What a privilege it has been serving as your House Representative for District 54. This is the most rewarding work to be a part of and I am overjoyed at our ability to work together to bring about change. I am particularly honored to have been a part of South Carolina’s most recent historical feat on Friday, July 10.
That week, the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a measure (S 897) to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds and move it to the Confederate Relic Room, at the State Museum in Columbia. Governor Haley signed the bill at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 9 and the flag was expected to come down by noon the next day.
In a vote of 94-20, the House approved the bill; two days after the Senate approved it in a vote of 37-3. A two-thirds vote of members present in both chambers was required for passage, a requirement set by the 2000 law which moved the flag from atop the dome of the Capitol to a location next the Confederate Soldier Monument in front of the Capitol.
Governor Haley had urged both chambers to remove the flag, in an effort to help heal our state, as it reels from the shooting of nine African-Americans, including Sen. Clementa Pinckney, at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 9.
Discussion about the flag’s fate began early Wednesday, July 8 and continued until early Thursday morning. I was surprised at how quiet the House chamber was, when member after member took the podium to describe the prayer, reflection and lost sleep that went into their decisions on the flag issue. Members were emotional but respectful of each other, despite their views on the issue.
Members credited their composure to the admirable behavior of the family survivors of the shooting victims. They showed such amazing grace and compassion, rather than vindictiveness, an attitude that set a high standard for the rest of us.
As the debate continued, however, the discussion became more heated. Dozens of amendments were proposed to keep the Confederate flag, or a similar flag, flying, but these amendments were tabled, withdrawn or found out of order.
One amendment would have allowed a popular vote on the flag’s fate in an advisory referendum. Another amendment, which failed in a close vote, would have replaced the Confederate battle flag with another “less offensive” flag. One amendment would have allowed the Confederate battle flag to fly one day a year.
At the last minute, an amendment almost derailed efforts to get out a clean bill without amendments. This amendment aimed to ensure that the Confederate flag is handled with respect and displayed appropriately in the S.C. Confederate Relic Room. The intent of this amendment was a good one, but it could have held up passage of the bill, since the Senate would have to be called back into session to consider the amendment.
The language in that amendment was inserted into a joint resolution (H 4381) that accomplished the same goal without holding up passage of S 897.
The move to bring down the flag gained momentum after the Charleston massacre, as the shooter posted on a website racist rantings and included photos of himself holding the Confederate battle flag. Governor Haley acted swiftly, calling for the removal of the flag to move our state forward.
Those joining the call for the flag’s removal included President Obama, the business community, thousands of our citizens and leaders from across the nation and state, even those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War. Moreover, the Marlboro and Chesterfield Counties Delegation stood united in believing that it was appropriate to retire the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse grounds to the Confederate Relic room.
The General Assembly also took action on 87 budget vetoes issued by Governor Haley. The governor said many of the projects should have been funded by local or private funds rather than state funds, but members felt these programs were so important to the state or local communities that they need to be funded by the state. House and Senate members overrode most of the vetoes, meaning we restored state funding for most of the items. A two-thirds majority vote of members present in both the House and Senate is required to override a veto.
I spoke on behalf of one valuable program, the S.C. Center for Father and Families. (Man 2Man Fatherhood Initiative is one of the programs under SCCFF and serves both Marlboro and Chesterfield counties). I was involved in starting the Marlboro County Man2Man Fatherhood Initiative in 1999. To date, the program has served 1,700 men in Marlboro and Chesterfield counties! Fortunately, the House and Senate voted to restore $400,000 for the center.
The funds will go toward the Jobs Not Jail program that helps fathers who are behind in child support get a job and start paying child support instead of going to jail. Last year, 456 fathers participated in the program, saving state taxpayers $3.6 million in jail costs and helping hundreds of unemployed fathers obtain jobs, keep their jobs and improve relationships with their children. This program benefits state taxpayers, fathers and families statewide and provides services above and beyond what the S.C. Department of Social Services offers.
The General Assembly restored the following items:
•Funding for Clemson University to hire additional staff to conduct genetics research on birth defects, cancer and autism. The funding will also be used to hire more than 25 agricultural extension agents, improve agribusiness operations, bolster 4-H programs and assist new farmers.
•Funding for additional staff at the state Department of Education to support education programs that the legislature previously created, such as the Read to Succeed program and the Virtual S.C. computer-based learning program.
•$1 million for grants to school districts to help support arts education.
•$100,000 toward a Myrtle Beach playground for children with disabilities, the first one like it in the state.
•$100,000, to support economic development in low-income, rural areas.
• $2 million for marketing the “Certified S.C.” program, which helps Pee Dee farmers by promoting their products nationwide.
The General Assembly also restored $2.5 million, to help support two additional family court judges and staff, and to provide equipment to help recover courtroom data in case of a computer failure or hacking incident. In addition, $2.2 million was restored to run the presidential primary, the first primary in the South.
Other highlights from this year’s budget:
Road funding: $216.4 million is being sent to South Carolina counties to pay for road repairs. The focus on using state surplus money on roads came after the Senate failed to advance a road plan passed by the House or produce one of its own.
Bonus for state employees: In lieu of a salary increase, the budget gives state employees who make less than $100,000 a one-time $800 bonus.
Education funding: The budget includes an increase in base student cost for the state’s public education system.
Social services: $9 million has been allocated to hire 262 new social services employees. The agency has been under fire last year for not doing enough to prevent child deaths.
Volvo incentives: $70 million has been allocated to pay for an I-26 interchange to accommodate Volvo in building its manufacturing plant in Berkeley County.
In the next Capitol Report, I will give a breakdown of what Marlboro and Chesterfield counties received in funding.
The legislative session has officially ended for this year. 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 my local 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.