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End of session sprint

Posted: May 25, 2012 2:03 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Today, Memorial Day, one of the most important days on the American calendar, we reflect upon all that we owe the brave men and women who have been willing to risk everything in military service to this country. A vibrant legacy of courage, dedication, and sacrifice is what allows us to choose our own leaders, write our own laws, and enjoy all our other freedoms.

With adjournment fast approaching, the 119th General Assembly has little time left to complete the people’s work. Fortunately, we have been able to shepherd through the legislative process a bill that should prove quite beneficial for our area. This month, the General Assembly approved and the governor signed into law a bill I introduced to allow the Kershaw County and Lee County Regional Water Company [ed. note: Cassatt Water Co.] to convert to a public service district so that it can take advantage of a more favorable tax status and financing terms than are now available under its present organization as a nonprofit corporation. The measure also has significant economic development potential for our county.

Lawmakers recently approved legislation I co-sponsored which allows the state’s voters to decide whether we should select our governors and lieutenant governors in a joint election. Under the proposed amendment to the South Carolina Constitution, a gubernatorial candidate would select a running mate to fill the position of lieutenant governor in a manner similar to the election of the president and vice president at the national level. The proposed constitutional amendment is to be placed on the ballot at the upcoming general election and, should the proposal be approved by voters in November and subsequently ratified by the General Assembly, the joint election of the governor and lieutenant governor would commence with the 2018 general election. I would have preferred a ballot question that lets voters decide if they would like to start holding joint elections in 2014, but, even with its far-off effective date, the proposed amendment is still a step in the right direction.

One of the issues I have focused on over the past several years -- and which has been championed by Senator Sheheen -- the restructuring of our state government to make it more efficient and accountable, has made significant progress towards passage. The “South Carolina Restructuring Act of 2012” has passed the State House of Representatives and the State Senate in different versions and a committee has been appointed to work on compromise legislation. As approved by the House, the proposal would eliminate the State Budget and Control Board, transferring most of its functions, including procurement of goods and services and the management of the state’s buildings and government vehicle fleet, to a newly-created S.C. Department of Administration in the executive branch of government. The proposal would also allow for legislative oversight of executive departments by authorizing committees of the General Assembly to conduct periodic reviews of state government functions and recommend whether programs and initiatives should be continued, curtailed or completely eliminated.

In March, the House approved comprehensive retirement systems revisions as a means of securing long term financial health for South Carolina’s employee pension plans. The legislation revises eligibility criteria for the South Carolina Retirement System, which serves public school teachers and most county, city and state government employees, by requiring new employees to have at least 30 years of service in order to be eligible to retire at any age with full benefits. Current employees invested in the South Carolina Retirement System retain their 28-year eligibility. Employee contribution rates are increased, corresponding to the increase recently approved for the employer contribution rate. Current provisions for awarding cost of living adjustments to retirees are tied to inflation. These are replaced with benefit adjustment provisions that award an increase in retiree benefits of up to 2.5 percent in a years when criteria are met that show a satisfactory rate of return on pension system investments. Anti-spiking measures are included to disallow 11th hour raises and other steps taken at the end of service that can distort pension benefits. Recently, the Senate approved its version of retirement system reform which differs significantly from the House-approved version in terms of retirement eligibility criteria, pension plan governance, and the manner of annual adjustments. Many issues will need to be addressed if compromise legislation is to be approved before adjournment.

The legislature must also fulfill one of its major yearly duties by appropriating funds for state government operations. Earlier this year, the House approved its proposed state government budget and the Senate has devoted the past two weeks to crafting its version. The legislature will, of course, need to hammer out a final version of the budget before adjourning. As you can see, these final days of session tend to be quite productive in the General Assembly.

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