I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the major legislative accomplishments of 2016. In its second regular session, the 121st South Carolina General Assembly authorized funding for deteriorating roads and bridges and reform for the governance and oversight of the state’s transportation infrastructure system. The legislation (S.1258) allows for an estimated total of up to $4.5 billion to be devoted to the state’s roads over the next ten years. This includes: $950 million to repair or replace all structurally-deficient bridges on Interstate and national highways; $2 billion in widenings and improvements to existing Interstates; and, over $1.4 billion in pavement resurfacing. Restructuring initiatives are included for the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
The $7.5 billion Fiscal Year 2016-2017 state government budget (H.5001, H.5002) includes $50 million in nonrecurring funds to be distributed among the County Transportation Committees to use for resurfacing, reconstructing, and repairing roads and bridges in the state-owned secondary road system. $84 million in Department of Motor Vehicles fees and fines and $131 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenue is transferred to the State Highway Fund. $49 million is allocated to the Department of Transportation to address road repair costs from the October 2015 flood damage. $72 million in nonrecurring funds is allocated as the full state and local match for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds for the 2015 catastrophic flood response. For K-12 public education, $218 million is used to increase the base student cost by $130 to arrive at an estimated $2,350 per pupil. The budget legislation makes provisions for a 2% teacher salary increase and a one year step increase for teacher salaries and an increase in the state salary schedule to 23 years. The K-12 technology initiative is afforded $29.3 million in Education Lottery proceeds. The State Department of Education is provided $18 million in Education Lottery proceeds for instructional materials. $23 million, including $2 million in nonrecurring funds, is provided for new school buses. The budget includes $28 million in recurring increases for the state’s colleges and universities. $13.5 million in nonrecurring funds is devoted to worker training through the Ready SC Program at the state’s technical colleges. A 3.25% state employee pay increase is provided with $54.3 million in recurring funds. $26 million is included to cover the increased costs of operating the state’s health and dental insurance plans with no increases in the premiums paid by employees and no reductions in coverage. The Local Government Fund receives $12.5 million in recurring dollars and $10.6 million in nonrecurring dollars for total funding of $233.1 million. $17 million is provided for the Deal Closing Fund that the Department of Commerce uses to recruit new business to the state. The Department of Commerce is afforded $6 million for the Locate SC Site Inventory for potential business relocation prospects and $2 million for the Office of Innovation to support high-tech and high-growth industries.
The General Assembly approved legislation crafted to address the State Supreme Court’s ruling in the long-running education lawsuit concerning the extent of the state’s responsibility for providing free public education under the South Carolina Constitution. The General Assembly approved legislation (H.4936) designating educational goals for all South Carolina high school graduates, along with the standards and areas of learning by which these goals are measured, in order to ensure that graduates have the world class knowledge and skills needed for college and career readiness. Lawmakers approved education reform initiatives (H.4939) that require the State Department of Education to develop a system for providing academic assistance, assistance with finances, and other technical support to local school districts and make annual progress reports on the impact of this assistance in terms of such factors as student academic achievement and high school graduation rates. The department is charged with new responsibilities for monitoring underperforming school districts to recommend improvements in the districts’ professional development of teachers, staff, and administrators and changes that will allow school boards to operate more efficiently and effectively.
The General Assembly approved enhancements to the state’s Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act. Legislation (H.3184) was enacted to provide for more independent means of investigating alleged misconduct of public officials by discontinuing current practices of the legislative and executive branches of state government each exclusively investigating the alleged ethics violations of their own members and instead providing for allegations of public misconduct to be investigated by a reconstituted State Ethics Commission made up of members selected by both of these branches of government. Provisions are made for more expansive statements of economic interests for public officials and others who are required to make these Ethics Act filings with the passage of legislation (H.3186) that revises disclosure requirements so that they address not only public money, but also require a listing of the private source and type of any income received in the previous year by those who are filing with the Ethics Commission and their immediate family members.
Lawmakers approved legislation (S.267) shortening the legislative session by making provisions for the regular annual session of the General Assembly to end by the second Thursday in May rather than the current deadline for final adjournment of the first Thursday in June.
The General Assembly approved legislation (H.3145) affording protection from legal liability for those who take actions to prevent hot car deaths of children and vulnerable adults who are left unattended in locked motor vehicles. The legislation provides that a person is immune from civil liability for the property damage resulting from a forcible entry into a motor vehicle for the purpose of rescuing a minor or vulnerable adult who appears to be in imminent danger of suffering harm.
Additionally, I serve on the House Legislative Oversight Committee which meets throughout the calendar year to conduct legislative oversight studies and investigations of state agencies. Studies of state agencies completed so far this year include: the Department of Social Services, First Steps to School Readiness, and the Department of Transportation. The stated purpose of legislative oversight is to determine if agency laws and programs are being implemented and carried out in accordance with the intent of the General Assembly and whether or not they should be continued, curtailed or even eliminated. As oversight studies help inform the public about agencies, information obtained during a study as well as the completed studies are available on the General Assembly’s website, www.scstatehouse.gov, by clicking on “Citizens’ Interest” and then “Agency Oversight by House Legislative Oversight Committee.” During the oversight process there are opportunities for the public to share comments and concerns about the various state agencies under study, including online surveys and public input meetings. Notice of these public input opportunities is available on the General Assembly’s website, including access to an ongoing opportunity to provide input about any of the 65 state agencies the Committee has identified for study. I serve on the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Subcommittee, which is in the process of studying the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Public Safety, and the Law Enforcement Training Council and Criminal Justice Academy. We will continue working on these studies during the summer and fall.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative. It is an honor to voice the concerns of our neighbors in the South Carolina House. Please contact me at RayeFelder@schouse.gov if I can be of service.