This week started with the General Assembly honoring the Clemson Tigers winning the 2018 national football championship. As we’ve done previously for Clemson football (and for Carolina in baseball and women’s’ basketball), we invited head coach Dabo Swinney to address the body. His comments were on the importance (and effectiveness) of unity in order to get things done. It was a good reminder this week as my colleagues and I continue to debate the transformational education reform bill that’s moving through the House, and as we will soon begin discussions regarding this year’s budget .

Everyone knows I’m a Gamecock (alum and fan); but I can appreciate what “that University in the Upstate” has done. I guess I also appreciate it more since my grandfather (J.D.Winburn) was at Clemson when it was an all-male school. He passed away years ago; but my grandmother turned 96 last month and I know she enjoys watching her Tigers!

Education Reform Bill is on the Move

Momentum continues to build in support of the S.C. Career Opportunity and Access for All Act (H.3759) . While I still have not lent my name as a cosponsor (there are currently 96 out of 124 House Members who have), the bill has been amended to better address concerns from our teachers, administrators, and parents.. This week the bill was reported out of the full education committee and is expected to be debated on the House floor next week (by the way, that’s the time you read this article in The New Irmo News since they run a week behind). We have received input from teachers, parents, students, and the business community and listened. Because of this expansive participation, many feel we have a stronger, better bill with the foundations of bold reform. I believe this collaboration goes to show we can all agree that education needs fundamental reforms like raising teacher pay, teaching our children to read, testing less and teaching more, consolidating small school districts so they run more efficiently, and creating accountability for school boards. (Long run-on sentence there, huh?) These important reforms form the foundation for the bill. Presently South Carolina ranks 24th in per pupil spending, yet we are last in student achievement. This will change in the years ahead.

Tax Reform Update

The Tax Committee, a bipartisan committee appointed by the Speaker last year, met again this week to continue discussions on a reform bill. The committee is preparing to report a bold plan that will reduce income taxes and broaden the base of sales taxes resulting in much fairer tax rates across the board for all South Carolinians. I do not believe there will enough time for this bill to pass both chambers before June; but I believe next year we could finally see changes. I have previously served on this committee years ago; but became frustrated when special interests would continue to try to carve a place for their exemptions instead of paying their share like you and me.

Other Legislative News

    Opioid Education

I again supported legislation that will aid in the ability fight against the opioid epidemic in S.C. We are hopeful that the Senate will pass, and Gov. McMaster will soon sign into law the requirement that coroners and medical examiners be given expanded career education so that they can better identify deaths that are caused by opioid overdoses.

    Serving SC Veterans

I was proud to support legislation that will improve the chain of command in the Division of Veteran Affairs. Just last week, Gov. Henry McMaster was joined by veterans, members of the General Assembly, and S.C. Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Van McCarty in supporting our effort to make the South Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs a standalone cabinet agency. (Currently, the Division of Veterans Affairs is housed under the Department of Administration.)

    Deer Hunting

Many know that I took up hunting four years ago. I post about it during deer season and have been fortunate to harvest nice bucks the past few seasons (mounted on the wall of my office at home). The more I’m in the outdoors and around hunters, the more I learn and the better able I am to help when these bills come up for debate. This week, I supported efforts to simplify our hunting laws in S.C., specifically the rules governing the S.C. Hunting License and a Big Game permit. Currently, permits allow three unrestricted individual antlered deer tags and eight date-specific individual antlerless deer tags which are valid only on specified days. This bill provides, instead, that a resident receives, in addition to the three antlered deer tags, two antlerless deer tags that are not date-specific with the purchase of a hunting license and permit. As a result, the bill eliminates any reference to the minimum number of days for the taking of antlerless deer in Game Zones 1, 2, 3, and 4.

    Good News for SC Tourism

For the sixth consecutive year tourism in SC has shown record growth. 2017 generated a record economic impact of $22.6 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion from 2016. Tourism growth in the state has increased 50% increase since 2010, according to the SC Parks & Recreation Division. We are fortunate to have Miram Atria, right here in our community, who – along with with her team at – have contributed significantly to this growht!

    Stat of the Week

South Carolina is currently one of only fourteen states with a AAA credit rating according to Moody’s. Our debt level is 0.39% of state revenues which is considerably lower than our constitutionally set limit of 5%. Don’t worry though, I’m not in favor of any bond bills again this year.

Thanks again for taking the time to read these columns each week from my deskmate (Representative Chip Huggins) and myself. We rotate each week and want to be sure everyone in House District 85 and 71 hear from their elected official! As always, you can stay more informed each week by visitng my website and by also emailing me to be added to the monthly COMMUNITY UPDATE email distribution. Look in your emails next week for March’s update!