House Passes Final Amendment to Roads Bill

Moves to the Senate for an up or down vote

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement after the House amended the Senate version of the roads bill (H.3579) by an overwhelming vote of 113-6.

“Today, the South Carolina House amended a partial bill and filled in the gaps so that it better provides for the needs of our citizens,” House Speaker Jay Lucas stated.  “The legislative process exists so that the General Assembly can work together to move South Carolina forward, not provide opportunities for political grandstanding. The House’s amendment preserves qualifications and requirements for Highway Commissioners, solidifies the transparency of the State Infrastructure Bank, and removes irresponsible budgeting practices that threaten the stability of our economy.

“The Legislative Audit Council’s report serves as a critical tool for the General Assembly and exposes insufficiencies within SCDOT. Although a majority of the Senate requested this study, they passed their amendment days before it was available and could not rely on its findings as a basis for their reform measures. The House could not in good faith pass the Senate amendment because it falls short of true reform,” Speaker Lucas continued.

Legislative procedure dictates that H. 3579 cannot be amended again.  Upon arrival, the Senate has the option of taking a vote or not taking a vote. The vote decides whether or not to concur or nonconcur.  A vote for concurrence would result in the bill’s passage and then on to the Governor’s desk for signature. Nonoccurrence would result in the formation of a conference committee.

“The Senate now has the responsibility of taking a single up or down vote on this bill. We obviously prefer a vote for concurrence, but welcome the idea of blending our two versions together. Regardless, the most important action here is for the Senate to take a vote and bring us one step closer to fixing our roads. At the end of the day, South Carolinians want progress on this issue and repairing our crumbling infrastructure starts with SCDOT reform.”

Provisions in the House Amendment to H. 3579:

·         Highway Commissioners are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the General Assembly

·         Commission appoints a Secretary of Transportation with advice and consent of the General Assembly, who then serves at the pleasure of the Commission to create a single line of authority from the Governor, to the Commission, to the Secretary.

·         Eliminates the Joint Transportation Review Committee, but retains the required qualifications for Commissioners to ensure appointees have appropriate education and experience. These qualifications and requirements were removed in the Senate amendment.

·         Adopts the State Infrastructure Bank language in the Senate version and requires the entity to follow SCDOT prioritization criteria for projects

·         Removes the irresponsible $400M general fund mandate because it is unreliable. This year’s House passed budget appropriated $415M additional funds to SCDOT, an amount larger than specified in the Senate amendment, and we will continue to give available funds to SCDOT in the future.

·         Addresses the Legislative Audit Council’s concerns expressed in report by placing the SCDOT Chief Internal Auditor under the independent State Auditor

State of the State and Progress in Committees

Last week marked the second full week of legislative session. We continued the early stages of the legislative cycle and heard from the Governor in her annual State of the State address Wednesday evening.

My Republican colleagues and I were happy to hear the governor’s support for many of our priorities like education reform, infrastructure improvements, and ethics reform.

Echoing Governor Haley was the Republican leader of the House, Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville): “This week we heard from Governor Haley’s heart. Our caucus appreciates her positive message and optimistic tone. Governor Haley mentioned education reform, fixing our roads and bridges, and ethics reform. House Republicans have led on all three issues in the House, while the Senate has refused to act. With Governor Haley’s help, perhaps we will see movement in the Senate chamber on these important issues facing our state.”

Governor Haley also highlighted the tragedies impacting our state, including the Walter Scott shooting and the depraved murders at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. The flood of 2015 was the worst natural disaster since hurricane Hugo. My colleagues and I have heard from flood victims across the state over the past months, particularly farmers who in some instances saw their entire crops disintegrate and fields ruined under standing flood waters.

Agriculture represents one of the largest industries in South Carolina and if you know a farmer, you may know that one year with no yield can be the difference between having the resources to plant again next year and closing the doors. We continue to look for conservative solutions for these farmers and others affected by the flood, and I will update you as we move forward.

