Senators seek to keep guns away from mentally ill

Senators Chip Campsen (R-Charleston), Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster), John Courson (R-Richland) and others today filed a bill that will require South Carolina to comply with the NICS database for background checks for the mentally ill with gun purchases.

The bill, S.413, would require judges to submit to SLED the names of people adjudicated to be mentally ill and unsafe to own a gun. SLED, in turn, will transmit those names to the national database. When a person purchases a gun, their name can be submitted to the Federal NICS database to verify that the purchaser has not been deemed mentally ill by the South Carolina judicial system. Currently, the state does not largely participate in the database, but this legislation will to give added protections to our citizens.

“Recent violence around the country has proven how important it is that we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill,” said Senator Campsen. “Sometimes we pretend like crises we see on TV can’t happen here at home, but last week’s incident at Ashley Hall shows otherwise. This is a commonsense measure we must pass to protect our families.”

Senator Gregory agrees. “The safety of South Carolinians is of utmost importance to us, especially when it comes to gun violence. This bill will be another step in preventing a tragedy similar to those in Aurora and Newtown from happening.”

“Compliance with NCIS to prevent seriously mentally ill people from buying guns is low hanging fruit that legislators on both sides of the gun debate should be able to pick together,” said Senator Gregory.

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
www.gregoryforsenate.com

Legislative Update

The Senate finished March by passing a number of important bills.

First, the Senate Republican Caucus passed a bill that will pave the way for charter school expansion in South Carolina.

Charter schools are an important part of the educational system in South Carolina, giving educators the flexibility to create schools that best fit the needs of the local community. They are public schools, funded and overseen by the state.

We have many great public schools in South Carolina, but in order to compete nationally, we need to encourage innovation in education. But for too long, local districts have often stymied charter schools’ efforts to get going.

The Senate passed a bill to streamline many aspects of charter school creation and the admissions process. It also sets new, simpler guidelines for charter school governance, and it allows colleges and universities to voluntarily sponsor these institutions. All in all, we believe it will stimulate the growth of charter schools in South Carolina and remove administrative roadblocks for those already operating.

Second, we passed a bill to prevent workers fired for misconduct from collecting unemployment benefits – a move that could save the unemployment system $50 million per year.

The bill is aimed at protecting businesses from having to pay out benefits for workers fired under these circumstances. It also protects consumers by keeping costs low, and protects taxpayers at a time when the state is still working to pay back loans made to the unemployment trust fund.

The changes to current law are necessary because a state agency’s broad interpretation of the old law resulted in $50 million in benefits awarded to people fired for misconduct last year alone. The bill will strictly define how to deal with these types of claims, making it consistent with federal law, and eliminating these unjustified benefits.

Third, the Senate is working to pass a bill that would free South Carolina from provisions of Obamacare and allow the state to regulate healthcare decisions within its own borders.

While we hope the Supreme Court does the right thing and strikes down Obamacare, we cannot wait, and have decided to act now. However, Senate Democrats are currently throwing up some procedural roadblocks to the bill.

The bill would make South Carolina a part of an interstate compact, in which each state joining the compact would gain the right to bypass federal healthcare regulations and instead allow the states to make those decisions. It would effectively negate Obamacare regulations like the health rationing panel. Similar legislation has already been passed in six states, and has been fast-tracked in four others.

We at the Senate Republican Caucus hope you have a restful Spring Break, and a great Easter spent with family.

A historic week in the Senate

This week marked a historic one in the state Senate, as Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell relinquished his position, and his Senate seat, to assume the office of Lieutenant Governor.

People often assume that the Lieutenant Governor’s office is one with authority second only to the governor, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Lieutenant Governor’s primary job is one of presiding over the Senate, while the President Pro Tempore post has far greater influence in setting and moving the Senate agenda and making appointments to various boards and other panels.

