Productive session a welcome change

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Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with the Republican Women of Southern Beaufort County. I was pleased to see old friends like Mary Amonitti and Karla Huebert, and to meet some of our newer Republican women, such as Terry Wigglesworth. They were not only welcoming but also well informed on the issues of the day.

For this legislator, it was also a pleasure to be able to discuss the session because it was uncharacteristically productive, with a number of critical issues addressed with both seriousness and success.

The General Assembly has not only made good progress in beginning the process of making our roads and bridges safer and more sustainably serviceable, we also reformed the governance of the Department of Transportation (DOT) so as to remove a significant portion of the politics from how we prioritize our efforts.

We also made great strides in reforming and stabilizing our state retirement program. This important progress was made possible, in part, by the strong chairmanship of my friend and delegation partner Bill Herbkersman. He held his committee together and focused on the goal of keeping our promises to our teachers, police and fire personnel, and our loyal state employees.

This matter had been ignored and delayed for years until the problem was nearly insoluble. We owe Bill and his committee colleagues a debt of gratitude for ignoring the extraneous and focusing on a fair outcome.

At literally the last minute, we also passed H-3352. This was the reform of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), of which I was the primary sponsor. This bill was an outgrowth of the study group process instituted by then-newly elected Speaker Jay Lucas.

I was the chair of the 2014 FOIA study group, whose recommendations were the basis of H-3352. In fact, the House passed the measure by a large, bipartisan margin in the previous session, where it languished in the Senate and ultimately died.

We passed it in the House again this session and sent it to the Senate. In the final hour of session, the House received the Senate version. We voted to affirm the changes and sent the bill to the governor, who signed it into law.

In a future column, I will articulate the reforms, along with what was deleted by the Senate.

On balance, the new law is a step forward in allowing the citizens to access the public documents they seek without undue delay or exorbitant charges for research or copies.

Throughout my time in public service, I have been committed to the principle that sunshine in government is the best disinfectant, that transparency is fundamental to accountability, which is essential to the public trust. Without appropriate transparency, our best efforts to create an effective ethics regime will go for naught.

Our progress in this area is incremental but nonetheless progress.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.

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