Finally, as is typical in January, much was done in our House committees. Once a bill is introduced, it must go through legislative committees before it comes to the House floor for a vote.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update.  If you have input on this update or any other issue facing the General Assembly, please let me know.  Thank you for the privilege of representing you in Columbia.

Rolling up our Sleeves

With a cheerful admonition from Speaker Lucas to “Roll up your sleeves and get to work,” the South Carolina General Assembly convened last week for the first time in 2016, marking the beginning of the second half of the biennial legislative session.

Some of the high profile issues facing us in 2016 are:

  • Funding our long-term road and bridge infrastructure needs;
  • DOT Reform;
  • Improving access to quality K-12 education throughout the state;
  • Addressing the financial challenges caused by the historical flooding in 2015; and
  • Addressing Retirement System funding issues highlighted by the recent Legislative Audit Council report.
Last week, the House passed a bill governing the operation of mopeds on our public roadways.  The bill includes the elimination of a loophole in the current law that exempts moped riders from DUI laws, an issue on which I have worked on a standalone basis for several years.

Budget subcommittees met for the first time in 2016 last week.  The budget process will continue in the House through mid-March.  Governor Haley unveiled highlights of her executive budget last week, and I anticipate hearing more details in her State of the State Address this week.

In the coming weeks, I will send regular updates which keep you informed of our progress as we complete the work of the people. I hope you find them informative.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update.  If you have input on this update or any other issue facing the General Assembly, please let me know.  Thank you for the privilege of representing you in Columbia.

Rep. Derham Cole to lead House ethics reform committee

GoUpstate.com

S.C. Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg, has been named chairman of a 22-member House committee assigned to design successful ethics reform legislation.

“We have an opportunity to build upon last year’s legislation and propose the most comprehensive ethics reform package our state has seen in decades,” Cole said in a written statement.

Rep. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, also is among the members assigned to the committee by acting Speaker of the House Jay Lucas. An ethics bill passed by the House this past session died in the Senate without a vote. The bill was the latest among several failed attempts to overhaul state ethics legislation and require income disclosure, outside oversight and other transparency-based reforms.

“Following through on this agenda item is still very much a priority for the House. In the months leading up to the 2015 legislative session, the House will focus on maintaining the momentum driving ethics reform and will work to identify additional areas we can address to further strengthen our reform efforts,” Lucas, R-Hartsville, said in a written statement.

The committee will hold public hearings and try to build on last year’s legislation with the intent of making it a priority item in the 2015 legislative session.

At least three subcommittees will be formed to study the sprawling topic, Cole said. The subcommittees will include campaign finance, enforcement and investigation and the Freedom of Information Act.

“There is a lot for us to consider and dividing that work among subcommittees will allow us to more effectively address these complex issues. By reviewing our past work product and identifying additional areas of concern, the House is continuing to show the kind of leadership it will take to advance true ethics reform in our state,” Cole said.

2014 End-of-Session Report

Dear Friends:

I hope you are enjoying your summer.  Now that the legislative session has concluded, I wanted to give you a final legislative report for 2014.  This report is longer than usual, but I wanted to cover as much as I could in this final legislative update for the year.

BUDGET

The House and the Senate approved the general appropriation bill.  The $7.2 billion budget includes $6.7 billion in recurring state general fund revenue, $115 million in Capital Reserve Funds, and $345 million in Education Lottery Funds.  Among the highlights:

