With just a week left to go in the legislative session, the Senate Republican Caucus is working hard to make sure the bills important to the people of South Carolina are passed this year.

With today’s resignation of Democratic Senator Robert Ford over ethics violations, it again highlights the need to make updates to our ethics laws a top priority.

Late this week, we succeeded in setting for priority status an ethics bill aimed at providing greater accountability for public officials, and greater transparency for the public.

Among other things, the bill will increase the waiting period for former legislators to take lobbying jobs, remove ethics investigations regarding legislators to a new statewide board rather than being done within the chamber, strengthen conflict of interest and income disclosure rules, and establishes a Public Integrity Unit at SLED.

The Caucus believes that these and other changes are needed to make sure people can trust the government that represents them.

Over the past two weeks, the Senate has been working toward final approval of next year’s state budget. The Senate has passed its version, and now the work begins between the House and the Senate to iron out differences before sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Among the highlights, we were successful in beating back the Obamacare Medicaid expansion pushed by Senate Democrats, which would have cost our state untold millions once the federal government yanked its portion of the funding away.

We made education a priority, by for the first time ever allowing the formation of scholarship granting organizations, which can receive tax credits for providing school choice to low income and special needs students. We also expanded 4k funding for at risk students, and put $1.5 million toward the new “Read to Succeed” program. As well, we kept our commitment to safe, reliable school bus transportation by providing $23.5 million for new school buses.

Also on the budget front, we made safe roads a priority by providing for 40 new highway patrol officers and committing another $50 million – yearly – to priority roads and bridges. This two pronged approach – public safety and infrastructure – is key not only to our quality of life, but economic development as well.

In addition to the ethics bill on priority status is the Obamacare Nullification Act. The Senate has already taken one strong stand against Obamacare this year by blocking the Medicaid expansion. This measure is essentially aimed at asserting that Obamacare’s individual mandate and other provisions cannot be enforced within South Carolina.

Lastly, an incredibly important bill that has been years in the making, the Department of Administration bill, has passed the Senate and House and is in a conference committee where differences between the two versions are being addressed. This bill will get rid of the outdated Budget and Control Board, and help bring our government structure into the 21st Century. It makes clear the lines of authority in state government, meaning greater accountability for all.

In short, we have had an incredibly productive year, and hope to continue that in the last week of the legislative session. As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns.

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