My fellow House Republicans and I set out with a "Business Plan" in January addressing these key areas of importance in our state:
1.) Improving Education in Rural Communities
2.) Instituting Workforce Development through K-12 Computer Science Training
3.) Providing a Long-Term Solution to the Infrastructure Crisis
4.) Securing the Future of the Public Employee Retirement System
I'm pleased to report on Thursday, April 6th, the House adjourned for the Easter furlough period having completed each objective. Please find an update of each below:
Improving Education in Rural Communities
For too long, we did not adequately address the needs of our poor rural school districts. In a 2014 decision, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled we must do more to address the inadequacies that exist from county to county. This year, the House budget appropriated $100 million for poor school districts to maintain and improve the environments in which children learn. We also increased per-student payments by $38 million, a $50 per student increase, placing the total base student cost at $2,400. These per-student dollars go to each school district to cover the state portion of public education funding.
Instituting Workforce Development through K-12 Computer Science Training
It's no secret that South Carolina has the best pro-business climate in the Southeast. We've worked hard to recruit high-paying employers to our state, employers who expect us to ensure the next generation of workers is adequately prepared to fill these jobs. As part of that preparation, and in preparation for an increasingly competitive international marketplace, my colleagues and I passed legislation instituting computer science training beginning in the K-12 system. The earlier we introduce advanced technology to our students, the less we have to do on the back-end to prepare them for a high-paying job.
Providing a Long-Term Solution to the Infrastructure Crisis
Just under 1,000 people died on our roads last year. Due to the current state of our roads, it costs the average SC motorist an additional $1,300 – $1,800 annually to operate a vehicle. Each day, the average Palmetto State driver wastes an average of 34 minutes stuck in traffic. These facts and figures are unacceptable and saddening. In the House, we passed a pay-as-you-go road funding solution with DOT reforms and increased accountability. Last week, the governor suggested a borrow-it-all approach for fixing our infrastructure woes. I am not for the state selling bonds for the repaving of our roads and repairing of our bridges. The Senate has not passed any plan. I remain committed to addressing our infrastructure needs this year and will keep you updated on the matter.
Securing the Future of the Public Employee Retirement System
It was no surprise the state retirement system suffered during the Great Recession. The market decline coupled with poor management decisions resulted in unprecedented losses to the retirement system which had to be addressed. I am pleased to report that this week the House and Senate passed a conference report, now on the governor's desk, bringing solvency to the system nearly every public employee depends upon. Our public employees are the backbone of everything we do in South Carolina, and the promises made to them concerning their retirement will be kept.
In order for me to have a strong voice in Columbia, I have to communicate with my constituents. And that is you! My website, newsletters, mailers, and Facebook are the communication tools that I use. It takes extra time, staff, and campaign funds to maintain these tools.
If you would like to contribute, please mail a check to Hixon for House, P.O. Box 7927, North Augusta, SC 29861. You can also make a contribution online on my website.
I hope that you find this update helpful and informative. If I can help you with an issue, please let me know. Thank you for reading and allowing me to serve you.