K-12 Education

  • The budget includes a total of $180 million in new funding for K-12 education.  A total of $137.5 million is directed to the Education Finance Act (the basic building block of our education funding), $54.3 million of which is new EFA money.  $35 million is used to maintain the current base student cost of $2,097 and an additional $19 million is used to increase the base student cost to an estimated $2,120 per pupil.  $83.2 million of these EFA funds represent a swap from the Education Improvement Act that is directed towards high-achieving students and students at risk of academic failure.  The budget also includes a revised basis for allocating funds to our schools that includes new weightings in the EFA formula specifically geared towards those high-achieving students and those at risk of failure. The formula also places new emphasis on funding for personalized instruction in career technology, gifted and talented education, and academic assistance for those failing to meet state standards for mathematics and English language arts.
  • Another $18.6 million is used to expand the state’s four-year-old kindergarten program for students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch so that it includes all school districts with a poverty index of 70% or greater.  The expansion includes seven additional districts to bring the total number of districts in the 4K program to 58.
  • $29.5 million is included to provide for reading coaches in the state’s elementary schools.  $4.5 million is devoted to expanding summer reading camps.
  • $29.3 million is included for a K-12 technology initiative.  $12 million is provided for digital instructional materials and $4 million is included to train teachers on how to use the new technology in the classroom.
  • In addition, $8.56 million is devoted to instructional materials in the schools.
  • $742,500 is provided for a virtual instruction program at the State Department of Education, including 11 full-time employee positions.
  • $18 million is provided for purchasing or leasing new school buses.  $6.5 million in school transportation funds is included for bus maintenance and fuel.

Higher Education

  • Full funding is provided for the LIFE, HOPE, and Palmetto Fellows scholarship programs.  A provision was added to allow students looking to graduate early to claim scholarship awards when taking summer classes.
  • The budget includes increases in recurring funds to the state’s colleges and universities.
  • The budget provides $2.6 million for a consultant to conduct a Higher Education Efficiency and Accountability Review on improvements in operations at the campus level and statewide.
  • $2.5 million is included for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Education to address workforce demands.
  • $15.2 million is provided for Technical College initiatives including worker training through the Ready SC Program and others.

Economic Development/Infrastructure

  • $37.4 million is provided for the Deal Closing Fund that the Department of Commerce uses to recruit new business to the state.  The Department of Commerce is afforded appropriations of $6.5 million for the Locate SC Site Inventory, $4 million for research initiatives, $400,000 for the Existing Business Program, $250,000 for the SC Manufacturers Extension Program, and $350,000 for the Community Development Corporation Initiative.
  • Increased funding is provided for two port development initiatives, with $5 million provided for channel dredging at the Port of Georgetown and $1.2 million for Jasper Port development to match appropriations from the state of Georgia. Our
  • A $15 million increase in C-Funds is included for County Transportation Committees.
  • The Local Government Fund is maintained at its current level of $212 million through the appropriation of $30 million, $5 million of which is recurring revenue.
  • $10.4 million is provided for implementing statewide information technology security upgrades recommended by the state’s cyber security consultant.  The Department of Revenue is afforded $3 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for identity and credit protection services and $12 million for an updated tax processing system.

Healthcare

  • The budget includes $130 million for Medicaid Maintenance of Effort.  The budget legislation does not include an expansion in eligibility for the state’s Medicaid Program as allowed by Obamacare.  Funding is continued for such programs as the Healthy Outcomes Initiative for meeting the needs of chronically ill uninsured patients through home visits and care in other settings outside the emergency room and 100% cost reimbursement for rural hospitals.
  • $15.5 million is included for individuals with complex care needs to be transitioned out of an institutional setting at the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
  • $1.4 million is used to restore funding for the Certificate of Need Program at the Department of Health and Environmental Control.  DHEC receives $1.5 million for the Best Chance Network breast cancer screenings and Colon Cancer Prevention Network, $100,000 for the J. R. Clark Sickle Cell Foundation, and $500,000 for the Bleeding Disorders Premium Assistance Program.  $2 million from the Capital Reserve Fund is directed to address a budget shortfall at the Pinewood Hazardous Waste Disposal Site.
  • $10.5 million is directed to the Department of Mental Health to address budget cuts sustained by the agency during the revenue shortfall of recent years, which includes provisions for 70 full-time employee positions.  $1 million is provided to the Department of Mental Health to expand its school-based programming.  DMH receives $2.25 million from the Capital Reserve Fund to begin the process of converting health records to an electronic format that is necessary for meeting federal hospital certification requirements.

Social Services

  • $1.6 million is appropriated for increasing monthly payments for foster care families.
  • The budget provides no additional funding for the ongoing project at the Department of Social Services to produce a computerized Child Support Enforcement System that meets federal certification requirements.
  • The Department of Social Services is directed to report to legislators on new accountability features for debit cards used in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that could reduce fraud and misuse of SNAP benefits.

