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Caucus Report 10 – The First Half

The House’s passage of the state budget is the traditional end of the first half of the year for the S.C. House of Representatives.

Here’s a quick run-down of what we’ve completed under a few major topics:

State Budget – We passed a balanced state budget that included cuts totaling 4 percent. We slashed 4,700 unused, but still funded, government positions. We increased classroom spending while cutting the education bureaucracy. We increased spending on job recruitment and job training. We protected other essential government services such as law enforcement and healthcare. We consolidated numerous government agencies. It’s a conservative budget that we’re proud of – and we achieved it without raising taxes.

Lawsuit Abuse Reform – House Bill 3375 gives businesses and individuals new protections from frivolous lawsuits. Under the provisions of the bill, people who win lawsuits are entitled to a maximum punitive damage award of $350,000 or three times the actual damages awarded, whichever is greater. The legislation also requires the Attorney General and Solicitors to disclose contracts when they use outside counsel and imposes limits on the fees the outside counsel may collect from the state. Preventing the abuse of businesses through the legal system and preserving access to it for people who have been legitimately wronged is important to improving our state’s business climate.  Another part of tort reform is fully funding our state’s court system – avoiding delays that cost clients more in legal fees and ensuring speedy resolutions to cases.

Government Restructuring – For the fourth time since 2004, the House approved several major government restructuring bills. The first moves five divisions of the Budget and Control Board to a new Department of Administration: general services, employee insurance programs, the State Information Technology Division, procurement services, and the state energy office.  These offices provide administrative services, rather than providing services directly to the people of South Carolina. The House also approved resolutions giving voters the right to decide if the Governor and Lt. Governor to run on the same ticket and whether the the state Superintendent of Education should be appointed, rather than elected. If approved by the Senate, South Carolina voters will get the chance to decide both questions during the 2012 election.

“Repeal Amendment” – The Repeal Amendment is a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention that will specifically deal with a Constitutional amendment to allow two-thirds of the legislatures of the states to repeal a federal law. The Repeal Amendment is a way for us to regain our constitutional right to state sovereignty that Congress has eroded over the years. Our state and federal constitutions were created to protect the people from the government, and by doing so, ensure the preservation of liberty.  That protection of individual rights and state sovereignty is precisely why the House supports the Repeal Amendment.

Voter ID – The House approved, for the fourth time, a provision that requires voters to show a picture ID to prove their identity when they vote. We have recently received this bill back from the Senate and are anxious to reconcile the two versions of the bill when we return to session on March 29th.

Higher Education Transparency – The legislation requires all state Colleges and Universities to post a monthly registry of all expenditures and dollar amounts online, and prominently display the registry on their websites for the public to examine. This is another step the House has taken to make our state government more transparent and accountable to taxpayers. In this budget environment, it is important to ensure that the public knows how every dollar is spent.  Making all expenditures available to the public makes our state’s institutions of higher learning more accountable to the people.

State Spending Limit – The House approved, for the eighth time, legislation to restrain the growth of state government. The legislation uses February 15, 2010 as the base and restricts future growth to the lesser of 6 percent growth, or population growth plus the Consumer Price Index.  In addition, the bill allows the General Assembly to declare an emergency and suspend the restrictions with a vote of two-thirds of those present. Excess money collected by the state would be refunded to taxpayers or used for critical, one-time infrastructure projects, among other items specified in the law.

Charter School Reforms – We approved legislation that would help fund the charter schools that are in the state Charter School District. These charter schools were chartered by the state to get around potentially hostile local school districts. We dedicated a funding source for these schools since they did not even receive the same funding that locally chartered schools received.

Roll Call Voting – For the second time, the House approved and sent to the Senate, legislation putting into law new requirements for roll call voting in the General Assembly. This legislation was supported by Governor Haley, and the Senate approved a version this past week. We look forward to taking action on the Senate’s version quickly and sending it to the Governor’s desk.

There are several big items coming up in the second half of the year – including our pro-life agenda items. The House will be on furlough until March 29th, saving the taxpayers approximately $50,000.