It was with great sadness that the members of the General Assembly returned to Columbia this past week for an extended session, right on the heels of the recent massacre of nine of our state’s finest citizens, attending a Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. All of us are deeply affected by this horrible tragedy and mourn the senseless loss of innocent lives.
By now, most of you must know that S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor at the church, was among those shot and killed. Just hours before the incident on Wednesday, June 17, I had told him goodbye, as he left the State House to head to the Charleston church. I had no idea that this would be the last time I talked to him.
As a community activist, I knew Sen. Pinckney long before I became a House member. I respected him as a talented leader in the Senate and in the community. He was a man of compassion, great faith and composure. He always greeted me with a beautiful smile and kind words. No matter how much he was provoked, he was known to give a deliberate, thoughtful response. I joined my colleagues and others at Friday’s funeral service, where President Obama delivered the senator’s eulogy and spoke on behalf of all the victims.
When it was revealed that the shooter had a website where he posted photos of himself waving the Confederate flag, people across the state and nation called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House grounds. The flag, which once flew atop the Capitol, is now located next to the Confederate Memorial in front of the Capitol. More than 1,500 anti-flag protestors came to the State House on Saturday, and hundreds gathered on Tuesday, just before House and Senate sessions started. Gov. Nikki Haley also called upon the General Assembly to remove it from the State House grounds.
Thus, it was no surprise that the first order of business in both the House and Senate on Tuesday was to address the flag issue. Both the House and Senate approved a concurrent resolution authorizing members to debate the flag issue when members return to Columbia soon to act on expected budget vetoes by the governor. A decision to bring down the Confederate flag must be approved by a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate. The shooter allegedly wanted to start a race war, but, in fact, he has accomplished the opposite. People are uniting against hate and injustice.
Legislators who were close friends of Senator Pinckney tearfully spoke on the House floor about his accomplishments and dignified character. Then the House approved a budget compromise for the fiscal year beginning in July. In one provision, $3.4 million will be set aside for a special state fund to help law enforcement buy body cameras.
Local police departments, sheriff’s departments and state law enforcement can apply for funding once the Law Enforcement Training Council develops guidelines, including when the cameras should be used and how to store video from the cameras. Bennettsville police already have 10 body cameras, but many more will be sought by law enforcement throughout Marlboro County.
In early June, the General Assembly enacted a law (Act 71, S 47) requiring law enforcement to use body cameras. Sen. Pinckney vehemently pushed the bill, after an incident in which an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, was fatally shot in the back by a police officer in North Charleston. A bystander’s recording of the incident apparently contradicted the officer’s account of what happened.
The budget compromise that we approved also includes the following:
• $346 million for roads and infrastructure, including $226 million in one-time funding to go to county transportation committees for replacing bridges and maintaining state-owned secondary roads.
• $50 million to be used to leverage bonds to finance bridge replacement and repair and improvements to existing mainline interstates.
• A one-time bonus of $800 for state employees who earn less than $100,000 per year.
• Continued funding for pay raises at the Department of Social Services, including a 15 percent pay raise for child protective services investigators; a 10 percent pay raise for child protection services case workers; funding for 220 new full-time employees, including 168 new child protection services caseworkers.
• An increase in K-12 public education funds, raising the cost of educating each public school student (base student cost) by $100, to a total of $2,220 per student.
• $10 million for reading coaches at public elementary schools.
• $27 million to pay down existing state debt.
• $47 million for the purchase of equipment, such as machinery, to enhance training and workplace development at the state’s 16 technical colleges.
On the whole, I believe this session has been a productive one. We were able to enact important new laws, including a domestic violence reform measure that strengthens penalties for repeat offenders and provides more protections for victims. I attended a ceremony at the Capitol in June, when the governor signed the bill into law. In an effort to educate our community about the new law and the issue of domestic violence, I sponsored a town hall meeting in Bennettsville attended by more than 200 women and men.
The General Assembly also approved a law to give law enforcement new tools to fight human trafficking (modern-day slavery) in our state. We passed numerous laws to help our military veterans and found additional funds to repair the state’s roads and bridges. Next year, I hope we can find a permanent solution to keep up our roads and bridges. I also expect comprehensive ethics reform to be on our legislative plate. Although the House approved ethics legislation, it is still pending in the Senate.
Most recently, the General Assembly approved legislation (H 3525) to allow Uber and other app-based “transportation network companies” to legally remain in our state. The measure, which is expected to be signed by Governor Haley, will especially help rural communities that do not have taxi services. The bill requires TNCs to obtain a permit from the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff before operating in South Carolina.
Drivers must be at least 21, have liability insurance and undergo a criminal background check. Their vehicles must pass annual safety inspections by certified mechanics, and must be well-kept and clean. No cash can be exchanged, as all transactions would be made through apps. Companies must keep a record of services and complaints received.
Some other laws recently enacted include:
• Act 75 (S 250) allows medical providers to gain access to a child’s medical records — without obtaining a court order or parental signature — if the provider suspects the child has been neglected or abused. The law requires primary care physicians to release records, images, photos and other health information to a consulting care physician or hospital facility as long as a written request is submitted. Parental consent in such cases will not be required.
• Act 72 (S 176), requires funeral directors to file death certificates electronically with the state Bureau of Vital Statistics within three days after a death. In addition, medical certifications of the cause of death must be completed by a deceased patient’s physician and returned to the funeral home within 48 hours after death.
• Act 69 ( H 3568) exempts certain construction materials from the state sales tax. The materials are exempt if they are used by nonprofit groups to build, rehabilitate or repair a home for low-income families or individuals. It also exempts children’s clothing from the sales tax exemption if the clothing is to be used by a charity for children from low-income families.
• Act 30 (S 426) allows circuit solicitors to set up mental health courts to deal with nonviolent mentally ill offenders. The purpose is to reserve jails for the most violent offenders, while ensuring others get the mental health treatment they need.
Special thanks to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for helping sponsor a Marlboro County Fishing Rodeo. First Sgt. John Hillian stated that the goal was to introduce rodeo participants to fishing and teach them to become responsible, licensed anglers. More than 80 youngsters under the age of 16 were eligible to participate in the free event.
Sponsors included the Marlboro County legislative delegation (including Sens. Gerald Malloy and Kent Williams and Reps. Jackie Hayes and myself), the city of Bennettsville, SCDNR, the Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Bennettsville, Inc., Academy Sports and Wal-Mart.
Congratulations to the 2015 graduating class of Northeastern Technical College! Thank you for allowing me to be the commencement ceremony speaker.
The legislative session has officially ended for this year, however, as I mentioned earlier in this Capitol Report, we will be called back to Columbia soon to act on the governor’s vetoes and to debate whether to take down the Confederate flag.
Until the General Assembly reconvenes in January, 2016, you can reach me at 843-479-7838, or you may call 843-479-5622 to set up an appointment to meet me at the Office of Veterans Affairs in the D.D. McColl House, 300 W. Main St. in Bennettsville (at the corner of Cheraw and Main streets). My local mailing address is Rep. Pat Henegan, P.O. Box 41, Bennettsville, SC 29512.