After much debate, the House approved legislation to allow families to have limited choice within the public school system, voting down amendments for vouchers or tax credits for private schools. The education bill (H 3124) approved by the House will permit children within public schools to cross district lines to attend other public schools. The "open enrollment" measure, sought by Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, would establish "choice" within the public school system.
Many amendments were offered on the House floor to allow tax credits or vouchers for students to attend private schools. After a spirited debate, the amendments were narrowly defeated. As a member of Dr. Rex's transition team and House Democratic whip, I worked hard to help line up the votes to defeat the amendments.
A product of the public school system, I am a strong supporter of public schools. I believe the open enrollment bill will enhance choices for parents without taking funds away from public schools. While I support private schools, I don't believe public funds should be used to pay for them.
On another important issue, the House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs voted to close the low-level nuclear waste site at Barnwell to most of the nation in 2008. I was one of sixteen committee members who defeated legislation (H 3545) to keep the Barnwell landfill open to power plants across the nation through 2023. I believe we should support our current obligations. In 2000, the state agreed to close the landfill to every state except New Jersey, Connecticut and South Carolina after July 1, 2008.
My colleagues and I are refusing to allow South Carolina to be the dumping ground for the rest of the nation's waste. Keeping the landfill open to the nation would not be in our state's best interest. The number one industry in our state is tourism. People come from far and wide to visit our beaches and mountains, but I don't know of anyone who comes to South Carolina to visit a nuclear waste dump.
The House, on March 22, approved and sent to the Senate legislation (H 3355) requiring a pregnant woman to view an ultrasound image of her fetus before having an abortion. Except in the case of a medical emergency, an abortion would not be allowed unless a pregnant woman certified in writing that she saw the ultrasound image and reviewed the information with the physician performing the abortion. I co-sponsored this bill, as I believe that a pregnant woman needs as much information as possible and should be aware of what's at stake before making such a momentous decision as having an abortion.
The House unanimously approved and sent to the Senate comprehensive legislation
(H 3161) designed to improve the safety of children riding public school buses. The measure would direct the state Department of Education to replace one-fifteenth of the bus fleet each year, meaning the purchase of 373 new school buses annually. This provision would result in a complete replacement of the fleet every fifteen years. Currently, there are buses on the road in Chesterfield County with over 400,000 miles. This is unsafe for our children and should not be tolerated.
The bill also would limit a student's ride on a school bus to 90 minutes in most cases. It would require school bus drivers to be certified by the state Department of Education, mandate annual inspections of school buses, provide for parental responsibility at bus stops and authorize a grant program to fund transportation of students to alternate public school, such as vocational, and magnet schools. To reduce emissions, the bill would require the Department of Education to use bio-diesel fuel when feasible.
An amendment adopted on the House floor would allow the Department of Education to grant a waiver of the current requirement that school buses stay overnight in one central area. This amendment will help reduce the long distances that our rural bus drivers must travel in order to park the bus in a central location far from their homes. My colleagues and I heard from School Board members and bus drivers and will do everything possible to get rid of the wasteful bus central parking policy.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at the Chesterfield County Legislative Delegation Office at 843-623-5001 or write me at 200 West Main Street, Chesterfield, S.C. 29709.