Because of this, Lieutenant Governor McConnell has been widely praised for giving up a far more powerful roll in order to become Lieutenant Governor, as prescribed by the state Constitution. While many people speculated on a hypothetical game of “musical chairs” that McConnell could have used to retain his former role, he instead simply decided to follow what was clearly laid out in the Constitution. For that, we join with many others across South Carolina in thanking him.

As well, the Senate held an election for a new Senate President Pro Tempore, choosing Senator John Courson of Columbia to fill that role. Senator Courson is a longtime Republican, being one of Ronald Reagan’s first prominent supporters in South Carolina. Please join us in also welcoming Senator Courson to the position of Senate President Pro Tempore.

In addition to the changes in leadership, the Senate began debate on the Charter Schools bill.

Charter schools are public schools that give educators the flexibility to create schools that best fit the needs of the local community. Unfortunately, local districts in an effort to avoid competing for funding, have often stymied charter schools’ efforts to get going. The Senate has a bill to streamline many aspects of charter school creation and the admissions process. We believe it will stimulate the growth of charter schools in South Carolina and remove administrative roadblocks for those already operating.

The Senate also tried to expedite consideration of a bill by Senator Lee Bright that would disallow unemployment benefits for people fired with cause or for misconduct. Too often, companies are forced to pay benefits for employees that were fired for good reason, something that costs taxpayers and consumers. Democrats blocked the consideration of this bill temporarily, but it isn’t dead and we hope to take it up later this session.

Thank you for allowing us to serve you in the state Senate. The Republican Caucus remains committed to looking after your tax dollars and promoting the conservative values of South Carolinians.

Gregory: Restructure now to save our state

Will the return of the General Assembly for the second half of the legislative session bring bold action tailored to our semi-desperate times, or small-time skirmishes over parochial matters? History favors the latter, but the times demand the former.

Our state faces several critical issues, but one towers over the rest because it affects the solutions to all the others. For any organization to be effective, it must be well organized. There must be clear lines of authority and accountability. This we do not have in our state government. What we have, in the words of S.C. historian Walter Edgar, is a “governmental jungle.”

This jungle took root with the adoption of the Constitution of 1895. Its central purpose was to dilute the power of the executive branch as a preemptive strike against the possible election of a black governor in a post-Reconstruction government. Like most actions with ill intentions, the negative consequences have compounded over the years.

Poorly designed even for agrarian times, our chaotic government structure is a disaster in the information age. Like college football’s BCS Championship, it is mainly defended by those with a self-interest in it. This was evidenced by the recent Senate hearings over who should govern DHEC, which saw pretty much everyone contradicting their professed beliefs in defense of the status quo.

Republican legislators always argue that “government should be run more like a business,” yet any business with the lack of accountability inherent in South Carolina’s government would quickly fail. Democratic legislators proclaim a need for more diversity among the state’s leadership; a true Cabinet system of government would ensure this, but the current system almost guarantees nine white men in the state’s constitutional offices.

Republicans decry the appointment of numerous “czars” to positions in the Obama administration; at least the czars report to the president. In South Carolina, appointments are made to powerful positions by a variety of methods, but those appointed are essentially accountable to no one until their terms are up. That is fine for judges, but not for heads of state agencies such as the Employment Security Commission. Agency directors should be appointed by the governor, not a legislative body, or board of volunteer laypeople.

Similarly, the state’s highest elected official should appoint leaders to oversee K-12 education, the National Guard and agriculture. After all, fewer than 2 percent of South Carolinians are farmers. How informed can the other 98 percent of us be on a down-ballot election for the commissioner of agriculture?

Opponents of restructuring argue that agencies must not be directly accountable to the governor, else political influence might be unjustly wielded. For what do we elect a governor, if not to carry out his agenda?

The unspoken truth is that anti-restructuring legislators want to retain power to wield influence in what should be executive branch matters. Considering where our state ranks today, how has that worked out for us? Not too well in a lot of areas, but especially education, where our governors and superintendents of education are often at odds. If we have an education “Corridor of Shame,” then who is to blame? Is it the governor, superintendent of education, General Assembly, state Board of Education or the myriad of administratively duplicative school districts that occupy the area?

