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