We’ve had a good year in the Senate, and I’m pleased of the progress we’ve made on a number of bills important to the people of this district.
But just like it always happens in the last week of the legislative session, now we’re working overtime to make sure a few more key items get passed and on to the governor’s desk.
Democratic Sen. Robert Ford resigned over ethics violations, and it means once again Ethics Reform is on everyone’s radar in a big way.
The Senate has given priority status to an ethics bill meant to provide 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.
It’s simple – I think people need to be able to trust the government that represents them, and I think this bill would be a big step in that direction.
The Senate also 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.
I’m proud to report that the Senate agreed with me to include $2 million toward a special fund to help victims of the Cleveland Park train accident. It’s been a long time coming, and you can bet I’ll be fighting hard to make sure the House doesn’t strip this money out of the budget like they did last year. This year, I’ve been named as a budget conferee, which means I’ll be one of the negotiators working out the differences between the two budget plans. You can bet I’ll go to the mat fighting for this money.
Another big highlight in the budget is that 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 – which includes an expansion of services in Cherokee and Union counties – and put $1.5 million toward my 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 important for quality of life and economic development. As anyone who has traveled I-85 from Charlotte to Spartanburg can tell you, new money for our roads is sorely needed.
I’m happy to report as well that we’ve secured budget funding for the Union Carnegie Library, the first Carnegie Library in South Carolina. I will also work to make sure it comes through the conference committee process.
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.
Last but not least, a 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 21stCentury.
It makes clear the lines of authority in state government, meaning greater accountability for all. I’ve said time and time again that when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge, and this bill would help fix that.
In short, we have had an incredibly productive year, and hope to continue that. As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns.
S.C. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler represents District 14, which includes parts of Lake Wylie.