Where there is no visibility, there can be no accountability. The governor is visible and should be accountable, but must have the authority to govern. For South Carolina to keep pace in today’s hyper-competitive world, the executive branch must be placed on equal footing with the legislative branch. This means granting the governor the power to appoint constitutional officers and name directors to run agencies such as the Department of Transportation.

November 4, 2010, must bring South Carolina a strong executive branch filled by a strong governor. We need a leader with Dick Riley’s passion for big ideas and Carroll Campbell’s persuasive powers. Yet, even if this person exists among the current candidates, the new governor needs more – the power to say “you’re hired” and “you’re fired” rather than only “please” and “thank you.”

A simple first step would be for legislators to allow the voters the option of changing the constitution to grant the governor authority to appoint constitutional officers. If there is an effective argument as to why South Carolina’s government structure should not mirror that of most every state that ranks ahead of us, let its proponents make it. Show us how our schools, roads, port and Employment Security Commission exceed all others. Otherwise, let the people vote to vest our executive branch with the powers granted to virtually every other governor.

One accountable person moving with purpose has to be more effective than 179 moving in opposite directions. Isn’t it time we gave that person a chance?

Source: The State

January / February 2012 Legislative Update

After one month in session we are finally beginning to get some traction. Traditionally, the SC Senate is like a baseball team expected to contend for the pennant, but starts off 0-10 just to make it sporting. Sometimes we finish in a wild flurry of success. Sometimes we end up in a heap like last year’s Braves and Red Sox.

I’m hopeful for a pennant winning season, as we have been spending quite a bit of time trying to perfect and pass legislation establishing a Department of Administration. This would rid us of the anachronistic Budget and Control Board and transfer most of its functions to the executive branch. In the other 49 states the legislature passes laws and the executive branch executes them, but in SC many of these functions are administered by this unaccountable five member board. A vote on Wednesday effectively eliminated the B&C Board, but Important matters yet to be decided in this legislation are where to place the governance of the South Carolina Retirement Systems and state procurement.

While the DOA bill has consumed most all debate time on the Senate floor, other bills have been working their way through committees. These include:

DOT Reform / “Fix It First” – SC DOT is governed not by the executive branch as it is in 48 other states, but by – you guessed it – an unaccountable board. As a result, it is not governed well. Instead of a comprehensive road plan for the state, we have competing fiefdoms pursuing parochial interests. (Apparently additional roads are still needed because all existing roads, interchanges, rest stops, overpasses and pig paths in SC are already named for politicians.) This disjointed decision- making must end, and the only way to do it is to eliminate the board. Legislation introduced by Sen. Larry Grooms, which I support, would do so.

In conjunction with eliminating the DOT Board we need to direct that 75% of all funds devoted to roads be used for maintenance. Our roads are in disrepair and the first step towards correcting that is to not build new ones, but to resurface existing ones. York County roads are in better shape than those of most any other county because of Pennies for Progress. Lancaster roads, though, are like those of the rest of rural SC: in poor shape and getting worse. Legislation introduced by Sen. Vince Sheheen, and co-sponsored by me, would make fixing our existing roads and bridges SC DOT’s top priority.

Bath Salts / Synthetic Marijuana – These products are doing a lot of damage to those who partake. Legislation to ban them is moving quickly through the Senate.

Casinos – The Catawbas want a casino in York County and the Cherokees want one in Jasper County. The odds may be better for the Catawbas, but I wouldn’t take bets on either succeeding.

Spending Limits – SC could have stayed off the budget roller coaster if we had more spending discipline in the fat years. Because we did not, it made the recent lean years more acutely painful. The budget picture is bright this year for the first time in many. There is no lesson in the second kick of the mule, though. Spending caps need to be put in place to level out the highs and lows. Legislation to accomplish this is being debated in the Senate.

