Spring Newsletter: DOA, DUI and Hog Calling

So far this session of the SC General Assembly has been productive. I’m pleased with the progress that has been made on several fronts, including improving the structure of state government. Listed below are some issues both large and small that we have been addressing.

Crush & Run – If you own an old car and it is stolen, chances are it’s heading to a scrap yard. Nine out of ten cars stolen in SC are eight years old or older. They can be sold to scrap dealers without proof of ownership. S1031 would require titles be presented for cars fewer than 15 years old so ownership can be confirmed before crushing.

Non-Starter – While on the subject of cars and crimes, let’s address drunk driving. SC consistently ranks near the top in deaths related to this crime. Over half of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses, so perhaps a new approach is needed. S746 would allow certain DUI offenders to pay to have ignition interlock devices installed in their cars. These devices would require drivers blow into them while a photo is taken of them doing so. If any BAC registers, the cars would not start. Other states with interlock laws have seen DUI deaths decline 50%.

Benefits of Unemployment – When people are laid off from their jobs the right to an unemployment check is essential. If a worker is fired for misconduct, though, that’s a different matter. Legislators were shocked to learn recently that SC paid out $50 million in unemployment benefits last year to workers fired for cause. That figure represents 10% of all payouts. The Senate sought to reverse this by passing a bill eliminating benefits for workers fired with cause. The bill also includes a measure to reimburse employers for fraudulent claims. On the same front, the House passed legislation to allow prospective employers to submit applicants’ failed drug tests to the state as basis for disqualification for unemployment benefits.

Lunch Lady Locavores – No, it’s not the latest new wave band, it’s H4200, a bill to get the Department of Agriculture to create a program to encourage schools to serve more locally grown, minimally processed food.

Port of Call Charleston – The two most insular cities in the South, Charleston and Savannah, are locked in competition, not for more people, but for more cargo. More specifically, they are in a race to deepen their harbors in order to accommodate the giant Panamax cargo ships set to sail once the Panama Canal is widened. Savannah has an early lead, but SC will push $180 million on the table to assist Charleston with dredging their harbor and catching up.

That’s the Ticket – A measure to allow the state’s voters to decide whether the Governor and Lt. Governor should be elected jointly (as a ticket) has passed the House and is set for debate in the Senate. If we are going to have a Lt. Governor (some states don’t) then we should allow the governor to select that person. Then he or she, once elected, could be given some responsibility and be an ally, not an adversary, of the chief executive. They figured this out in Washington 200 years ago. We have yet to.

DOA / Alive and Well – After succumbing to mutually assured destruction at the end of last year’s session, Gov. Nikki Haley and the Senate came together on an improved bill to create a Dept. of Administration (DOA). This legislation would move most of the responsibilities of the largely unaccountable Budget and Control Board to the governor’s cabinet. The main benefit of this is that one person, accountable to all the voters, would be responsible. Many of us would have preferred that the bill accomplish more than it does, but it is the first restructuring bill with a legitimate shot at passing since the Campbell administration. The legislation is currently awaiting the House’s approval.

Even It Out – I have introduced a joint resolution that should help bring fairness to the process of funding the haves and have-nots among SC’s colleges and universities. No better case for why this is needed can be found than USC Lancaster. Because state funding is not tied to enrollment, USCL receives only 39% of the funding per student that USC Sumter does – even though they have the same mission. Many other schools that have grown enrollment in recent years face the same predicament. Gov. Haley wants higher education funding based on performance. This is a step in that direction and can only benefit USCL and Winthrop.

Fix It First – It’s no secret that our roads are in bad shape. We have the 4th highest miles of state maintained roads among the 50 states. This, combined with the 4th lowest gas tax, is a challenging combination. What makes it worse, though, are DOT commissioners more concerned with building new roads than maintaining existing ones. At the present rate of resurfacing, it will be 100 years before all our existing roads are repaved. We’ll all be dead by then, so no worries, I suppose. Sen. Vince Sheheen’s S1090, which I’m co- sponsoring, would require DOT to spend 75% of revenue slated for roads on resurfacing. Optimum solution: Make DOT a cabinet agency like in every other state.

SC by the Numbers – We all know about our state’s historically poor rankings in some categories, but here are some positive ones: SC now ranks #1 in exports of cars and tires. Take that, Michigan! BMW builds over 1,000 cars a day in SC, and exports many of them through the Charleston port. Michelin, Bridgestone and Continental plants will combine to make us #1 in tire production by next year. The latter’s HQ is in Lancaster County. SC is #2 among states in exports to Germany and #10 in exports to China. We rank #17 in export volume among states.

Some of our universities have also received special recognition recently. USC’s Honors College was recently ranked #1 in the country among public universities. Further south, The Citadel was ranked best among Southern public regional universities. College of Charleston ranked #4 and Winthrop #7 among public regional universities in the South.

Monetary Matters – The state budget picture is brighter this year. We still have a AAA credit rating, our reserve accounts are full, over $500 million is committed to property tax relief, and revenue is running 7% ahead of last year. Paying down debt, deferred maintenance for state buildings, and a long-awaited raise for state employees should be Senate budget priorities this year.

Curb the Absurdity – S865 would cap the number of SC emblems and symbols at the current 45. While this would be good for the state and 3rd graders, it would be bad for the content of this newsletter.

There’s an App for That – H3730 would permit the use of electronic calls in the hunting of hogs. Hopefully no Arkansas fans will be lured into the line of fire.

Questions and Comments:
Senator Greg Gregory
E Mail: greggregory@scsenate.gov
Direct: 803.289.6211
CAE: 803.212.6024

Leave a Comment