Thank you as always for your support. On Friday March 16, 2018 I signed up to run again for House District 83. I promise I will continue to do the best job representing you, just like I have for the last eight years. Next weeks newsletter will explain 2018-2019 budget the House passed. Also I am working on the North Augusta Elementary school traffic problem on Buena Vista Avenue. And also at Paul Knox school and Pisgah Road.
HOUSE WEEK IN REVIEW
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3565, a bill addressing ADMINISTRATIVE LAW COURT CONTESTED CASES INVOLVING THE CERTIFICATE OF NEED PROGRAM which requires providers of health care services, such as hospitals and nursing homes, to obtain approval from the Department of Health and Environmental Control for additions to, or significant expansions of, their facilities and services. To allow for consistency in contested matters before the Administrative Law Court, the legislation applies the same twelve-month time period approved in S.105 for resolving a contested case arising from DHEC’s decision to grant or deny a Certificate of Need application.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate
H.3820, a bill requiring OPIOID ABUSE EDUCATION IN PUBLIC SECONDARY SCHOOLS. This bill requires, as a part of the public school Comprehensive Health Education Program, certain instruction in prescription opioid abuse prevention in grades nine through twelve beginning with the 2017-2018 School Year. This instruction must include an emphasis on the prescription drug epidemic and the connection between opioid abuse and addiction to other drugs, such as heroin.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3819, a bill establishing new REQUIREMENTS THAT MUST BE MET BEFORE PRESCRIBING OPIOID ANALGESICS TO MINORS. The legislation provides that, before the first prescription for an opioid analgesic may be issued to someone under eighteen years of age who is not emancipated, the prescriber must satisfy a set of requirements that include: assessing whether the minor has suffered from a mental health or substance abuse disorder and if prescription drugs have been taken for treatment; discussing with the minor and their parent or guardian such matters as the risks of addiction and overdose associated with opioid analgesics and the dangers of drug interactions with benzodiazepines, alcohol, or other central nervous system depressants; and, obtaining written consent for the prescription from the minor’s parent, guardian, or other adult authorized to consent to the minor’s medical treatment. The legislation includes requirements for the written consent, the name and quantity of the opioid analgesic being prescribed, the number of any authorized refills, and certain other information to be recorded on a “Start Talking!” consent form developed by the State Board of Medical Examiners. Exceptions are provided that apply in such circumstances as medical emergencies.
The House took up legislation that draws upon the work of the special House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee that was appointed by the Speaker of the House to examine the growing misuse of prescription painkillers and recommend legislative actions to counter the epidemic of ruinous addiction and fatal overdoses. The House approved and sent the Senate H.4488, a bill ALLOWING OFFICIALS WHO ARE DETERMINING CAUSES OF DEATH TO HAVE ACCESS TO PRESCRIPTION DRUG MONITORING INFORMATION. The legislation expands the list of persons to which the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Bureau of Drug Control may provide prescription monitoring program data so that it also includes a coroner, deputy coroner, medical examiner, or deputy medical examiner who is involved in an official inquiry into the cause and manner of a person’s death.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4479, a bill that I cosponsored is revising the process for addressing LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER MISCONDUCT allegations to implement recommendations arising from the House Legislative Oversight Committee’s study of the Law Enforcement Training Council and Criminal Justice Academy. The legislation authorizes the Law Enforcement Training Council to appoint attorneys employed by the Criminal Justice Academy to sit as hearing officers for contested case hearings. Under the legislation, no person who has a pending allegation of misconduct may be employed as a law enforcement officer or as a telecommunications operator or perform any law enforcement duties until a decision has been made that authorizes the employment. The legislation also makes revisions to the report that must be made to the Criminal Justice Academy whenever an officer separates from a law enforcement office. Under the changes, the supervising officer making the report would be subject to disciplinary action for submitting intentionally misleading or incomplete information, such as characterizing a situation where an officer is leaving a department due to alleged misconduct as a simple resignation. The changes are offered as a means of reducing the likelihood that a law enforcement officer leaving one police department because of alleged misconduct could be hired by another department without the allegations being addressed.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4810, a joint resolution creating atemporary SCHOOL METAL DETECTOR STUDY COMMITTEE to examine whether it is in the public interest to require the installation and use of metal detectors at public schools in the state. In making its study, the committee must consider the costs and benefits of the metal detectors to the residents of this state, potential sources of funding, and the feasibility of having each school install metal detectors. The seven member committee will be comprised of three members from the Senate appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, three members from the House appointed by the Chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, and one additional member with a background in law enforcement appointed by the State Superintendent of Education. After making a report of its recommendations to the General Assembly within ninety days of the effective date of this legislation, the committee will dissolve.