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Cleaning Up

There are two weeks before the House takes up the state budget that I wrote about last week. This week, the House worked to clear committee agendas and the House calendar of other legislation before we take up the budget.

Below are a few pieces of legislation of note from this week:

STATE PORTS: South Carolina House Republicans and Democrats alike overrode Gov. Haley’s veto of legislation overturning a water-quality permit to deepen the Port of Savannah.

The overwhelming vote, 111-1 in the House and 39-0 in the Senate, was a strong rebuke to the Governor. As Rep. Jim Merrill said from the House floor: “Once again, (Haley) is working more on behalf of Georgia, when it comes to this permit and this issue, than she is on South Carolina.”

At issue was the water-quality permit for the Savannah port that was issued by the Haley-appointed board of DHEC. The permit clears the way to deepen the port, which will cause major environmental damage in Jasper County – where South Carolina would like to develop a new port – and puts our Port of Charleston at a competitive disadvantage with Georgia. This was a terrible decision and a decision based on politics, not the facts on the ground.

RETIREMENT SYSTEM REFORM: This week, a plan to reform our underfunded state retirement system was introduced in the House.  This is one of the planks of our Caucus Agenda for 2012 that we introduced a few weeks ago.

The plan cuts the deficit in the retirement system by more than $2 billion and decreases some benefits for state and local employees. Employees have to pay 1 percent more from their paychecks and saves taxpayers $8.3 billion over the next 30 years.

The plan also requires new employees to work 30 years before retiring instead of 28 and uses the last five years of salary to calculate benefits instead of using the final three years.

RETIREMENTS: Republicans got word late this week of the retirements of two major leaders in our party. The first is the announcement that House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison will not seek re-election. Jim’s district includes parts of the city of Columbia and Richland County. He is the second longest-serving Republican in the House, and one of only five remaining Republicans who were present when the GOP took control of the House in 1994.

He was elected Chairman of the Judiciary Committee immediately after Republicans took control of the House in 1994 – taking over for the future Democrat governor, Jim Hodges.

Jim has a distinguished record of public service to our state and our nation, and every member of the House respected him for that service. In addition to his service in the House, he is retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and he served in Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia.

I’m disappointed that he decided to retire, but our state is better for his service.

I received word late Friday that Senator Greg Ryberg of Aiken also decided not to seek re-election. He is a stalwart conservative in the Senate and has worked hard to push some of our state’s biggest reforms through that body. He was always a friend to the House and will also be missed.