Legislators take stock at chamber session
Berkeley County's state legislators talked shop at the annual Berkeley Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon Friday. Topics ranged from roads and bridges to support for veterans.
Seven of the county's 11 state senators and representatives attended the luncheon speaking to a packed house of local civic and business leaders at the Redbank Club in Goose Creek. Attending were Senators Paul Campbell and Sean Bennett, and Representatives Joe Daning, Eddy Southard, Bill Crosby, Joe Jefferson and Samuel Rivers Jr.
Campbell discussed strengthening the state's DUI laws, proposing that first time offenders be required to install a digital ignition device in their cars after a conviction.
The senator also said the state's filing requirements for elected office need to be tweaked. “We lost some 200 qualified candidates for election last year because of the way the state required new candidates to file,” he said.
Campbell also spoke of finding a means to increase revenue for the state's roads and bridges.
“The Secretary of Transportation says it's his job to manage the deterioration of South Carolina's roads and bridges,” Campbell said. “If we don't give the DOT funds to repair our roads and bridges they can't do their jobs.”
Campbell mentioned a proposal to raise the state tax on gas from 16 percent to 20 percent. He said the increase in the tax would result in a $160 million jump in revenue to repair the state's infrastructure. Neighboring states charge much more in state sales tax which offers South Carolina drivers some of the lowest gasoline prices in the nation. Currently Georgia charges 28 percent in state taxes and North Carolina 38 percent.
“We're increasing our fees and all that money will go back to the counties,” said Campbell, who added that an average $50 million increase in revenue would mean $500,000 would go back to the counties to increase their roads and bridges funds. “We could generate approximately $600 million in revenue if all 46 counties approved a 1 cent sales tax like we have in Berkeley County.”
Daning, who served as chairman of the delegation, said meetings like the legislative luncheon were important. “It's extremely important for the delegation to get out and talk to the folks,” he said.
Daning spoke about the state waiving a one-year residency eligibility stipulation for in-state college tuition for military dependents moving into South Carolina. “We want to waive the one-year waiting period so anytime a military veteran moves into the state their dependents can go to a state public college and pay in-state tuition,” he said.
Southard, representing District 100, stressed his continued loyalty to small business in his remarks. “I am a small businessman and my responsibility is to small businesses first,” he said.
Southard mentioned a proposal in the legislature that would lower the tax on fixed assets from its present 10.5 percent to six percent for small businesses.
“This is something we're working very hard to pass,” he said. “Those of you small business owners will be very happy to hear this and can appreciate that.”
Southard's other main concern is the change of absentee and early voting laws.
“The early voting bill passed the house,” he said. “Currently we don't allow early voting, we allow absentee voting. We changed it from 30 days to nine days allowable for any excuse. We will do away totally with absentee voting.”
Crosby said many of his constituents were elderly and cannot physically wait in long lines.
“There are a lot of seniors up there that don't want to go stand in those lines,” he said. “If this bill passes like it is and they only have nine days, I'm telling them to ask for curbside voting.”
Jefferson said more physicians need to be made available to rural clinics and that he supports increasing responsibilities for physician's assistants.
“Increasing the responsibility would allow the PA's to carry on the functions of the doctors who may not be able to be there at any particular time,” he said.
Jefferson, the lone Berkeley County Democrat, said the county's delegation forms “a pretty good team gathered in Columbia.” “I like to think we're doing a pretty good job,” he said, “And we're working very well together.”