2015 Regular Session Wrap Up

Today, the Senate wrapped up the first year of the two-year legislative cycle. The Caucus achieved several important goals for the people of South Carolina, and initiated action on several more issues that will be completed in January.

Criminal Domestic Violence R80/S3

This week the Governor signed into law the Domestic Violence Reform Act that significantly increased protections for victims of domestic violence and increased the penalties for those who prey on family members. Judiciary Chairman and lead sponsor of this bill, Senator Larry Martin said, “For much too long South Carolina has led the nation in domestic violence deaths. This bill represents a huge step in taking us in the opposite direction.”

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Body Cameras for Law Enforcement /S47

With the issues between civilians and police making headlines here and across the United States, the Caucus worked hard to pass an effective statewide approach to equipping front line officers with body cameras. Former prosecutor, Senator Greg Hembree stated “Law enforcement has led South Carolina into the age of body cameras for our police officers. The SC Legislature through this body camera legislation is supporting our law enforcement officers, the justice system and most importantly our citizens.”

Adjutant General Reform R1/S8

Upon the expiration of the current term of the Adjutant General, he/she will thereafter be appointed by the Governor upon the advice and consent of the Senate. This is an important continuation of the Caucus’ government reform agenda.

Charitable Raffles R5/H3519

This law will allow local religious, charitable or nonprofit organizations to hold fundraising raffles for religious, charitable or eleemosynary purposes.

Human Trafficking R16/S196/S183

Crimes involving Human Trafficking will now be in the purview of the State Grand Jury system. The second bill also makes clear the definitions of human trafficking, which strengthen our ability to prosecute these crimes.

S.C. State University R17/S382

This is a joint resolution to authorize the agency head of South Carolina State University to institute a mandatory furlough program of up to seven days in fiscal year 2014-2015. The legislature also removed and replaced all of the Trustees and a new president was installed. This is part of the broad legislative approach to address the financial crisis at S.C. State University. Majority Leader Harvey Peeler has also requested a full audit of the University by the Legislative Audit Council.

Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act H3114

Following weeks of intense work, the South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus passed The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill is now in conference committee and is expected to be completed later this month. The bill will prohibit someone from performing an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy with certain very limited exception. Senator Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), the chief champion of the bill in the Senate, praised pro-life advocates in South Carolina for their support. “Without the leadership of the pro-life community, especially South Carolina Citizens for Life, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, the South Carolina Baptist Convention and the Palmetto Family Alliance, we would not have been successful. This bill will significantly advance legal protection for innocent human life in South Carolina.” Oran Smith, President of the Palmetto Family Alliance, thanked the Caucus for its diligence and commitment: “The Palmetto Family Alliance is grateful to the South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus for its leadership in getting the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act up to bat through Special Order and passed. This will reduce late term abortions—-those that are particularly dangerous to women and obviously painful to children.”

Transportation Network Companies H3525

This bill will permit innovative transportation service companies like UBER to operate lawfully and safely in South Carolina.

Roads and Bridges

The Caucus supported the use of new surplus revenue totaling more than $400,000,000 for road and bridge repair on our primary and secondary roads.   This money can be used in every county in the state to address immediate needs. At this time the full amount of the funds to be allocated for this purpose has not been finalized.

The Caucus also advanced a comprehensive plan that will provide balanced and consistent DOT funding, DOT reform and the state’s largest personal income tax plan in state’s history. This bill will be ready for debate in January.

Military Matters

The Caucus supported and passed several pieces of legislation supporting our military personnel and their families.

  • In-State Tuition Rates for Military Personnel R23/S391: An amendment revising the criteria under which veterans who are honorably discharged and their dependents to receive in-state tuition rates.
  • State and Local Veteran Issues R30/H3324: A bill to establish a committee to study state and local level veterans issues and to make appropriate legislative recommendations for improving the structure, delivery and coordination of veterans services in South Carolina.
  • Reemployment rights of the National Guard R34/H3547: A bill to amend statute to provide that the reemployment rights and protections granted to members of the South Carolina National Guard and the South Carolina State Guard who serve state duty shall apply also to a person who is employed in South Carolina but is a member of another State’s National or State Guard.
  • Property tax R44/S153: A bill to extend the disabled veteran property tax exemption.

Pollution Control Act S229 (Currently in House)

A bill relating to the remedies for causing or permitting pollution of the environment, to clarify the persons who may file a petitioner with the Department of Health and Environmental Control and to provide that certain DHEC decisions are not subject to judicial review in a civil proceeding.

