The clock is ticking on the 2nd session of the 117th General Assembly as we returned to Columbia this week.

On Wednesday, the House Republican Caucus unveiled its agenda for 2008.

There are several major issues facing legislators this year that will impact the lives, jobs, and pocketbooks of all South Carolinians. We are still finalizing the text of the legislation for several of these issues, but here are the broad strokes of bills that will be debated this year in the South Carolina House.

Illegal Immigration. Congress’ inaction on this issue forces the state to take action. We have unveiled a package of reforms that will, among others, restrict illegal aliens’ access to public assistance, work to identify illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, and protect South Carolina’s legal workers. It’s my belief that this issue will be “the number two” issue behind this year’s State Budget Debate.

Stop Hidden Earmark Spending. Any item that is not specifically requested by a state agency for their budget must have a name and an explanation so the General Assembly knows what is being debated. As I’ve mentioned (since Day One of campaigning to serve you), this is a simple, common-sense approach to government. People demand and deserve more open government, particularly when it comes to how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. In addition to bills filed by Speaker Bobby Harrell, myself, and Representative Michael Thompson, I believe next week we’ll pass a House Rule that will immediately be used for budget debates this year.

Tax Cuts for Families. We are always looking for ways to lighten your tax burden – which is a central piece of our conservative philosophy. A decade ago, elected officials ended the “marriage penalty.” Now, we want to cut taxes on married couples. In a tight budget year though, this may not come to fruition.

Improve Roads and Bridges. Every person in our state uses roads and we must have a strong infrastructure to keep our economy vibrant. We took a first step last year by reforming the Department of Transportation to ensure it will use taxpayer money wisely. This year, we want to dedicate a specific stream of money so our DOT can count on consistent yearly funding for new construction and maintenance.

Education Reform. The last time our state changed the way we fund public schools was over thirty years ago. Much has changed since then, obviously, and education funding is too complicated, too wasteful, and too prone to political changes. We are studying the best ways to reform our funding formulas and hope to make changes before the end of the session. We also want to change the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test so it gives useful information to parents and teachers. Serving on the Education and Public Works Committee as well as the Education Funding Act Study Committee will allow me to play an important role with both measures. Regarding “school choice” (private or public), I’m not sure, after three straight years of stalemates,if much energy will be spent again this year – the last year of a two-year session.

Expanding the Economy by Helping Business. This is two issues in one. We can help small business with one of their biggest costs and help their employees get access to healthcare. We want to allow small businesses to band together and expand their purchasing power so they can buy health insurance for their employees at lower rates. We also want to examine the entire tax code so that we can stay competitive with our neighbors in recruiting new jobs to our state. With only a few months left in this session, a comprehensive bill dealing with our tax code is not likely to pass but we can start the discussions.

Enact State Spending Caps. For more than 10 years, the House Republicans have supported imposing spending caps on our state government. We have passed a cap several times, only to have those caps stall in the Senate. We are encouraging the Senate and the Governor to move quickly on a bill we approved last year (H. 3295) so we can limit the growth of government once and for all.

I’ll continue to provide weekly updates throughout the year. I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts and opinions so that I can better serve our community and state.