In accordance with the South Carolina Constitution, the regular session of the General Assembly ends on the second Thursday of May at 5 p.m. Not unexpectedly, the last few weeks are often described as a “frenzy” or “organized chaos” before the rapidly approaching deadline.
This year was also highlighted by the retirement of my friend Speaker Jay Lucas and the election of my law school classmate Murrell Smith. Many thanks to Speaker Lucas for his public service, leadership and unwavering commitment to ethics and integrity. While he will be missed, his reputation as a consensus builder and true statesman will forever be a part of South Carolina’s history.
Speaker Smith, who previously served as the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is also a good friend. He is a natural-born leader and will serve with a respectful consensus-building manner.
As I have reported in this space on a number of prior occasions, any legislation that has not passed both the House and Senate or been expressly reserved for potential action during the off session in the Sine Die Resolution (as approved by two-thirds of both bodies) is effectively “timed out” and must be refiled and proceed through the entire legislative process. If you have not seen the news headlines, in the past few weeks, the Compassionate Care Act legislation, otherwise known as the medical marijuana bill, was on the House Floor. A point of order was raised based on House Rule and the state Constitution, which both require any measure that raises or creates a tax to originate in the chamber closest to the people – the House. Since this was a Senate bill and contained a tax, the Presiding Officer was obligated to rule it out of order – as he did. I expect this legislation will be reintroduced in the House next year and I plan to support it.
Last month I outlined the income tax overhaul that restructured our state’s convoluted and outdated tax bracket system. The bill provides significant relief to almost all taxpayers with a focus on relief for the working middle-class people. Once fully phased in, this plan will cut over $1 billion in taxes for South Carolina taxpayers and exempts all military retirement from taxable income.
S. 1087 was the Senate’s response to our tax plan. When comparing the House and Senate plans, our plan saves more money from more South Carolinians – period. We are not focused on just bringing down the top tax rate, but rather, we are focused on collapsing the middle rates to help hard-working, middle-class people – where most South Carolinians find themselves.
This is why, during a meeting of the full House Ways and Means Committee, the committee voted to strike the Senate language and insert the House tax plan, which was likewise approved on the House floor. This legislation, along with the budget, will end up in a conference committee to work out the differences over the next few weeks.
Finally, I am pleased to report that the House and Senate were able to work out our differences on the Election Integrity Bill before session ended. In April, the House unanimously approved this important bill, that I sponsored and worked on extensively through the sub-committee and committee process, that would safeguard the South Carolina election system from voter fraud.
The bill includes “fixes” to the “weaknesses” extensively researched and highlighted by local members of our community. These grassroots efforts were essential to the successful passage of the legislation through the House.
The bill had overwhelming support from the Governor, election officials, both political parties, and citizens from around the state. In the next to last week of session, the Senate effectively killed the bill by insisting on having an approval role of all of the appointees to the Election Commission and its director.
I was pleased to be a part of the effort to find a responsible solution that did not jeopardize the reform effort, and as a result of our collective work, elections in our state will be safer.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov