This past week was the annual ‘Crossover Week’. The May 1st legislative deadline is at hand where House bills must crossover to the Senate and vice versa or they die. We debated more than 60 pieces of legislation in the most hectic week of the session It will be very interesting what gets acted on in the Senate due to the fact they are still working on the budget and we only have until June 7, 2012 to finish all that is out there.
Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act: The House approved the FOIA bill strengthening the state’s open records law. The 101-1 vote got a lot of statewide press. The bill bars public agencies, governments and school districts from charging excessive fees for public records and requires them to respond more quickly. It also removes legislators’ exemption from the law. The bill limits charges for paper copies to the market rate – basically whatever office supply stores charge per copy. There can be no charges for information stored or transmitted electronically. The bill also requires agencies to respond in 15 calendar days rather than 15 working days. The bill is scheduled for third reading Tuesday before the crossover deadline.
I have received a FOIA request one time, by several people of a special interest group, regarding a bill and I complied and did not use the exemption available.
This brings an interesting matter to mind. Last week we were to debate this bill and myself and others had requested debate. We received numerous emails from a special interest group that did not and does not seem to know the rules. If those of us on the side of favoring the bill had removed our names, the bill would have never come up for debate. The overwhelming majority of the emails I received were not from the district I represent, in fact only one was. This group, that I will remain nameless, is intent on sending blast emails with threats of defeat if you do not cow tail to their every whim. The following is the response I sent last week before the bill was brought to the floor for debate:
In the South Carolina House of Representatives a member’s action in requesting debate is not necessarily an effort to delay the bill. To the contrary, the “request for debate” is often made in order to “anchor” or position a bill on the calendar in a specific place. In the case of H. 3235 (FOIA Bill), members who support the legislation should KEEP their requests for debate on the bill to keep it in its position on the calendar. If too many members were to remove their requests for debate the bill would then move to the uncontested calendar where opponents of the bill could then object to the bill and again move it to the VERY BACK of the House Calendar. Such a legislative procedural maneuver is referred to as “ping-ponging” legislation from the uncontested calendar to the contested calendar and back-and-forth in order to delay or prevent consideration of a specific bill. Thus, supporters of legislation often will request debate on a bill in order to keep it in one place on the calendar and prevent the “ping-pong” maneuver.
H. 3235 is scheduled for debate today in the House. Members supporting the legislation should NOT remove their requests for debate. If the requests for debate are removed the opponents to the legislation may try to “ping-pong” the legislation and keep the House from addressing it today.
Cutting Your Income Taxes: The House actually accomplished tax reform! It’s a long way from being reality since it has to go to the Senate, but it’s a major step in the process. We voted to cut individual state income taxes for residents and small business owners. One bill would collapse the state’s income tax brackets from six to three, giving all residents who pay taxes a modest break. Another bill reduces income taxes that small businesses pay on their profits. Both bills are part of a tax-cutting package put forth by the GOP tax reform committee on which I served. The goal is to create a tax code that is flatter, fairer and more competitive.
Property Tax Reform: You buy a new home while trying to sell your existing home. You move into the newly purchased home and WHAM — the property tax on your vacant house increases 50% (4% to 6%). The House passed a bill to provide property tax relief for homeowners who are selling their vacated home. For a year the property tax rate would continue at 4%. The bill heads to the Senate.
Sales Tax Exemption Reform: The House passed a ‘watered down’ sales tax reform legislation. It is midget form of the bill we developed in our tax reform committee. I’m disappointed with the end result. We proposed eliminating more than $220 million worth of exemptions and lowering the overall sales tax rate from its current 6%. The bill that passed eliminated less than $13 million is exemptions.
Privatizing School Buses: The House voted to form a study committee to look into privatizing the state’s school bus system. SC is the only state that owns and operates its own school bus fleet.
Wild Hogs and Coyotes: SC hunters will be able to use most any means to reduce expanding wild hog and coyote populations in the state. The House passed a new night-hunting bill as a means to reduce expanding wild hog, coyote and armadillo populations. Extreme measures are necessary to slow the spread of the pesky animal
Home School Sports: The Senate unanimously approved a bill allowing home-schooled students to play sports and take part in other extracurricular activities at the public school that they otherwise would attend.
Texting & Driving: The bill that would ban drivers from calling, texting or reading electronic messages in road work areas or school zones passed a Senate Committee and heads for a full Senate vote. The measure also would make it illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone without a hands-free device.
Much more took place this week but these are some of the items I thought you may be interested in reading about. We will probably debate the Department of Administration restructuring bill this week, which promises to be very interesting. I will keep you in the loop.