For me, among priorities in the budget this year is a raise for state employees. They have not had one in several years and are certainly due. I will also work to attempt to bring more equity in funding to USCL and Winthrop. Both have been hamstrung by the convoluted way that SC has funded higher education. Funding for universities that have benefitted from the current practices should be held constant while it is increased for those that have been unfairly penalized.

USC vs. Clemson Forever: A Lexington House member has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require that this football game take place each season. Longtime rivalries like Texas vs. Texas A&M are, unfortunately, ending due to conference realignment (also known as greed). I doubt any time will be spent on this bill as there is little chance this rivalry will ever be ended by anything short of Armageddon.
That’s all I have room for now. If I didn’t cover something of interest to you please send me an email at greggregory@scsenate.gov or call me at 803-804-1830.

Sweet Tea: Greatest threat to S.C. since Sherman

A recent visit to a local restaurant found me waiting behind three wide bodies blocking the tea dispensers. Despite tilting the sweet tea canister 45 degrees they found none to be had, so they waited for it to be filled. It didn’t enter their minds to try unsweet tea just as it wouldn’t have entered mine several years ago.

All my life I derided unsweet tea as “Yankee tea” and considered most anyone who drank it from the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line. I felt strongly that there was something wrong with people who didn’t drink sweet tea. When the South Carolina band Cravin’ Melon proclaimed in song that “on the eighth day God created sweet tea,” I was in complete agreement. Then one day I observed the amount of sugar that goes into making a gallon of it. Soon thereafter my wife had an easier time converting me to unsweet.

That’s my story, but from looking at the waistlines at WalMart these days, there appear to be few other converts. Southerners are getting fatter every year. In fact eight of the ten states with the greatest levels of obesity are in the south. Surely sweet tea is a factor in our expansion.

Southerners are also at the forefront of the type 2 diabetes epidemic. A disease largely influenced by one’s decisions, diabetes is killing thousands prematurely and leading to blindness and amputations in many others. It is also driving us deeper into debt and sponging already declining dollars away from higher education, public safety and other necessary government responsibilities. Taken together, obesity’s cost in South Carolina lives and dollars likely far exceeds the damage General Sherman inflicted here 145 years ago.

From observing the state of physical fitness in our state, it’s discernable that most people don’t care about their health from the standpoint of its cost to society. Some would argue that education regarding proper eating habits is a factor. Really though, most everyone knows which foods contribute to obesity, and that a sedentary lifestyle makes one fat.

What they may not know is that type 2 diabetes has an almost 90 percent less likely occurrence in people of normal weight who exercise, have a healthy diet and don’t smoke.

An easy first step to avoiding this debilitating disease is to change one’s drink of choice to unsweet tea.

In closing, let me say that what people put in their bodies is their business so long as it doesn’t cause them to hurt others and they pay for the consequences. As with all aspects of life, moderation and balance are the keys. There are a lot worse things a person can drink than sweet tea, In fact, the sugar in tea is less harmful than the high fructose corn syrup and chemicals in soft drinks. It is easy, however, to consume thousands of empty calories chugging sweet tea.

If you drink copious quantities of sweet tea or soft drinks and would like to become healthier, try unsweet tea for a month, On a hot day, with lemon over crushed ice, there is really nothing better. Remember, though, it generally takes a month to set a habit.

I probably drank a tanker load of sweet tea over my first 40 years. If I can be happily converted, then others can as well. Yes, there is still a tinge of betrayal to the South when I order unsweet tea among friends, but I feel much better after the meal and other converts will too.

Greg Gregory is a Lancaster businessman and represents the counties of Lancaster and York in the S.C. Senate.

Source

Creating a Fiscally Fit State Government

Finance is not something they teach you in high school, but it becomes a part of life whether you agree with sound financial management or not. In your own lives, you witness financial mismanagement everyday. Parents and grandparents are the best to point this out, as they lived much simpler lives compared to what we see as necessity today. It occurs in your government, your neighborhood, and some of us experience it in their own homes. Truly responsible financial management is what will move our country forward, and it’s what will make our state prosperous as well.

