rest tomorrow. Governor Haley indicated her support for the bill on social media on Thursday, and we hope the Senate will follow suit.
We approved a ban on texting while driving. You are still allowed to text while stopped at a stoplight or stop sign, but not while the car is moving (except in case of emergency). Fines begin at $25, but you will not receive points for a citation. South Carolina is one of the last states in the union to pass such a ban, even though the House has given preliminary approval to such measures a few times.
One final piece of legislation that we approved Thursday was Jaidon’s Law. The bill gives our courts clear guidelines on when to terminate parental rights, specifically when the parents or guardians have a history of drug abuse or child abuse. It also requires drug-abusing parents pass drug tests and treatment programs as a condition of keeping their parental rights. Our thanks to Rep. Mike Forrester of Spartanburg for his dogged pursuit of this legislation over the last two years.
One thing that didn’t get done this year was more funds to repair our crumbling infrastructure. The House overwhelmingly appropriated money from the sales tax on cars (a more stable funding source than the gasoline tax) to the Department of Transportation. The legislation did not make it out of the Senate. Instead of $41 million a year dedicated to fixing roads and bridges, the Senate only approved about $15 million.
As always, it is a privilege to serve you in the South Carolina House. If you ever need help with state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.