Law Enforcement/Judicial

  • The Attorney General’s office is provided $74,750 for a full-time information technology data security specialist, $78,000 for a full-time appellate attorney, $78,000 for a full-time Habeas Corpus attorney, $45,500 for an Anti-Gang Coordinator, and $167,700 for Criminal Domestic Violence Unit of three full-time employees.
  • The Commission on Indigent Defense receives $136,578 for two new full-time appellate attorneys.
  • The Prosecution Coordination Commission is allocated $1.6 million for violent crime prosecution and $400,00 for the SC Center for Fathers and Families.
  • The State Law Enforcement Division receives $475,136 for 4 full-time personnel to staff a new child fatality unit, $697,316 for 10 full-time forensics personnel, $2 million for 17 full-time alcohol enforcement personnel, and $500,00 to enhance the Meth Lab Clean-Up Program.
  • The Department of Public Safety is provided $447,300 for 10 new highway troopers, $1.3 million for mobile data equipment and support for highway troopers, and $2 million for law enforcement vehicle replacement.  $1.1 million is used to establish a local law enforcement grant program.
  • The Department of Corrections is afforded $153,360 for an information security officer and IT auditor, $2.122 million in other funds for cell phone interdiction, $2.262 million for camera equipment and a surveillance network system at the Lee Correctional Institution, $450,000 for the construction of three perimeter towers at the Lieber Correctional Institution, and $40,00 for the third phase of its weapons replacement program.
  • The Department of Natural Resource is provided $1.2 million to increase enforcement officers by 8 for a total of 15 new enforcement officers and equipment, $108,074 for a new information technology security officer, and $450,000 for law enforcement vehicle replacement.
  • The Forestry Commission receives $200,000 for 4 additional full-time firefighters and $2 million from the Capital Reserve Fund for new firefighting equipment.

EDUCATION

The House and Senate approved the “SOUTH CAROLINA READ TO SUCCEED ACT.” This legislation establishes a comprehensive K-12 initiative for promoting reading proficiency in the state’s public schools with an emphasis on early intervention to assist students who are not demonstrating an ability to read at grade level.  Early grade students who are not demonstrating proficiency in reading must be provided intensive in-class and supplemental reading intervention.  Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, a student must be retained in the third grade if the student fails substantially to demonstrate grade-level reading proficiency.  Certain exemptions from this mandatory retention requirement are allowed for such causes as limited English language proficiency and certain disabilities.  The legislation affords students who score the lowest in reading assessments the opportunity to enroll in a summer reading camp prior to being retained the following school year.   Teacher certification and professional development requirements are revised to incorporate a new emphasis on literacy instruction.

 The House and Senate approved a REAUTHORIZATION OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA FIRST STEPS TO SCHOOL READINESS INITIATIVE and made revisions to this program for providing enhanced early childhood development, education, and family support services to enable children to reach school ready to achieve academic success.  New accountability provisions are established to assess student progress and evaluate the performance of programs.  At least seventy‑five percent of state funds appropriated for programs must be used by the local partnership for evidence‑based programs designated by the First Steps Board as meeting such criteria as being grounded in published, peer reviewed research linked to determined outcomes.  Authority is provided for local First Steps partnerships to enter into multicounty arrangements and to collaborate in a manner they determine will maximize the efficient and effective provision of services and programs to children and their families.