Some have criticized our state for it’s financial burdens. While our state experiences private sector economic growth, we’ve also seen the inefficiencies and mismanagement grow state government grow as well. As times change and our economy shifts direction, our government structure must adapt to overcome these new inefficiencies that have bubbled to the surface.

As members of the South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus, we recognize that these inefficiencies have an exciting hidden benefit- there is room for progress and upward mobility like never before.

This session, each member is putting on their gloves and becoming a mechanic. As a functioning machine, our state government resembles a late 80’s Yugo more so than a South Carolina manufactured BMW. It’s time to change that, and we’re prepared for a fight. The gloves won’t come off until a leaner, more efficient state government is established.

State government is the engine for attracting economic development. Right now, it seems that even the smallest components of that engine aren’t working. The machine can’t even seem to get past the starting line without stalling. As your SC Republican Caucus, we will not stop until the proper repairs are made.

South Carolina Senator Glenn McConnell has proposed his “fiscally fit” plan, which will balance our state government, make agencies more conservative in their spending, and our government less wasteful. It consists of legislative initiatives to place a Constitutional cap on state spending, conduct a streamlining review of state government, enact a taxpayer fairness act, a deficit prevention act, and a trust fund protection act.

While having made its way to the floor with strong support, the battle is not over yet. Soon special interests desperate to keep their funding will start lobbying to have this legislation stopped. However, we will fight for this plan and we believe it can pass with your help. If the public can be vocal and demand cuts, your legislators will have no choice but to pass a fiscally responsible plan.

Another aspect of the comprehensive fiscal overhaul includes the consolidation of state agencies into the Department of Administration. This is the most vital step to becoming an efficient state government- one that isn’t weighed down by duplicative, wasteful programs, and brings a more direct accountability for the very core functions its citizens expect. A leaner administration means more dollars are available to flow to the most critical government functions. And in turn, we will see better schools, better roads, infrastructure, and more economic freedom to create one’s destiny. We’re sputtering right now, but we believe that the Department of Administration is a badly needed step to create well-oiled machine.

We are working to get our state back on track and today I simply ask that you get behind our efforts. If there is anything I can do for you, call me at (803) 289-6211 or email me at greggregory@scsenate.com.

Coons, Collards and Coyotes (plus some serious stuff, too) Greg’s 2011 Fall legislative update

This is a report regarding what transpired in the SC General Assembly this year. In it I attempt to cover the major issues and a few amusing ones that may be of interest.

I returned to the Senate in April after 2 1⁄2 years away and found it much as it was when I retired. The body typically completes 80% of its work in the last 20% of its available time. So, even though I was seated late in the legislative year, I had not missed much. Here’s what happened:

Collards & Coons – SC may not be #1 in much, but we do lead the country in vanity plates and official state symbols. The Senate approved 32 new vanity plates this year, including one for coon hunters.

After brief debate, a bill passed the Senate designating collards as the official state vegetable. I voted no because: 1) Collards stink up my house on New Year’s Day, 2) It is silly to keep passing bills for official state spiders, tartans, waltzes, etc. 3) Third grade is hard enough without having to remember all this extra stuff for SC History class.

Redistricting – Every ten years, after the completion of the US Census, political districts are redrawn to balance out population shifts. Senate District 16 was forced to shrink in size from 120,000 people to 105,000. Over 60% of them are in Lancaster County with around 85% of Fort Mill/ Tega Cay rounding out the district.

Because of population growth, SC gained a US House seat. After weeks of debate, the General Assembly formed the new district to include an area from Chesterfield County to Horry County. Most likely, the new congressman will be from the Grand Strand area.

Lawsuit Reform – A bill was passed that limits punitive damages from lawsuits to $500,000, or three times actual damages, whichever is greater. This brings SC in line with other southeastern states and is a factor in attracting jobs here.

Heavy Metal – Late in the year a bill was passed to combat increasing thefts of copper and other metals. Registration with the local sheriff’s office is now required to transport copper. Also, records of sellers must be maintained by recyclers.

