Tommy Pope – Hard at work in the House
March 6, 2013
Tommy Pope – Making Progress on the Budget
March 13, 2013
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Statehouse Report – Week 9

Next week, the state House of Representatives will debate the state budget for 2013-2014. This is the traditional half-way mark in the legislative session and it’s a good time to look back and see what we have accomplished.

ELECTION REFORM – Our most recent accomplishment came with the approval of our election reform package. The House approved legislation that not only fixed the ballot debacle of 2012, but also expanded access to the ballot and ensured people who want to run for office in our state will have an opportunity to do so.

We removed the “statement of economic interest” form from the requirements for filing and placed it squarely under our ethics laws. Candidates will still be required to file it, but this reform means challenger and incumbent will be held to the same standard. We also made a technical change to the filing procedures for public office, simplifying the procedure so you file with your local election commission and you can get the filing papers from the Internet – rather than having to track down local party leaders (which can be troublesome in some parts of our state).

The House Judiciary Committee sent legislation to the House floor this week that creates a window for early voting in addition to the traditional 30-day window for absentee voting.

STATE DATA SECURITY – The state has already made some significant changes in the way data is handled. The House budget fully funds the current push to enroll all South Carolinians in identity theft protection, and we are also appropriating money to pay for a potential tax credit if you would rather use a different ID theft service than the one provided by the state.

UPDATE OUR ETHICS LAWS –One of the first things the House did this session was reform of the House Ethics Committee by changing its rules to expand the committee and add more Democratic members to the committee. This was only the first salvo in ethics reform, and not the end of the job, to be sure. A Republican Caucus study committee presented language for a comprehensive change in the laws. Our study committee quickly realized that our 1991 Ethics Laws are inadequate to meet today’s reality.

OPPOSE OBAMACARE – The House approved legislation that puts our state’s opposition to the Obamacare state health exchanges in state law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the states have the option to reject the Medicaid expansion and reject the healthcare exchanges. My Republican colleagues and I have made a commitment to support and uphold both of those Supreme Court rulings. We anticipate a strong Democratic effort to expand Medicaid in the budget next week. The Caucus will fight these efforts.

REAL TAX REFORM – We knew last year’s efforts at tax reform would be a multi-year process. We have re-filed legislation that will lower and flatten the personal income tax, eliminate the corporate income tax, cut the business property tax rate, and eliminate the outdated sales tax exemptions. The House Ways and Means Committee has been busy crafting the state budget in advance of the debate next week, but these bills will be on the committee’s agenda later this month.

GROW OUR ECONOMY – The House has approved legislation to dedicate the sales tax paid on cars to pay for road and bridge repairs. Infrastructure has been identified as a major issue for our business community. We are also advancing bills that require bureaucrats to provide financial impact statements for new regulations and require all regulations to get an up-or-down vote in the General Assembly. One final bill in this area is a repeat from the past several years that will free up private capital for “high-growth” start-up companies.

GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING – There has been a lot of movement on this item. The Department of Administration legislation that came within a last-second Senate filibuster of approval last year has been filed in the House and approved by the Senate. House staff is working to analyze both the House and Senate versions of the legislation so we can take action on it after the budget debate.

The House approved a constitutional amendment to shorten the legislative session – as we have nine times previously. The House is moving on another constitutional amendment to let the voters decide of the state Adjutant General should be appointed by the governor (supported and promoted by General Livingston), and we are excited to see the Senate moving on a similar amendment to allow the governor to appoint the Superintendent of Education (supported and promoted by Superintendent Zais).

The House also has legislation to expand transparency and access to state information through expansion of the state Freedom of Information Act. That bill is also on the calendar to be taken up as soon as we are through with the budget.

It has been a busy first half of the session, and we are looking forward to passing a conservative state budget next week.

It is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly. If you ever find yourself in need of assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with my colleagues in the House, don’t hesitate to contact me at tommy@tommypope47.com.