By Barney Blakeney
Local state legislators returned to Columbia to start the 2017 legislative session Jan. 3. And though the session will be shorter this year than in the past – the session is slated to conclude May 11 – several say they anticipate getting a lot done.
Senate Dist 42 Sen. Marlon Kimpson said among his major thrusts will be a push to fund school buses for the infamous ‘Corridor of Shame’, a collective of 36 school districts that border I-95 and which are part of the 20-year-old Abbeville County School District v. the State of South Carolina lawsuit. The state’s legislature has been unresponsive to court orders to adequately fund the districts. He hopes the state will use money awarded from a national settlement with Volkswagen. South Carolina will receive about $32 million of the $2.7 billion that will be awarded top states to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
Kimpson, whose law firm Motley Rice LLC was involved with the negotiation of the multi-billion dollar settlement, recently met with Governor Nikki Haley and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to propose a plan that designates a substantial portion of the settlement proceeds for new school buses for the school districts in the Allendale equity funding case.
Kimpson said his 2017 legislative agenda will be one of economics. It will be an agenda that includes earned income tax credits for working class citizens, funding to create affordable housing initiatives and a continued focus on procurement policies that enable minority businesses greater opportunities for participation in government sponsored projects. Also, Kimpson said he will focus on gun laws that make it tougher for criminals to get guns, possess them or use them.
“Money, money, money” is how Rep. David Mack described the focus for the 2017 legislative agenda. Roads infrastructure, busted dams as a result of torrential rains and state employees’ retirement pension are problematic issues which have flown below the legislature’s radar. And on a more personal level healthcare and funding for rural hospitals will impact unestimated numbers of citizens, he said. And schools funding is the problem that won’t go away, he added.
Rep. Robert Brown boldly noted the political buzzkill few elected officials talk about – increasing taxes. South Carolina won’t be able to get around increasing its gas tax this year, he said. He anticipates the tax will go up two or three cents. And other subjects too often avoided will have to be addressed, he said, those of increasing greater racial diversity in charter schools and raising the minimum wage.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard said the 2017 legislative session will be a new ball game with a new quarterback after Gov. Nikki Haley leaves Columbia to become the ambassador to the United Nations. One change of plays may be a revived push for state sanctioned video poker, he said. Gilliard said he’s going to introduce a bill that would begin instruction in the trades to students in sixth grade. We’re not training workers for the manufacturing jobs coming to the state, he said.