January 26 – January 28

We’re seeing more floor debate in Week Three but really very little “major legislation” has passed at this point.

Wednesday is when the first real attempt at reforming our constitutional offices had a chance. But by ONE vote, the bill that would allow SC voters to decide to continue to elect the Secretary of State or have the position appointed by the Governor, failed. I was glad to see most of the Spartanburg delegation put the state’s interests above local self-interests when some voted to support the measure. You see, the current Secretary of State is from Spartanburg and you can see the politics of “protecting your own” that could override other criteria. Even with some of their votes, we fell one vote short . We will try again later this year (another bill or an amendment to a germane bill later). If we cannot pass this reform bill for this position, I don’t see how we will pass similar legislation for Superintendent of Education, Adjutant General or Comptroller General .

Thursday saw our first Cloture Motion this year surrounding S.424 (10th amendment). A cloture motion limits debate. This means there can be no more amendments placed on the desk after the motion is made and debate is limited to only 3 minutes FOR and 3 minutes AGAINST each amendment. Then when the amendments are finished there is only 1 hour of debate FOR and 1 hour of debate AGAINST the final bill. After the amendments today though, we adjourned debate until next week. Why? Well, Thursdays are usually very brief to allow for members to travel home to their “paying jobs” and family.

Earlier today something happened that normally would go unnoticed to most; but it sets up something that may lead to un-precedented action next week on local legislation dealing with the Fairfield County School Board . Long story short, two LOCAL bills (H.4431 and 4432) were “24 hour ruled” (meaning a member postponed debate for 24 hours after the bill was printed on the calendar). Why is that interesting? Well, customary practice in the House and Senate is for members to stay out of local issues with other members’ constituents/counties. One Senator and one House member filed legislation dealing with a local school board issue and usually they would be the only ones to vote . While some would say those members should not interfere with school board matters and instead focus on state issues, it will be more interesting to see if members (outside Fairfield County) actually vote on the LOCAL bill or let these members pass what they feel is best for their constituents. Stay tuned…

Today, I also filed another piece of legislation that I feel can help improve education in our state. We’ve heard alot in the past about tax credits for private school or school-choice for private and public school. Why not a tax credit for parents to assist in the tutoring of their children? H.4449 would allow families (of 4 making <$60,000) to claim a refundable tax credit up to $2,000 for the tutoring of their student. Most tutors are public school teachers and most in the state support public education. I think this would be a good start and could even help assist in the discussion of greater choice issues in our state. While we often wear our partisan jerseys in Columbia, I do want to share how we managed to work together for some good this week. The House members/staff pitched in over $1,000 for Zach Pippin (page) for his trip to Haiti next month. Please keep Zach in your thoughts and prayers and wish him a safe return.

This week I again spent time with several constituents in my office and State House lobby – including my cousin, Allyson Clarke. Allyson’s mom, Jane, and my mom are sisters. You may recall that my aunt Jane died in a car accident a few years ago and I have named one of the Ballentine Scholarships in her memory. Allyson came with other students in the Nurse Anesthetists program at USC. Constituent Wanda Walker (a CRNA for years) led the group to my office in 320B Blatt Building. I introduced Michael Hunter (who is running for Citadel Board of Visitors) to several colleagues Tuesday…spoke briefly with state employees Robbie DeFreese, Sharon Ford, Rosalind Funk and had breakfast with John Seydlitz from Victory Bible Christian School . I also was VERY impressed meeting Dutch Fork High School freshman, Alex Brunson, who shared his concerns about cell phone use while driving. Thank you to Padgett Lewis and Ben Thompson for stopping by the office with issues important to them and also to Irmo High School junior, Ben Thomas, for choosing to shadow me one morning. Of course, I always enjoy seeing Bureau of Protective Service officers Andy Schmidt and Jennifer Aycock almost every day walking to the House Chamber.

As you can see, representing Richland and Lexington Counties allows me to see several constituents every week in Columbia. I appreciate y’all taking time out of your busy days to come visit and share your advice and concerns for state and local issues.