Legislative Update – April 17, 2017
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3930, a bill providing AUTHORIZATION TO CARRY A HANDGUN IN PUBLIC WITHOUT A PERMIT, either openly or concealed, implementing what is often called "Constitutional carry" or "permitless carry" in South Carolina. In making its revisions, the legislation retains most of the current provisions relating to concealable weapons, including: the issuance of concealable weapons permits by the State Law Enforcement Division; the posting of notification that allows a business owner to prohibit concealable weapons on the premises; the homeowner permission required for carrying a concealable weapon into a private residence; and a list of places where concealable weapons are not allowed such as schools, daycare facilities, hospitals, courthouses, and the meeting places of government bodies. The new provisions for carrying a handgun lawfully in public, concealed or not, without a requirement for obtaining a concealable weapon permit apply only to those individuals who may legally purchase a firearm from a properly licensed and certified firearms dealer. The legislation specifies that the intent to use a handgun unlawfully against another person must not be inferred from the mere possession, carrying, use, or concealment of the handgun, whether it is loaded or unloaded. The legislation also provides for South Carolina to honor valid out-of-state permits to carry concealable weapons that are held by residents of other states, who are least twenty-one years old or military personnel of any age.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3566, a bill establishing CONDITIONS UPON WHICH SCHOOL FIRST RESPONDERS MAY POSSESS FIREARMS ON SCHOOL PREMISES while rendering aid in crisis situations. The legislation makes provisions for the Law Enforcement Training Council to develop guidelines for a one-week training program offered by the Criminal Justice Academy to the emergency medical service personnel and firefighters who serve as school first responders which provides certification that, along with a valid concealed weapons permit, allows them to possess firearms on school premises while they are responding to a campus shooting or other emergencies.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3969, a bill that revises SCHOOL PERFORMANCE RATINGS in establishing a single public education accountability system that meets both state and federal requirements. Through Act 200 of 2014, the General Assembly charged the Education Oversight Committee with developing and recommending a single accountability system that met both state and federal requirements. The EOC, working with the State Department of Education and other stakeholders, submitted recommendations for updating the Education Accountability Act to the General Assembly in January of this year. House Bill 3969 creates one report card with one overall rating for school performance that incorporates both state and federal requirements. Under these uniform provisions, a school's progress towards meeting or exceeding the criteria of the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate is measured with the performance ratings of: Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory. The same categories of performance ratings also must be assigned to individual indicators used to measure a school's performance, such as academic achievement, student growth or progress, graduation rate, English language proficiency, and college and career readiness. The legislation discontinues the assignment of performance rankings to entire school districts. To further increase transparency and accountability, the legislation requires that, by the 2019-2020 School Year, the school's report card must be furnished to parents and the public no later than September first. The legislation makes revisions regarding which standardized tests are administered to assess student achievement. The legislation requires the state to use a value-added system that calculates student progress or growth, and a local school district may, in its discretion, use the value-added system to evaluate classroom teachers using student progress or growth. Confidentiality provisions are included to exempt data relating to specific teacher effects on student progress or growth from public disclosure. A longitudinal data system is established in order to better assist with policy and fiscal decisions ranging from pre-kindergarten to college. The Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, First Steps, SDE, the Commission on Higher Education, DSS, the Technical College System, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Employment and Workforce, and other state agencies and colleges are charged with establishing and maintaining the system. Working with the Education Oversight Committee, the State Department of Education shall design and pilot district accountability models that focus on competency-based education for a district or school or on regional or county economic initiatives to improve the postsecondary success of students. A district may apply to the department and the committee to participate in the pilot.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3968, a bill providing for ENHANCED SCREENING FOR THOSE SEEKING PROFESSIONAL AND OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION. This bill makes revisions to add to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's broad authority to revoke professional and occupational authorization enhanced authority to deny initial authorization so the department can deny the authorization to engage in a profession or occupation for any reason that it can revoke such authorization. The legislation's enhanced security provisions are applied to a list of seventeen professions and occupations selected due to the likelihood that the professional may be alone with clients and vulnerable individuals.
The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3793, legislation authorizing certain applied, non-research HIGHER EDUCATION DEGREE PROGRAMS at four-year colleges and universities, and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation makes provisions for bachelor of science degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at South Carolina State University, doctoral degrees in Nursing Practice at Francis Marion University and the University of South Carolina Aiken, a doctor of philosophy degree in Education Administration at Coastal Carolina University, and a doctor of philosophy degree in Computer and Information Science at the College of Charleston. Approval by the Commission on Higher Education is required for all of these degree programs. The new degree programs are only allowed so long as new state general funds are not appropriated for their operation.