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4434, a bill making provisions for comprehensive DYSLEXIA SCREENING AND INTERVENTION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. This bill requires the state Department of Education to establish and provide training and support for a statewide multi-tiered support system (MTSS) framework with three tiers of interventions. The MTSS framework will consist of a data based system to match instructional resources to educational needs, an ongoing system of student assessment, and a layered continuum of support. The department would develop a universal screening process to screen for identifying students who may be at risk for problems in reading, math, writing, and social-emotional development. The screening would be used by local school districts through their existing response to intervention framework. Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, school districts are to use the universal screening process to screen each child from kindergarten through second grade at least three times a year. Each district will convene a school-based team to analyze screening data and progress-monitoring data to assist teachers and students. If the screening process indicates the student is at risk for problems the district will notify the parent or guardian and provide information regarding the problem, provide the student with appropriate intervention and monitor the progress of the student. Additionally, this bill requires the department to provide professional development resources for educators for identification and intervention methods for students who are at risk, including students with dyslexia.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4705, a bill ENHANCING REQUIREMENTS FOR MANDATORY REPORTING OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT. The legislation expands the category of those who are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect by adding firefighters, camp counselors, scout leaders, school or college administrators, coaches, and clerical or nonclerical religious counselors who are licensed counselors or holds themselves out as counselors or regularly counsel others. The legislation specifies that mandatory reporters must make their reports of suspected child abuse and neglect to law enforcement agencies and cannot satisfy their legal duties simply by making reports to their supervisors. The duty to report is not superseded by an internal investigation within an institution, school, facility, or agency.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.3329, a bill providing ENHANCEMENTS TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING PENALTIES that draws upon the work of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children. The legislation includes revised criminal definitions, more stringent penalties that apply when a victim is under the age of eighteen, and provisions for human trafficking specialized service providers and Human Trafficking Acute Crisis Care and Resource Centers.
The House amended, approved, and sent the Senate H.4672, a bill REINSTATING VISION SCREENING REQUIREMENTS FOR DRIVER’S LICENSE RENEWALS. The legislation provides that individuals will once again be required to satisfy vision screening requirements in order to renew a driver’s license by either passing a vision test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles or providing a certificate of vision examination form executed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
The House approved and sent the Senate H.4676, a bill to provide that those included on the list of RESPONSIBLE ADULTS WHO CAN SIGN APPLICATIONS FOR THE ISSUANCE OF A BEGINNER’S PERMIT, A CONDITIONAL DRIVER’S LICENSE, AND A SPECIAL RESTRICTED DRIVER’S LICENSE can fulfill various requirements for accompanying young drivers which currently require the presence of a parent or legal guardian. The legislation also provides that someone on the list of responsible adults is authorized to sign the consent form at the Department of Motor Vehicles to register the applicant with the federal Selective Service System upon attaining eighteen years of age.
V.C. Summer Nuclear Project: The issues surrounding this project related to SCE&G, Santee Cooper, and state regulators are at the forefront facing the General Assembly. Many constituents have contacted me with concerns as to electricity rates and the nuclear project abandonment, questions about the future of SCE&G and Santee Cooper, disdain for SCE&G’s leadership, concern as to a potential SCE&G bankruptcy, and a variety of other matters related to this topic. A lot is happening with legislative and administrative hearings and legislative debate and I will do my best to provide up to date information through this forum and in response to constituent inquiries.
Dominion Energy and SCE&G Proposed Merger: On January 3, Dominion Energy and SCANA announced a proposed merger that requires both state and federal regulatory approval. To learn more, go here. Here are some details and developments as to the proposal:
- Dominion plans to continue charging $20 per month for the average SCE&G electricity customer for 20 years for the debt incurred by SCE&G for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. To learn more about what SCE&G customers would continue to pay, go here;
- Dominion also will rebate customers an average of $1,000 per account. A recent story suggests that this rebate may be owed to customers regardless of whether the Dominion/SCANA merger is approved. To see that story, go here;
- Two weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission granted early termination of a required 30 day waiting period for the proposed merger. Regulatory approval is still needed in South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina and SCANA shareholders will have to approve too. To learn more, go here;
- Dominion has a website set up to answer some questions which can be seen here;
- Dominion is running television and newspaper ads in favor of their proposal and those ads encourage residents to contact legislators to express support of Dominion’s proposal as to SCE&G. (Note: After last week’s Senate hearing, Dominion announced that it will stop some of its current media campaign. To learn more, read further below.)
- Dominion would keep SCANA as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Essentially, SCANA would continue to operate as it does now with headquarters in Cayce. SCANA would have an executive team that is based in Cayce. SCANA would have one member on Dominion’s 13-member board. Ultimately, the board and CEO in Richmond would control.