FOIA

  • Notice of Meeting S11 (conference report adopted, will be ratified): This would require a public body to provide an agenda for all regularly scheduled meetings.
  • FOIA S10 (passed the Senate, currently stalled in the House) This Bill would make public under FOIA the reports prepared by, at the request of or in the possession of, a coroner as to the cause and manner of death of a person examined by autopsy.

State Telecom Equity in Funding Act S277 (Currently in House)

This bill would clarify the jurisdiction of the public service commission over certain providers regarding telephone service for hearing and speech impaired people. It would limit the size of the universal service fund and require certain providers to contribute to the fund.

Bond Borrowing

Sometimes what is defeated is as important as what is passed. This year the Caucus successfully blocked an attempt to pass a borrowing bond bill that was not well planned and loaded with special projects.   To address the real needs of the state in a potential bond bill, Majority Leader Peeler authored a proviso that establishes practical and a joint study committee that will consider the merits, necessity and projected costs of each the capital improvement plans and projects it studies and prepare recommendations addressing the priority of the projects for future funding.

The committee will make report its findings and recommendations, including proposed legislation by December 31, 2015. The Senate is expected to take action on the recommendations in 2016.

Persons Age Sixty and Over Attending Classes R81/S261

Lifelong learning is important to the people of South Carolina and the Caucus worked with higher education in the Palmetto State to increase the opportunity for our seasoned citizens to complete or expand their college education. This bill allows persons age sixty and over attending state-supported colleges, universities and technical schools to do so without payment of tuition.

 

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Caucus Leads Passage of Bill to Protect Innocent Human Life and Prevent Late Term Abortions

Caucus Leads Passage of Bill to Protect Innocent Human Life and Prevent Late Term Abortions

May 28, 2015

Following two weeks of intense work, the South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus passed The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H3114): A bill that would prohibit someone from performing an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency, rape, incest or severe fetal anomaly.

Senator Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), the chief champion of the bill in the Senate, praised pro-life advocates in South Carolina for their support.“Without the leadership of the pro-life community, especially South Carolina Citizens for Life, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, the South Carolina Baptist Convention and the Palmetto Family Alliance, we would not have been successful. This bill will significantly advance legal protection for innocent human life in South Carolina.”

Oran Smith, President of the Palmetto Family Alliance, thanked the Caucus for its diligence and commitment: “The Palmetto Family Alliance is grateful to the South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus for its leadership in getting the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act up to bat through Special Order and passed. This will reduce late term abortions—-those that are particularly dangerous to women and obviously painful to children.”

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End of session wrap up

The Senate closed out the legislative session with some incredibly good news with regards to transportation and the state budget.

Late in the session, the House and Senate reached a deal on a transportation funding plan that allows for up to $1.17 billion in new road funding over the next decade.

Coming into the legislative session, this was obviously a big priority for the Senate Republican Caucus, because we recognize how important road funding is for a whole host of reasons – economic development, public safety and quality of life among them.

Over the next ten years, the plan will:
· Provide $250 million worth of one-time state and federal money, solely for bridge replacement and rehabilitation
· Redirect at least $420 million of vehicle sales tax into a fund dedicated to highway, road, and bridge maintenance, construction and repair.
· Bond up to $500 million dedicated to bridge replacement, rehabilitation projects, and expansion and improvements to existing mainline interstates.

Governor Haley has already signed the bill, and we’re pleased to have her support on this plan.

When it comes to the budget, education was a top priority for the Caucus.

For the first time ever, we allowed for the formation of scholarship granting organizations, which can receive private donations for providing school choice to special needs students. The donations made are eligible for a tax credit of up to 60 percent of the donor’s income tax liability.

In addition, we provided funds for 285 new school buses, expanded 4k education for at-risk children, and implemented the new “Read to Succeed” program to focus on early reading skills.

Some of the other highlights included:
· Defeating the Obamacare Medicaid expansion
· Providing $16 million to the Department of Commerce for its deal-closing fund
· Paid for 30 new Highway Patrol officers

Another of our top agenda items is very close to final passage. The Department of Administration bill moves the administrative functions of government to a newly created Department of Administration. The Department will include human resources, general services, and an executive budget and strategic planning office. It gets rid of the antiquated Budget and Control Board that prevented accountability in much of government.

A strong ethics bill remains on the Senate calendar, and is first in line to be debated again next year. A comprehensive proposal for road funding, and a spending caps bill also remain top priorities for next year, in the second half of our legislative session.

I look forward to continuing to serve you in the state Senate. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of service.

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Election fix bill adopted

Columbia, SC – June 5, 2013 – The Senate today adopted a conference report for S.2, a bill that fixes the issues in state law that resulted last year in hundreds being thrown off the ballot. The bill was a top priority for the Senate Republican Caucus going into session. Senators Paul Thurmond and Chip Campsen were the Senate Republican conferees.