The House approved S.354 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation makes provisions for DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS STABILIZATION UNIT FACILITIES where individuals entering hospital emergency rooms suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues may be transferred to begin receiving appropriate care. This bill makes provisions for a crisis stabilization unit facility operated or authorized by the Department of Mental Health which provides a short-term residential program offering psychiatric stabilization services, detoxification services, and brief, intensive crisis services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The legislation exempts a crisis stabilization unit facility from the Certificate of Need process and requires a crisis stabilization unit facility to obtain a license from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The House concurred in Senate amendments to H.3438 and enrolled the bill for ratification. The legislation establishes a protocol AUTHORIZING PHARMACISTS TO SUBSTITUTE INTERCHANGEABLE BIOLOGICAL PRODUCTS that have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Such substitutions may only be made when a practitioner's prescription provides authorization. The legislation provides labeling requirements and establishes a process for notifying prescribers of the specific biological product that a pharmacist dispenses to a patient.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate to H.3823, a bill REQUIRING HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS TO REPORT THE EXPOSURE OF INFANTS TO ALCOHOL OR DRUGS. The legislation adds physicians, nurses, and medical or allied health professionals to the list of those who are required to report instances of suspected child abuse or neglect by mandating a report to the Department of Social Services whenever they encounter a child, birth to one year, who is diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome or a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or a child, birth to one year, who is medically affected by the prenatal substance exposure to a controlled or illegal substance, or withdrawal from alcohol or a controlled or illegal substance. These reports do not, however, create any presumptions that child abuse or neglect has taken place. The reporter may assist DSS in developing a safety plan for these children and their caregivers. As with other mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect, provisions are included to shield those acting in good faith from legal liability.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3864, a bill revising MOTOR VEHICLE CHILD SAFETY SEAT REQUIREMENTS. The legislation updates age, weight, size, and position requirements for lawfully securing infants and children in approved motor vehicle child safety seats. Child passenger safety restraint system requirements provide for a progression from rear-facing seats for infants, to forward-facing seats, to belt-positioning booster seats, and ultimately, when a child is at least eight years old or at least fifty-seven inches tall, to a properly fitting adult safety seat belt.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3865, the "SOUTH CAROLINA PREGNANCY ACCOMMODATIONS ACT". The legislation enhances state laws that combat pregnancy discrimination, promote public health, and ensure full and equal participation for women in the labor force by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including accommodations for lactation, that allow employees to remain on the job. The South Carolina Human Affairs Commission is charged with promulgating regulations to carry out this act, which shall identify some reasonable accommodations addressing medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions that must be provided to a job applicant or employee affected by these known limitations, unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3809, bill facilitating ACCESS TO A YEAR'S SUPPLY OF CONTRACEPTIVE DRUGS, such as birth control pills, patches, and rings, that can be obtained all at one time rather than through periodic refills over the course of a year. The legislation establishes requirements that all individual or group health insurance policies providing coverage for contraceptive drugs must provide reimbursement for a twelve-month refill of contraceptive drugs obtained at one time by the insured, unless the insured requests a smaller supply or the prescribing provider instructs that the insured must receive a smaller supply. The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to require all Medicaid health plans to include this option of dispensing a twelve-month supply of contraceptive drugs. Provisions are included for on-site dispensing of the prescribed contraceptive drugs, which include all drugs approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration that are used to prevent pregnancy such as hormonal drugs administered orally, transdermally, and intravaginally.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3824, a bill establishing REQUIREMENTS FOR HEALTH CARE PRACTITIONERS TO REVIEW A PATIENT'S CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE PRESCRIPTION HISTORY. The legislation establishes a protocol for conducting a review a patient's controlled substance prescription history, as maintained in the prescription monitoring program, before a practitioner issues a prescription for a Schedule II controlled substance.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3821, a bill providing for a MANDATORY HIGHER EDUCATION CURRICULUM ON PRESCRIBING CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES in the training health care professionals. The bill requires public and private institutions of higher education offering degrees in a health care profession that allows graduates to prescribe controlled substances listed in Schedules II, III, and IV to develop mandatory course work on the prescription and monitoring of controlled substances, including Schedule II drugs used to treat or manage pain. The coursework must include instruction on strategies to recognize and reduce the likelihood of patient addiction to opioids and other controlled substances.