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BANNED

 The House and Senate established a PROHIBITION ON TEXTING WHILE DRIVING.  The legislation provides that it is unlawful for a person to use a wireless electronic communication device to compose, send, or read a text‑based communication while operating a motor vehicle on the public streets and highways of this state.  This prohibition does not apply to someone who is: (1) lawfully parked or stopped; (2) using a hands‑free wireless electronic communication device; (3) summoning emergency assistance; (4) transmitting or receiving data as part of a digital dispatch system; (5) a public safety official while in the performance of their official duties; or (6) using a global positioning system device or an internal global positioning system feature or function of a wireless electronic communication device for the purpose of navigation or obtaining related traffic and road condition information.  A violator must be fined not more than twenty‑five dollars, no part of which may be suspended.  Someone may be stopped for a violation only when a law enforcement officer has probable cause that a violation has occurred based on a clear and unobstructed view of a driver making unlawful use of a wireless electronic communication device.  A law enforcement officer may not seize, search, view, or require the forfeiture of a wireless electronic communication device because of a violation and is prohibited from searching or requesting to search a motor vehicle, driver, or passenger solely because of a violation of this prohibition on texting while driving.

 REMOVING BARRIERS TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

 Governor Haley signed a bill allowing craft breweries to operate on-site dining facilities where their beer can be served and allows breweries to apply for retail on-premises consumption permits for the sale of beer and wine produced by others.  This bill will allow South Carolina to compete nationally for economic development projects in this industry, which continues to grow annually.  In fact, the Department of Commerce is actively recruiting at least two companies in this industry, and requested the passage of this legislation to make our state competitive with other candidates.

ETHICS REFORM

 Ethics Reform was a high-profile issue this session.  The House passed several significant reforms, including an independent body to investigate alleged violations of the Ethics Act, improved campaign finance reporting, income source disclosure, and a ban on so-called Leadership PACs.  The bill went to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate version of the bill.  The House adopted the conference committee’s report, but it did not pass the Senate.

RESTRUCTURING

 The General Assembly reformed the structure of our state’s government by passing the Department of Administration bill.  The bill moved most of the administrative functions from the Budget and Control Board to a Department of Administration house in the executive branch of government.  This reform has been a decade or more in the making.

 It is an honor to serve you and your family in the General Assembly.  If you ever need assistance navigating state government, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to consider and share with my colleagues, please contact me at derhamcole@schouse.gov, or by telephone at (864) 591-1113.  You can also keep current by visiting my website at www.derhamcole.com and following me on Facebook and Twitter.

Rep. Derham Cole
Representative, District 32
South Carolina General Assembly
derham@derhamcole.com
www.derhamcole.com

Sprinting Toward “Crossover”

Dear Friends:

There are two legislative weeks left before the “Crossover” deadline – the date when legislation must reach the Senate to be considered in the normal course of business. That means April is always a busy month in the General Assembly and this week was no exception.

Here is a quick breakdown of this week’s major activity:

EMMA’S LAW – The House approved a strong anti-DUI law that we hope will keep repeat DUI offenders off the roads. “Emma’s Law” was named for Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old girl from Lexington County who was killed by a repeat offender drunk driver two years ago. The law requires some DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles and closes loopholes that made it easier for those convicted of a DUI to get back on the road without having to use an ignition interlock device.

Ignition interlock devices require a driver to breathe into the device before starting the car. If the driver has been drinking, the car won’t start. Expanding the use of these interlock devices is a critical step in making our roads safer. This bill will now go to a House-Senate Conference Committee to finalize language before going to the Governor for her signature.

ETHICS REFORM – I have been appointed to a special House Judiciary subcommittee to address the Senate version of the Ethics Bill that was recently returned to the House. We had our first meeting this week, and plan to meet several times over the next few weeks to revise the bill with the goal of sending a strong ethics reform act to Governor Haley’s desk.

“CBD” and CHILDREN’S SEIZURES – The House approved an extremely limited use of a non-psychoactive cannabidiol, known as CBD oil. This is to be used in a supervised medical setting for children with severe epilepsy. A similar bill passed the Senate last week without an opposing vote. The Senate bill allowed for clinical trials at the Medical University of South Carolina, the House bill took the law a small step further and allowed the parents to possess the CBD oil. This extract has given hope to parents who have children with extreme cases of epilepsy. This bill will also head to a conference committee.