“What happened this past year was a disgrace and a disservice to voters,” Campsen said. “With this bill, we are ensuring it never happens again, and that there won’t be this level of confusion at the next filing time.”

“As someone who had to fight to stay on the ballot, I know firsthand how badly this law needed to be updated,” Thurmond said. “This bill is all about preserving options at the ballot box.”

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Weekly Senate updates

With just a week left to go in the legislative session, the Senate Republican Caucus is working hard to make sure the bills important to the people of South Carolina are passed this year.

With today’s resignation of Democratic Senator Robert Ford over ethics violations, it again highlights the need to make updates to our ethics laws a top priority.

Late this week, we succeeded in setting for priority status an ethics bill aimed at providing greater accountability for public officials, and greater transparency for the public.

Among other things, the bill will increase the waiting period for former legislators to take lobbying jobs, remove ethics investigations regarding legislators to a new statewide board rather than being done within the chamber, strengthen conflict of interest and income disclosure rules, and establishes a Public Integrity Unit at SLED.

The Caucus believes that these and other changes are needed to make sure people can trust the government that represents them.

Over the past two weeks, the Senate has been working toward final approval of next year’s state budget. The Senate has passed its version, and now the work begins between the House and the Senate to iron out differences before sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Among the highlights, we were successful in beating back the Obamacare Medicaid expansion pushed by Senate Democrats, which would have cost our state untold millions once the federal government yanked its portion of the funding away.

We made education a priority, by for the first time ever allowing the formation of scholarship granting organizations, which can receive tax credits for providing school choice to low income and special needs students. We also expanded 4k funding for at risk students, and put $1.5 million toward the new “Read to Succeed” program. As well, we kept our commitment to safe, reliable school bus transportation by providing $23.5 million for new school buses.

Also on the budget front, we made safe roads a priority by providing for 40 new highway patrol officers and committing another $50 million – yearly – to priority roads and bridges. This two pronged approach – public safety and infrastructure – is key not only to our quality of life, but economic development as well.

In addition to the ethics bill on priority status is the Obamacare Nullification Act. The Senate has already taken one strong stand against Obamacare this year by blocking the Medicaid expansion. This measure is essentially aimed at asserting that Obamacare’s individual mandate and other provisions cannot be enforced within South Carolina.

Lastly, an incredibly important bill that has been years in the making, the Department of Administration bill, has passed the Senate and House and is in a conference committee where differences between the two versions are being addressed. This bill will get rid of the outdated Budget and Control Board, and help bring our government structure into the 21st Century. It makes clear the lines of authority in state government, meaning greater accountability for all.

In short, we have had an incredibly productive year, and hope to continue that in the last week of the legislative session. As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns.

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Recent Updates

For the past week and much of the coming week, the Senate is occupied with crafting the state’s budget for the coming year.

Much of the time has been spent discussing core government functions like adequately funding school bus transportation, and funding transportation infrastructure improvements. In addition to those big ticket items, the Caucus is continuing to look for other ways to save taxpayer money. For instance, Senator Chip Campsen proposed an amendment that was successfully adopted calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the state-owned plane.

This week the budget debate will shift to a school choice measure proposed by Senator Larry Grooms. The amendment would give tax credits to parents choosing to educate their children in a private school, home school, or in another public school that they weren’t zoned for. We expect this amendment to be thoroughly debated, as school choice has always been a contentious issue within the Senate.

In other matters, a bill sponsored by Senator Katrina Shealy was ratified and signed by the governor. The bill provides that flags atop state buildings will be lowered to half-staff when an SC resident in the military loses their life. The bill also requires the governor to identify the person being honored on the day of the funeral on the Governor’s Office website. It’s another small way we in the Senate believe we should recognize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

We also just passed the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) Integrity Bill. This legislation allows DEW to impose a penalty for fraudulent overpayments. This bill keeps SC in compliance with federal law which will allow employers to continue to receive certain tax credits for their employees. The savings are estimated to be up to $400 per employee for businesses in our state.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a tough new Ethics law that we expect to be debated on the floor of the Senate very soon.

The bill makes a number of important changes, all centered on making sure citizens can trust the government representing them to make decisions ethically and transparently.

Among other things, the bill will increase the waiting period for former legislators to take lobbying jobs, remove ethics investigations regarding legislators to a new statewide board rather than being done within the chamber, strengthen conflict of interest and income disclosure rules, and establishes a Public Integrity Unit at SLED.

As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns.

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SC Senate Panel Advances Ethics Reform

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina Senate panel has advanced an ethics reform package that removes ethics investigations from legislators.

The bill sent Tuesday to the full Judiciary Committee overhauls the makeup of the state Ethics Commission board and puts it in charge of investigating possible ethics violations by legislators.