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3559, a bill creating a three-year PILOT PROGRAM FOR THE CULTIVATION OF INDUSTRIAL HEMP. The Department of Agriculture will allow up to fifteen permits to be issued annually, to South Carolina residents, for the purposes of a pilot program with each permittee allowed to grow industrial hemp on up to twenty acres of land. When applying for a permit, each applicant, at a minimum must submit to the department, global positioning system coordinates of where the industrial hemp will be grown and such other required information as fingerprints and the appropriate fees required by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to perform a fingerprint based state criminal records check and for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to perform a national fingerprint-based criminal records check. No person who has been convicted of any felony, or any person convicted of any drug-related misdemeanor or violation in the previous ten years from the date of the application, shall be eligible to obtain a permit. Before the department will issue a permit to the applicant, the applicant must have proof of a signed purchaser with a contract. The Department may charge fees to administer this pilot program, not to exceed two hundred and fifty dollars annually per applicant. Applicants must provide written consent allowing SLED to enter onto all premises where industrial hemp is cultivated, processed, or stored for the purpose of conducting physical inspections or ensuring compliance with the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. The legislation includes requirements for periodic laboratory testing to ensure that industrial hemp crops do not have unlawfully high levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, and crops with unlawfully high THC levels are required to be destroyed. Criminal penalties are established to address the cultivation of industrial hemp as a means of disguising marijuana production or distribution operations. A violation is a misdemeanor that carries a term of imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of up to three thousand dollars. Research Universities may conduct research on industrial hemp as an agriculture commodity and shall work in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture to identify solutions for applications, applicants and new market opportunities for industrial hemp growers.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4033, a bill I sponsored, establishing the offense of ENDANGERING A HIGHWAY WORKER while driving in a highway work zone and failing to obey traffic control devices or traveling in undesignated lanes. The legislation establishes an array of penalties for violations, including a fine of not more than five thousand dollars when the driver causes a highway worker to suffer great bodily injury. The legislation also eliminates the four point driver's license violation provided for a driver's failure to use a turn signal and instead provides for a violator to be fined twenty-five dollars.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3297, a bill authorizing NATIONAL GUARD VETERAN'S DESIGNATION ON DRIVER'S LICENSES. The bill provides authorization for the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a driver's license or special identification card with the veteran's designation to qualifying individuals who served in the National Guard for at least twenty years.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3209, a bill providing greater clarification and uniformity for CRIMINAL RECORD EXPUNGEMENT provisions. The legislation makes provisions for offenses that are no longer crimes to be eligible for expungement if the elements of the former criminal offenses are consistent with current-day offenses. The legislation clarifies that these expungements apply retroactively as well as to out-of-state convictions.
The House approved and sent the Senate of H.3290, a bill addressing PLEA AGREEMENTS RELATING TO UNIFORM TRAFFIC TICKETS. The legislation provides authority that allows not only a law enforcement officer who has issued a uniform traffic ticket, by also a solicitor or anyone else authorized to prosecute an offense, to invalidate a uniform traffic ticket and issue a ticket for a different offense as part of a plea agreement.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3093, a bill making provisions for a RETENTION OF THE OWNER-OCCUPIED SPECIAL PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT RATE FOR A DECEASED INDIVIDUAL'S ESTATE. The legislation provides that when a homeowner receiving the four percent property tax assessment ratio dies, the property shall continue to receive the special owner-occupied assessment rate until the deceased's estate is closed, or upon recording of a deed or deed of distribution out of the estate, whichever occurs first. This extension of the special assessment rate only applies if the property is not rented.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3895, a bill updating and clarifying the duties of the REVENUE AND FISCAL AFFAIRS OFFICE.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3137, a bill revising provisions governing authorized TASTINGS CONDUCTED BY MICRO-DISTILLERIES.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.3933 which provides for the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue two ADDITIONAL DEALER LICENSE PLATES TO A MOTOR VEHICLE DEALER WITH A SERVICE GARAGE at the dealership to facilitate loaner vehicles provided to customers during repairs.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3271, a bill that provides for various STATUTORY UPDATES AND REVISIONS RECOMMENDED BY THE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE as a result of its study of the Comptroller General's Office. The legislation addresses statutory accounting responsibilities relating to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The House gave second reading approval to H.4005, a bill designating the third week in October of each year as "SOUTH CAROLINA NATIVE PLANT WEEK".
The House rejected H.3744, a bill revising MAGISTRATE COMPENSATION.
As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the rest of the General Assembly, please do not hesitate to contact me.