Many thanks to all those who called and emailed after last month’s column broke the news on the “Great Myrtle Island Newton House Near Conflagration.” We are still counting our blessings, although our house and yard is now a construction zone. Our tribe of young’uns is seemingly unfazed by our temporary sleeping arrangements.
The Hilton Head St. Patrick’s Day Parade was excellent as always. Co-chairs Kim Capin and Alan Perry and their committee did a superb job of getting everything organized and on the street with minimal dislocation.
It was such a pleasure to see all the good folks both in the parade and watching. Grand Marshals Jane and Tom Upshaw were certainly worthy of the honor.
Back in Columbia, as we embarked on constructing the budget, there was a good bit of excitement about the $500 million bond bill. It seemed to be a vehicle designated to carry many members’ funding dreams, rather than a serious tool to support our highest priorities.
Remembering our experiences at Beaufort County in getting road bonds publicly supported, I had reservations. Where were the criteria for developing an appropriate funding list? Was there even a list of projects?
My reservations, and others, eventually became a conversation among the leadership. When we began to prioritize projects, the list began to shrink, until it became apparent we could, with some creativity and discipline, manage without the bond, or at least with a much smaller version. The enthusiasm for massive borrowing is waning.
So where does this leave us regarding the two priorities of our session, transportation infrastructure and ethics? At this writing, Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to report a roads bill very soon. It is likely to be some amalgam of the House bill and the governor’s proposal.
However it goes, there is urgency for the newly created Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC) to assess whether the Department of Transportation (DOT) is currently organized to efficiently deploy the infusion of funds needed to adequately meet our infrastructure needs.
As chairman of LOC, I recommended we reschedule DOT near the top of our list.
After much excitement and high rhetoric, the ethics issue seems to be flagging. Of the three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) measures that I sponsored, the two that dealt with enforcement and strengthening of FOIA, as well as the bill concerning the agendas of public meetings, have passed the House and gone on to the Senate.
I have spoken with my Senate colleagues regarding some potential ambiguity in the language pertaining to the proposed “FOIA review” section of the Administrative Law Court. Those tweaks are forthcoming.
My bill that eliminated the so-call “legislative exemption” was returned to Judiciary Committee for more technical review. Apparently, we might need to more clearly define “public records” and clarify how members will get records to the custodian of those documents.
Interestingly, many of the same transparency issues with which we are wrestling are now in the headlines at the national level.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.