When the 120th Session of the House convened on Tuesday, January 8, 2013, I felt blessed to be one of the legislative body’s 124 members. I am grateful that the constituents of District 53 sent me back to the State House, and I look forward to serving with the same passion that I’ve had over the last four terms.
This year, I have continued to assume leadership positions that I hope will benefit our district and state. Once again, I chair the Wildlife Subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, the Interstate Cooperation Committee and the Chesterfield County Legislative Delegation. In addition, I will chair the House Rural Caucus this year.
I look forward to representing District 53 in the House and believe this General Assembly will be a productive one. Both Democrats and Republicans agree we need to take action on a number of important issues, including ethics reform, election reform and school safety. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in increasing the security of state government computer systems and increasing the budget for mental health and rural hospitals. We also expect some exciting new opportunities for economic development in rural South Carolina, now that the South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority is operational.
However, you can expect a contentious debate over whether to expand Medicaid to more uninsured adults, as set out in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Another perennial issue that will likely come up is funding for public education. You can bet I will be fighting for increased funding for public education and improving health care in our state.
Here is more information about some of the important issues affecting our state this year:
Rural Infrastructure Authority
This agency, which was created by the General Assembly in 2010, is allotting $6 million in grants this fiscal year, which ends July 1, 2013, for water and sewer improvements in economically distressed rural areas. The coverage area includes both Chesterfield and Lancaster Counties as well as 24 other counties. Municipalities, counties, special purpose and public service districts can apply for a maximum grant of $350,000. They need to submit grant applications by February 1, the agency’s first deadline, and then April 1. I expect the authority to be a wonderful advocate for rural areas of our state.
The S.C. Board of Economic Advisors has forecast a General Fund budget of $6.3 billion in recurring funds for the Fiscal Year 2013-14. We’ve been told to expect at least another $540 million in surplus and other funds. Last year, the Legislature appropriated $6.1 billion in recurring funds for the state General Fund for the current 2012-13 fiscal year. The total state government budget allotted for this fiscal year was $6.7 billion.
This year’s call for ethics reform resulted from two events that happened last year. First, former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard resigned and entered a guilty plea for using campaign funds for personal purchases. Also, Governor Haley was accused and then cleared by the House Ethics Committee of allegedly personally benefiting from her office while she was a state representative. The Governor subsequently formed a special Ethics Commission that must send recommendations for change to the Governor on January 28.
Legislation that clarifies the requirements of candidates for election will undoubtedly be on the agenda this year, since more than 250 candidates statewide were tossed off ballots last year for failing to file their financial disclosure forms properly. Already, a House subcommittee has sent the House Judiciary Committee a bill to give the secretary of state oversight over elections. And the Senate has approved a bill that would prevent candidates from being removed from the ballot for improperly filing paperwork. Instead they would face penalties. The legislature also expects to debate legislation that will allow for early voting in our state.
Several agencies’ computer systems came under attack last year — at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Health and Human Services and, more recently, the state Department of Revenue. At the Department of Revenue, the personal information of nearly four million state taxpayers was taken. As a result, legislators are seeking ways to increase the security of computer systems in state government.
The December shooting massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has prompted discussions about how to improve safety at South Carolina schools. I expect debate on legislation to put an armed school resource officer at every public school in the state.
Medicaid is a federal-state partnership that provides health care for uninsured residents with a low income, as well as to the disabled, blind and elderly. The Medicaid expansion provisions under the federal Affordable Care Act would extend coverage to an estimated 300,000 uninsured individuals making at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level — roughly $15,000 a year for a single adult. The federal government would pay all the costs during the first three years of expansion (2014-16) and gradually decrease its contribution to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.
Supporters of the expansion say it could reduce the number of uninsured in our state from 730,000 to 42,000. However, Governor Haley opposes Medicaid expansion on the grounds that it will ultimately be too costly for a “broken program,” she said in her recent State of the State address.
Public School Funding
The 1977 Education Finance Act sets a formula for determining the base student cost, which is a per-pupil expenditure that the state must provide to fund public education. The base student cost has been underfunded for years. Last year, the General Assembly agreed on a base student cost of $2,012 per student for the current fiscal year and the Governor has proposed to keep the base student cost at that same level for Fiscal Year 2013-14. Although the current level is higher than the previous year’s base student cost of $1,615 per pupil, it is still significantly lower than the $2,771 per student required under state law.
The Legislature meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from January through mid-June. If you need to reach me on those days, please contact the Columbia office, at 803-734-2999, 333C Blatt Building,
P.O. Box 11867, Columbia, SC 29211. My email address in Columbia is firstname.lastname@example.org. On days when we are out of session, please contact the Chesterfield County Legislative Delegation Office, at 843-623-5001, 200 West Main St., Chesterfield, SC 29709, or email me at email@example.com.