Voter ID – Beginning next year one must present a SC driver’s license, state issued ID, passport, or federal military ID to vote. While voter fraud is not a significant problem in SC, everyone wants their vote to count. This bill will further ensure that.

Gov’t Restructuring – The SC House passed several important measures to restructure state government. These included creating a Dept. of Administration to largely replace our unorthodox Budget and Control Board. This helps grant SC chief executives the same oversight of government held by most all other governors. The House also passed joint resolutions to allow voters the opportunity to let future governors appoint the State Superintendent of Education, and select a running mate as Lt. Governor. All of this legislation is pending in the Senate and I plan to push for its passage in January.

ATVs – Over sixty SC children have died in accidents involving ATVs during the last ten years. After an eight year effort on the part of the parents of one of those children, a bill became law which bans those younger than six years old from riding ATVs. Children fifteen years old and younger must pass a safety class and wear a helmet and goggles.

Amazon – Legislators were given a Hobson’s choice on the issue of whether to force Amazon to collect sales tax in SC. Businesses with physical locations here are required to charge sales tax on internet sales. Amazon, now building a massive distribution center in Lexington County, balked at this and threatened to pull the plug on this facility and its 2,000 jobs. This presented legislators with a choice between losing these desperately needed jobs, or further bastardizing our “Swiss cheese” tax code. My votes were against the Amazon tax break because it is unfair to existing retailers. However, I was on the losing side.

Wile E. Coyotes – They are migrating up from the Southwest and can now be found in all 46 counties.Coyotes are rarely seen in the daytime, but are a menace to pets, livestock, deer and turkeys. To better the chances of thinning their numbers the Senate passed a bill along to the House allowing hunters to shoot them at night.

Back In Black – This year began with budget writers expecting an $800 million (15%) shortfall in our general fund. Revenues, however, rose like Lazarus and increased over 6%. This brought good and bad implications. It was good that revenue turned positive after several painful years of decline and resulting budget cuts. It was bad that improving revenue “untied us from the railroad tracks” and took away needed pressure to reform our flawed tax code.

Big items in the current budget include restoration of an additional $243 in per student funding for K-12. A boost of $25 million will fund charter schools. A sum of $146 million will go toward paying down a nearly $1 billion loan SC was forced to take from Washington to cover unemployment claims. On that front, the number of weeks of eligibility for the unemployed has been reduced from 26 to 20. These actions will result in a reduction of up to 25% in unemployment taxes paid by businesses. These premiums increased multifold for many struggling companies in 2011.

Included in the $6 billion general fund budget was $517 million in existing property tax relief for homeowners and almost $100 million for businesses. Another $287 million went into rainy day reserve funds as required by the SC Constitution.

After much posturing and jawboning over whether it would be funded, ETV was given $6.5 million. In addition to what one sees and hears on its channels, ETV also provides important services for many other state agencies. Considering its funding represents 1% of the state budget, I consider it short-sighted to zero it out.

Welfare (AFDC) payments were reduced from $270 per month to $217. To qualify recipients must work part time or be part of a training program. (Food stamps and other forms of welfare were not affected.) Conversely, Medicaid spending continued to grow like kudzu on a telephone pole. If increases are not soon arrested, Medicaid will consume more and more of the state budget. As it grows, funding for higher education, the DNR, Highway Patrol and other agencies will continue to fall. State employees have not had raises for many years and a major culprit is Medicaid spending. With 20% of South Carolinians on the program it has become unsustainable. Eligibility requirements must be increased to avoid Medicaid crowding out other important state responsibilities.

On the positive side, even though our budget is flawed, we don’t spend more than we take in. Also, unlike the federal government, SC retains its AAA credit rating. Only 12 states have a AAA rating.

Questions or Comments:

Senator Greg Gregory
P.O. Box 1381
Lancaster, SC 29721
803 289 6211 (Direct)
800 277 5566
803 212 6024 (CAE)

greggregory@scsenate.gov

Gregory Wins Primary