ARTICLE V CONVENTION – A subcommittee began debate on the Article V Convention of States legislation, which some have proposed as a way to rein in an unbridled federal government. Article V of the Constitution provides that if two-thirds of the states submit an application to Congress, Congress must call a Convention of States for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution.  According to the bill, a Convention of States may only propose amendments, and cannot change the Constitution by itself. Each state would have only one vote on proposed amendments, and any amendment approved by the convention would still require ratification by 38 states. Amending the Constitution is not something to be taken lightly, and our Founding Fathers have designed it to be a difficult process.  Increasing dissatisfaction with the federal government, however, has led some to raise the issue.

NATIONAL REPUBLICAN VISITS – The House Republican Caucus was honored to have former Congressman and MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough as a guest speaker on Tuesday. He signed copies of his book and spoke to the Caucus about national political issues. As we move forward to the mid-term elections, please take the time to seek out these prominent Republicans when they visit our state. One of the biggest benefits of having the First in the South Presidential Primary is that we all get to meet, hear, and shake hands with national conservative figures between now and February 2016.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at (864) 591-1113 in Spartanburg, (864) 212-6790 in Columbia, or on email at derhamcole@schouse.gov.

Rep. Derham Cole
Representative, District 32
South Carolina General Assembly
derham@derhamcole.com
www.derhamcole.com

Jobs in Spartanburg, Ethics Reform, and Fighting Drunk Drivers

Dear Friends:

Two major pieces of legislation moved in the South Carolina House this week that have received a lot of public attention – the Ethics Reform Act and Emma’s Law.

First, a little background. The House Republican Caucus led the fight on strong ethics reforms when we first approved the bill last year. We have long touted our ethics laws as some of the strongest in the nation, and they were when they were originally written two decades ago. Since that time a lot has changed in politics: We use tools today that weren’t widely used in the early 1990s – simple things like cell phones, ATM machines, and the Internet. Even six years ago, people rarely contributed to political campaigns online. We hardly give any of these things a second thought today, but our law doesn’t reflect those changes. Our legislation:

  • Abolishes the House and Senate ethics committees and replaces them with a new, bi-partisan commission that includes public officials and members of the general public.
  • Abolishes “Leadership PAC” contributions to elected officials.
  • Requires all lawmakers to disclose all sources of income – public and private – in an attempt to root out conflicts of interest.
  • Strengthens criminal penalties for violations of the Ethics Act.
  • Eliminates the “blackout period” right before an election when candidates do not have to disclose donors.

The S.C. Senate added 12 new sections and doubled the length of the bill – watering down several key components of the law and adding a few good changes. And, as is typical with the Senate, the bill was approved before it was written. That means there are a number of sections of the new bill that raise more questions than give answers. This week, we sent the bill to a specially expanded House Judiciary Subcommittee tasked with rewriting the bill so the House can enter into a conference committee on the strongest possible footing. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I was asked to serve on this special committee. I look forward to making an impact on the committee and shaping such an important piece of legislation.

It is time to change. It is time for our conservative state to promote a conservative ethics reform plan that strengthens the law, streamlines the complaint process, and makes public officials more accountable. I look forward to getting that legislation back quickly so we can get it to Governor Haley’s desk.

Another piece of legislation approved this week was a stronger version of “Emma’s Law” in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill received its name from Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old girl from Lexington County who was killed by a repeat offender drunk driver two years ago.

Emma’s Law:

  • Requires drivers who blow a 0.15 on a Breathalyzer and are later convicted of a first offense DUI must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles for a year. Interlock devices prohibit a driver from starting a car when he or she has been drinking.
  • Requires an interlock device be installed on cars of DUI first offenders who refuse to be tested on a Breathalyzer and are later found guilty of DUI.
  • That no provisional licenses be granted to people who refuse the Breathalyzer and are later convicted.
  • Closes loopholes that made it easier for those convicted of a DUI get back on the road without having to use an ignition interlock device.

Our state is currently using the interlock devices, but only for people convicted of multiple DUIs. According to media reports, more than 700 are currently in use. Expanding the use of these interlock devices is a critical step in making our roads safer.

