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Caucus Report –

The first several weeks of each legislative session are a flurry of activity – but mostly off the House floor.

Instead, House members sit in their committees and subcommittees debating legislation and holding multiple public hearings to learn more about the legislation before us. House committees held nearly two dozen hearings this week debating everything from restructuring the Department of Transportation to strengthening our Right to Work laws.

The House Ways and Means Committee split into its subcommittees and asked every state agency (or private entity looking for public dollars) to justify its budget requests.

Now, I won’t give you the full “How a Bill Becomes a Law” speech today, but several pieces of important legislation took first steps toward reality this week.

One major piece of legislation that moved this week was a new DOT reform bill that was approved by a House Judiciary Subcommittee.  This legislation eliminates the Department of Transportation Commission, eliminates the Joint Transportation Review Committee and makes the Secretary of Transportation as governing authority for the DOT.

The Secretary of Transportation would be appointed by the Governor and would become a member of the Governor’s cabinet. We began the process of reforming the DOT three years ago, and problems still persist at the agency.

The DOT reform bill is also part of our ongoing effort to streamline and reform our sometimes disjointed state government. Last year, the House approved a number of measures to consolidate agencies under a Department of Administration. The House also approved ballot measures that would give the voters of South Carolina the opportunity to make the state Superintendent of Education appointed by the Governor and to make the Lieutenant Governor appointed by the Governor. All of these bills are currently in the state Senate.

My House colleagues were pleased to hear this week that the Senate followed our lead and approved legislation that reverses the ridiculous decision by the DHEC board to approve the dredging of the Savannah River to benefit the Port of Savannah. The bill will now come back to the House for a procedural vote before going to the Governor’s desk for her signature. The Governor’s spokesman said in a newspaper this week that she will veto the bill. Since the measure passed both chambers unanimously, the bill should be easily overridden.

The legislation reaffirms an existing state law requiring the DHEC Board to gain the approval of the Savannah River Maritime Commission before taking action on any matter pertaining to the navigability, depth, dredging, sludge disposal and other collateral issues in regard to the Savannah River.

One of every five jobs in our state is directly tied to our ports, and overwhelming evidence presented by DHEC scientists showed the dredging would cause irreversible environmental damage.