In a little more than a month, Columbia will welcome back state Senators and Representatives to begin South Carolina’s 121st General Assembly. In order to “hit the ground running”, the House is meeting this week to get organized by electing officers, making committee assignments and changing the House rules. The House elected Representative Jay Lucas of Darlington as Speaker of the House. Lucas is well liked and respected for his intellect and honesty. Lucas’ promotion left open the Speaker Pro-Tem position and Representative Tommy Pope of Rock Hill was elected to fill it. These are quality individuals and I am happy to have each of them in these roles.
Lucas’ first actions as Speaker was to push for rule changes that would spread the Speaker’s power to various House members. Former Speakers Wilkins and Harrell kept tight control on virtually every aspect of the House. Every employee of the House was hired with their approval. Every dollar spent running the House was signed off by them. The House Republican Caucus (under these Speakers’ direct control) demanded strict voting adherence on the House floor. Lucas has promised more openness and more debate allowing members to vote their conscious. My read is that a large percentage of members is pleased with his leadership plan.
The Senate does not have an organizational session as the Senate was not up for election this year. However. there will be one change in the Senate membership. Sen. Yancey McGill became Lt. Governor in June, leaving his seat open. In a special election, former Representative Ronnie Sabb was elected to take the Williamsburg and Georgetown seat.
This session will be dominated by several issues. State officials are under pressure to improve our roads. Gov. Haley has promised to unveil her plans for road improvements in January. The sorry condition of roads in South Carolina has even become a deterant for businesses as the Chairman of Michelin North America said no more plants will be built in South Carolina until a serious effort is made to enhance our highways. K-12 education funding will have to receive some attention from the General Assembly. The South Carolina Supreme Court has ordered that per student funding must be equalized across the state. In other words, all districts must have the same amount of money to spend per child. This will be a monumental change in how our state pays to educate its children. Other issues that may or may not get traction are totally revamping the Department of Social Services and strengthening laws and punishments for spousal abuse. Bills will be pre-filed beginning this week. We will be going through them to make sure we are protected.
There will likely be some sort of bill impacting SNAP. Our industry fought several bills last year prohibiting the purchase of our products with SNAP funds. The daily bashing our industry and products receive in the press continues to take its political toll. We march a fine line at the State House trying to keep all factions happy, as our best supporters on stopping an excise tax on our products can be the biggest supporters of limiting where our products can be sold and prohibiting their purchase with SNAP. Educating legislators one at a time as to the truth about our products is the most effective way to protect our interests. Whitney and I have a plan to begin one-on-one meetings in mid-January.
AFTERMATH OF HARRELL INVESTIGATION
After the resignation and guilty plea of former Speaker Bobby Harrell, rumors of federal investigations of other state officials have swirled. Part of Harrell’s condition of a suspended sentence requires him to tell anything and everything he knows about other wrongdoing at the State House. If additional indictments are handed down, it could turn the session “up side down”. I lived through this 20+ years ago during “Operation Lost Trust” and the State House almost closed down. No formal announcements of investigations have been made as of today.
President of the South Carolina Beverage Association