As I prepared this update for you, I received two great pieces of economic news. First, our state’s unemployment rate dropped dramatically to 5.7 percent — less than half what it was at the peak in 2010. That’s an amazing drop and a testament to our conservative governing philosophy. The second piece of news was the major jobs announcement from BMW. The company said it would begin producing the new X7, invest a new $1 Billion in the plant, and create 800 new jobs. (And, for every job BMW creates, studies have shown three more jobs are created in the community.) That’s great news both for Spartanburg and the entire Upstate.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at (864) 591-1113 in Spartanburg, (864) 212-6790 in Columbia, or on email at derhamcole@schouse.gov.

Rep. Derham Cole
Representative, District 32
South Carolina General Assembly
derham@derhamcole.com
www.derhamcole.com

Big Economic News for Spartanburg

Dear Friends:

Budget
This week, the state budget was debated and approved by the full House Ways and Means Committee. Because of the budget work at the committee level, we did not spend much time on the House floor to give Ways and Means, and other House committees, time to complete their work.

Toray Announces Investment in Spartanburg
Tuesday, we were greeted with the announcement of a $1 Billion investment and 500 jobs to be created by Toray Industries in Spartanburg County. Toray produces high-quality carbon fiber materials for the aeronautics and energy industries. The company said it liked our proximity to emerging markets in Latin America.

Local officials told the media this week that they hope Toray’s impact will be similar to BMW’s initial announcement in the Upstate — $420 million and 1,000 jobs. BMW’s footprint in our state has expanded radically since then with more than 4,000 people working at the plant in Greer. One official expected Toray to “under-promise and over-deliver.” We have a wonderful economic development team in Spartanburg and at the state level, and it has delivered once again.

Toray is simply the latest in a long line of major manufacturing announcements that validate our efforts to create a strong business climate in our state that can compete worldwide for business and industry. The Toray announcement follows other good economic development news that I mentioned in my last update, but which I will highlight again in case you missed it.

More Upstate Jobs
Auto insurer Esurance (remember its $1.5 million Super Bowl giveaway if you stayed up that late?) announced it would create 450 new jobs in Mauldin this week. Those jobs may be a bit longer of a drive for my Spartanburg neighbors, but after the Toray announcement, it is yet another validation that the Upstate is open for business. That’s nearly 1,000 new jobs in these two counties this week! The state unemployment rate stands at 6.6 percent, but Greenville and Spartanburg’s are nearly a point (or two) lower). Good things are happening in our community!

Warrant Reform?
A number of us were shocked this week by the arrest of a Pickens County woman who was arrested for not returning a VHS tape nine years ago. On Thursday, the chairmen of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees told The Greenville News that it is time to take a look at how this state “cleans up” warrants for laws that are no longer on the books. A VHS tape is a novelty these days (as are video-rental stores). While this woman broke the law back in 2005, the General Assembly repealed the law in 2010 when we cleaned up antiquated statutes. There is no reason she should have spent the night in jail over this, and I agree with the chairmen that we need to revisit this issue so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

Snow Days
Due to the recent snow/ice storm, many schools had to close, which has led to the introduction of a spate of bills to forgive snow days in individual districts.  Trying to avoid dealing with individual districts on an ad hoc basis, I have introduced statewide legislation to allow individual school boards the flexibility to forgive up to 5 snow days per year.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at (864) 591-1113 in Spartanburg, (864) 212-6790 in Columbia, or on email at derhamcole@schouse.gov.

 

Rep. Derham Cole
Representative, District 32
South Carolina General Assembly
derhamcole@schouse.gov
www.derhamcole.com

 

Back to Work in Columbia

Dear Friends:

The House of Representatives got back to work this week after last week’s winter storm. It was a busy week with many groups visiting the Statehouse and our House Ways and Means subcommittees playing catch-up on a week of lost work.

The biggest news of the week was the election for Supreme Court Chief Justice between current Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice Costa Pleicones. You may have seen stories or received emails about this race over the past few weeks as it became contentious on both sides. After careful deliberation, I cast my vote for Costa Pleicones.  Toal won the election by 21 votes, however. Toal and Pleicones were extremely professional after the election, hugged in the House gallery after the vote, and pledged that this will not affect their relationship on the court. Justice Toal will have to retire in 2015, and Justice Pleicones announced in the press Wednesday afternoon that he will run again when Toal retires.

