We had a very good and most productive week in the House. We were able to get through the entire calendar and had vigorous debate on two highly contested bills. We will be on furlough the first two weeks in April and will return to the House on April 17, 2012. By furloughing these two weeks, we will save $100,000. Since we will not be in session for the next two weeks, you are getting a double blast this week……….
H-4043 Drug Testing – This is the bill that I sponsored that would deny unemployment benefits to a person receiving benefits, if he/she tested positive for drugs, if that drug test was a pre-requisite for employment. I have been reporting to you over the last several weeks, each week having to tell you that we were forced to adjourn debate. We reached this bill on the calendar on Wednesday and began heated debate. I cannot put into words how the opponents put up arguments that were so out there that we were all wondering if they were talking about the same bill. In essence, they thought we would be punishing the poor person that failed the drug test because he was stressed out about not having a job and just did some drugs to keep him calm. What a joke! There was a pure lack of concern for the business that drug test all potential employees before allowing them to begin work and the $700 million debt we have in our unemployment insurance fund.
We were unable to complete debate on Wednesday and had to adjourn debate until Thursday. The same tactics were used Thursday and every procedure that was available was tried unsuccessfully. Finally, it was brought to a vote, after several hours, and passed second reading with 70 to 24. This was overwhelming and the reason the opposition fought it as hard as they did. It will receive third reading when we return from furlough on April 17.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the following bills out favorably and they are now on the calendar and will be voted on as they come up.
H-3209 – Relating to orders of protection for domestic abuse, so as to provide that the court may prohibit harm to pets or animals owned by the petitioner. There seems to be problems in domestic cases where one party threatens to cause great harm to a pet, in order to get their way.
H-3757 – This is the Human Trafficking Bill. This issue is a growing concern all over the United States and South Carolina is not immune. We heard testimony from several groups that provided valuable information. And yes, this problem does exist in South Carolina and we need to do all that is possible to deter it and protect those that are victims.
H-4894 – Public/Private Education Bill passed the House Wednesday by a vote of 65-49. Last year a bill, labeled “School Choice” was defeated by one vote. This bill provided for tax credits and would have had a fiscal impact of over $130 million per year after the first year. This bill was littered with unacceptable issues.
H-4894 is a compromise to the school choice bill (tax bill) that only failed by one vote last year. There were enough votes, this year, to pass that particular bill. Because of this, a number of us, keeping our superintendents fully informed, developed a bill that led to a compromise. By doing this, we reduced the cost to the state from over $130M to $37M. Even though thesuperintendents do not want any bill, they understand this is acompromise and it is much better to have this bill than the one with the tax credits instead of the tax deductions. This is absolutely the best we could do this year. I am and have been an ardent supporter of public schools, in fact, my daughter is a 15 year teacher of special education in the Spartanburg public school system, my wife was an educator and I have many relatives and friends who have devoted their lives to public education.
H.4894 passed this past week in the SC House and is headed to the Senate for debate. I am giving you below a brief of the legislation.
Public/Private Education Bill
· $4,000 – for tuition payment to an independent school
· $2,000 – for home school students
· $1,000 – for district to district transfer
Scholarship Granting Organization:
· Administration is limited to 5%
· Donations may exceed cap, but any made above the cap are not eligible for a tax credit. In-kind or other donations that are made for a specific purpose (ie: administration) are not tax deductable if above the cap
· $5,000 or 75% of tuition for students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch or Medicaid
· $10,000 or 75% of tuition for students with exceptional needs Caps for SGO’s
· $10 M for children with exceptional needs
· $15 M for children for free and reduced lunch/Medicaid
· No escalator
Audits must be held yearly and reported:
· SGO – Comprehensive Audit
· School- Compliance Audit
Growth Factor – on all items:
· CPI + Growth
· inflation factor equal to the percentage increase in the previous year of the Consumer Price Index, Southeast Region, as published by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics plus the percentage increase in the previous year in the population of the State as determined by the Office of Research and Statistics of the State Budget and Control Board.
Children with exceptional needs language:
An ‘exceptional needs’ child is defined as a child who has significant cognitive, mental, physical, or emotional disabilities and whose parents or legal guardian believe that services provided by the school district of legal residence do not sufficiency meet the needs of their child.
Schools that meet eligibility only:
· Has an educational curriculum that includes courses set forth in the states diploma requirements and where the students attending are administered national achievement or state standardized tests, or both, at progressive grade levels to determine student progress. The test scores will be published on website for public.
· Be a member in good standing of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools or the South Carolina Independent Schools Association.
· has adequate school facilities that foster productive learning in a healthy environment, are accessible to students with physical disabilities and are subject to applicable federal, state, and local laws
· (J)(1) The Education Oversight Committee, as established in Chapter 6, Title 59, is responsible for determining if an eligible school meets the criteria established by subsection (C)(1) of this section, and shall annually publish an approved list of such schools meeting this criteria as provided in item (2) below. For this purpose, it also shall promulgate regulations further enumerating the specifics of these criteria. In performing this function, the Education Oversight Committee shall establish an advisory committee made up of not more than nine members including parents, representatives of independent schools and independent school associations. The advisory committee shall provide recommendations to the Education Oversight Committee on the content of these regulations and any other matters requested by the Education Oversight Committee. The EOC will give a full report on the status of this legislation and the General Assembly will review in 2019.
There is no money for this legislation in our current budget. Only when this legislation passes and is signed into law would a budget be developed. It does not take money from the education budget developed in the House and Senate.
The Education fact of the week from the SC Education Association is that 79% of SC residents cite parental involvement as the best way to improve public schools. Let’s all support our teachers and schools……
I want to thank Rep. Rita Allison for her leadership in her committee and on the floor with this compromise bill. She and others put in many hours and this bill has been accepted by both sides as fair and balanced.