- Dominion would refund $1.3 billion to customers based on energy use over the past year. The average residential customer would receive around $1,000.
- Approximately 18% of SCE&G customers’ bills is devoted to VC Summer. Dominion would reduce current bills by at least 5% ($7.00-$7.50 for the average residential customer). That reduced rate would stay in effect for 8 years. For the next 12 years thereafter, the remaining portion of the bills devoted to VC Summer would reduce to zero. Therefore, after 20 years, customers would no longer pay anything for VC Summer.
- Dominion would ask for no rate increases for anything, including non-nuclear, for at least 3 years.
- SCANA has announced the purchase of a new natural gas plant in Calhoun County to generate additional needed electricity and had proposed not charging customers for the cost of the plant. Dominion would honor that commitment.
- If everything is approved on the schedule Dominion and SCANA prefer, the deal would close in the Fall of 2018.
- A story about his January testimony before the Senate panel can be seen here. The link to the power point can be seen here.
SEC Filing as to Proposed Merger: Two weeks ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission filing for the proposed Dominion/SCANA merger was available online. Importantly, the filing says SCANA — as a stand alone company – could reduce utility rates by up to 9.75% and still maintain its investment grade credit rating. The filing also suggests that Dominion would not be similarly limited to a 9.75% reduction ceiling since it is, and would be after a merger, a larger company than SCANA. To see the filing, go here.
House Passes Other Legislation as to V.C. Summer: In the past month, the House of Representatives passed the first three of six separate bills that the House plans to take up and send to the Senate related to the V.C. Summer nuclear plant issues:
- The first creates a utilities consumer advocate in the office of the attorney general and grants subpoena power to the advocate and the Office of Regulatory Staff. It also removes the preservation of the financial integrity of the state’s public utilities from ORS’ responsibilities.
- The second eliminates the legislative-controlled Public Utilities Review Committee and replaces it with a new Utility Oversight Committee. Both bills head to the Senate.
- The third ends the terms of the current members of the Public Service Commission; sets up new qualifications; expands continuing education requirements; staggers terms; and increases reporting requirements as to travel, food, and lodging reimbursements.
V.C. Summer – Preservation of Assets: Legislation is pending to require the preservation of assets at V.C. Summer for a period of time. To learn more, go here. Additionally, Santee Cooper announced it will pay to preserve the assets for a period of time. To learn more, go here
V.C. Summer Abandonment – Notable Developments Since September: Notable developments on this issue since September include, but are not limited to the following:
- Fake emails supporting the proposed merger between Dominion and SCE&G were received by members of the General Assembly in recent weeks and SLED is investigating. To learn more, go here;
- SCE&G filed paperwork to withdraw the nuclear licenses in late December. To learn more, go here;
- The State’s Public Service Commission decided to deny SCE&G’s motion to dismiss the request to suspend its rate collections related to the V.C. Summer project. To learn more, go here;
- The South Carolina Electric Cooperatives have requested legislative leadership to form a special committee to review whether to sell Santee Cooper. To learn more, go here;
- SCE&G announced its proposal for addressing the situation including reducing electric rates by 3.5%. To learn more about that, go here;
- SCE&G announced a change in leadership effective January 1, 2018. To learn more, go here;
- The S.C. Supreme Court assigned a circuit judge to oversee litigation involving V.C. Summer and SCE&G. To learn more, go here
- The State’s Office of Regulatory Staff filed a petition at the Public Service Commission requesting that customers be refunded and that SCE&G stop collecting the portion of monthly bills which is supposed to be for the nuclear project construction;
Sale of Santee Cooper?: Meanwhile, a valuation of Santee Cooper is being conducted. Policy makers will use the valuation to determine what options exist for the possible sale of some of Santee Cooper’s assets. To learn more facts about Santee Cooper, go here.
State Government News
Tax Reform Planned Introduced in House of Representatives: The S.C. House Tax Study Committee filed legislation to reform the tax code in South Carolina by replacing the personal income tax brackets with a single flat, income tax rate of 4.85% and phasing out existing sales tax exemptions on groceries, medical bills, and other services over the next five years resulting in a decrease in the statewide sales tax rate from 6% to 3%.To learn more, go here.
State House Tours: Tours are available for the S.C. State House by calling by going here. If you set a tour between January and June and it is on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, please let me know so I can do my best to see you. The State House is open on Saturdays for guided and unguided tours from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
South Carolina Tourism: To learn more about tourist attractions and tourism opportunities in South Carolina, go here.
Thoroughbred Country — South Carolina Regional Tourism Organization: To learn more about tourism in the four county region of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, and Barnwell, go here.
Aiken County Tourism: To learn more about tourism options in Aiken County, go here.