Here are two of the stories that came out of the Statehouse this week:

  • Governor Haley signed the Department of Administration bill into law this week to a packed crowd in the Statehouse lobby. This was a major success for the House Republicans a few weeks ago, and marks another major step in making our state government more efficient. This journey was started by the late Republican Governor Carroll Campbell, and his family was on hand for the bill signing.
  • The House Judiciary General Laws subcommittee debated legislation that would ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Current law sets that limit at the 24th week. I serve as Chairman of that subcommittee, and we will continue to hear testimony on the bill, H.4223, after we return from next week’s furlough.

The House will be on its regularly scheduled furlough week next week, which will save the taxpayers $50,000. The House Republicans have passed bills shortening our calendar during every legislative session since you gave Republican control of the House in 1994. This will be our second furlough week this year (after last week’s weather closure), but we’re progressing quickly in crafting the state budget, getting the Department of Administration restructuring bill signed into law, and passing the restaurant carry bill. That’s a strong record of achievement in only a few weeks.

One last item relating to last week’s storm (as we see the Northeast getting socked with snow and ice again) – I wrote last week that criticizing local officials for shutting down offices during snow and ice events is a kind of sport here in the Palmetto State. This week, a number of disaster experts gave our state an “A+” for disaster response. As University of South Carolina professor Christopher Emrich told ABC Columbia: “An ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of response.”  While closures may be a major inconvenience – especially to working parents of children in school – the alternative could be the disasters we saw in Atlanta and Birmingham. Sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at (864) 591-1113 in Spartanburg, (864) 212-6790 in Columbia, or on email at derhamcole@schouse.gov.

 

Rep. Derham Cole
Representative, District 32
South Carolina General Assembly
derhamcole@schouse.gov
www.derhamcole.com

 

Snow Days in the State House

Dear Friends:

I hope you weathered the winter storm safely. It’s a sport in our state to criticize officials for closing things early, but as we saw pictures from cities like Atlanta on Wednesday, it is better to be safe than sorry.

That said, I would like to thank our first responders, DOT workers, and those who had a hand in keeping our roads clear and safe. While we hunkered down with our families (and perhaps a warm fire), they were out fighting Mother Nature. Thank them if you see them this weekend.

The General Assembly closed this week because the varied weather and road conditions across the state due to snow and ice. There was still a good amount of political news to share.

Unemployment – The State announced on Tuesday that our unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent. That’s below 7 percent for the first time since 2008, and below the national average for the first time since 2001.

Nobody can take all of the credit for this, but surely a lot of people are trying. For more than a decade, my House Republican colleagues have made job creation a central plank in our agenda each year. We have lowered the tax rates small businesses pay, enacted sweeping lawsuit abuse reforms, and worked to eliminate undue regulatory burdens. Government can’t create jobs, but we can create an environment where it is easier for the private sector – notably small businesses – to create them.

Despite the great news, 6.6 percent unemployment is still high, and we need to continue working so everyone in our state who can work has a job. The House Republicans are always interested in your ideas about how to get government out of your way so you can create jobs. We look forward to working with the Senate and Governor Haley to keep up this momentum!

The Passing of an Icon – On Tuesday night, South Carolina lost a legislative legend. Rep. Herb Kirsh of Clover, a shopkeeper turned mayor turned State House member, passed away at the age of 84.

When he left the House in 2010, he was the longest-serving legislator and was highly respected on both sides of the aisle. He drove to the State House from Clover each day so he could fight for individuals and small businesses. He never strayed from his principles (he was the definition of a Blue Dog Democrat), and was one of the most fiscally conservative members of the House until his last day. We ask you to pray for the Kirsh family.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at (864) 591-1113 or derhamcole@schouse.gov.

 

Rep. Derham Cole
Representative, District 32
South Carolina General Assembly
derhamcole@schouse.gov
www.derhamcole.com