The measure keeps House and Senate ethics committees in place. But their roles would change. They would publicly determine how to punish members for non-criminal allegations only after the commission does its work and finds probable cause a violation occurred.

Republican Sen. Chip Campsen says that ensures an independent investigation while avoiding constitutional questions. The state constitution says each chamber is responsible for disciplining its members.

The House plan approved last week created a joint House-Senate committee of legislators and people they select.

Courtesy of WLTX.com

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Senate leaders issue statement on Ethics Reform Bill

Columbia, SC-May 2, 2013-Senate leaders today issued the following statement on the House-passed ethics reform bill that was today assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Time is of the essence, and we appreciate the House’s passage of the bill so that we can consider it and get it passed before the end of the session,” Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler said. “The House bill represents a start, and we are committed to a strong ethics bill being passed by the Senate.”

“The House bill represents a solid step toward ethics reform, but there is still room for improvement,” said Senator Wes Hayes. “We need to make sure this bill is as strong as possible and has the teeth it needs to give our citizens confidence in the system.”

“We plan to move quickly on this bill in order to get it on the floor for consideration,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin. “Addressing ethics reform is something that we have to get right when the opportunity arises, because we won’t get another bite at this apple. Half measures won’t cut it.”

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Alexander Ensures Every Newborn Has a Healthy Heart

Columbia, SC – April 11, 2013 – Getting every newborn in South Carolina screened for congenital heart defects is one step closer to reality today, after the state Senate passed a bill introduced by Senator Thomas Alexander.

Today the Senate passed the “Emerson Rose Act,” that will require all newborns to receive a special screening for critical congenital heart defects prior to discharge. Congenital heart defects are the number one killer of infants with birth defects, and have unfortunately taken a significant toll on families across the U.S. Pulse Oximetry is a non-invasive screening test that helps identify newborns at risk for heart defects. New research suggests that wider use of “Pulse Ox” screening in conjunction with the routine practices would help identify more than 90 percent of congenital heart defects.

The bill was named for Emerson Rose, an infant born with a heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Her parents, Jason and Susan Smith of Clemson, SC, started the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation in her honor.

“With medical technology where it is today, there’s simply no reason that this potentially life-saving screening should not be given to every South Carolina newborn,” Alexander said. “I am pleased the Senate moved forward with this bill, and am hopeful the House does so as well.”

The American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Cardiology Foundation recommend that every state passes Pulse Ox legislation, and Senator Alexander is passionate about getting the bill passed in SC.

For additional information on Pulse Ox Screening contact: Carolyn Bivona, Government Relations Director, American Heart Association, carolyn.bivona@heart.org 803-806-3027.

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Lawmakers presenting measures to change SC student athletics

COLUMBIA (WACH) – Some state lawmakers are presenting measures that would change who oversees high school sports. However, they don’t see major changes coming soon.

Charleston Sen. Chip Campsen is one of several lawmakers ready to see changes in how student athletics is handled across the state.

“Athletics was probably the most important activity I ever engaged in my life as far as teaching me discipline,” said Campsen.

Campsen says the South Carolina High School League, the system that currently oversees athletics, has structural flaws that allow rivalries and coaches to influence the system.

“Those rivalries will always be imported,” said Campsen. ” They are not independent arbitrators of disputes and rules when it comes to interscholastic athletics.”

Several proposals that would change how athletics operate in the state are being debated. One bill looking to change the structure would have the state superintendent of education appoint a new commissioner to oversee high school athletics. Another proposal put forth Wednesday would give home schooled children the chance to compete alongside public school athletes in their school district.

“The state should respect those parents decision, but not deny those children the ability to participate in athletics because their parents have made a decision about what is best for their education,” said Campsen.

Sonya Timmons has been home schooling her son for almost four years, and he has become an avid runner.

“We just don’t feel like just because we made an academic choice for our children it negates the fact that they do know how to run, they do know how to play baseball, they do know how to play football,” said Timmons.

Timmons helped create a tract team for home schoolers and they’ve had an easy time competing against other schools at tournaments until this year. The high school league worries that students could leave traditional schools and create an all-star team of home schoolers to compete for state championships.

“The notion that somehow parents of great athletes are going to decide to home school their kids simply so these great athletes can form a great team and go out and beat the Goose Creeks and the Gaffneys of SC on the football field is absurd,” said Campsen.

“If you say it’s for the competition and you want to beat the best of the best if we ever got there, why not?” said Timmons. “They’re just kids running. There are kids in public and these are home school kids. They’re just kids running.”

It’s a debate that is sure to keep running on and off the field.

Courtesy of Midlands Connect.

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