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    Hewitt opposes permit for seismic testing off SC, cites harm to marine life and economy

    Lee_Hewitt_Photo_-_handout_copy.jpgMURRELLS INLET – In a letter to state regulators, state Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, asked that approval for a British company to conduct seismic testing for oil off the coast of South Carolina be denied, citing harm to marine life from the air gun blasts and to the coastal economy.

    “I’ve heard loud and clear from constituents that they do not want seismic testing or oil and gas drilling off our coast because of the detrimental effects of seismic air gun blasts to marine life and the very real threat of a drilling disaster and the resulting severe environmental and economic harm it would bring to our area,” Hewitt wrote to the SC Dept. of Health and Environmental Control on Monday.

    WesternGeco, LLC, headquartered in London, has applied to the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for a federal permit to conduct seismic testing in the federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

    The federal permit application was submitted to SCDHEC for determination of federal consistency with the SC Coastal Management Program concerning the potential impacts of the seismic testing on sea turtles and on commercial and recreational fisheries. SCDHEC is taking public comments on the permit through July 2nd.

    “Seismic air gun blasts would hurt fisheries. During and after seismic blasting, catch rates of some commercially and recreationally important fish species have decreased substantially. Studies show that seismic testing could decrease catch rates by as much as 80 percent,” Hewitt cites in the letter.

    “In the last year, commercial fishermen in ports adjacent to and in the district landed nearly 1 million pounds of snapper-grouper species and recreational fishermen along the South Carolina coast are estimated to have caught 18 million fish,” Hewitt said. “Our commercial and recreational fishing industry cannot afford the harm seismic testing would bring to important fish species.”

    Hewitt expressed concern about the harm loud seismic air gun blasts does to marine mammals and sea turtles.

    “It’s been proven that seismic air gun blasts risk serious injury or death to whales and dolphins. These blasts would also hurt sea turtle populations,” Hewitt said. “South Carolina is a critical area for sea turtles, which are sensitive to noise. Seismic air gun blasting would interfere with their nesting.”

    Last month the General Assembly approved a ban on approval of seismic testing and offshore oil drilling infrastructure permits by the state or local governments as a proviso in the budget that was passed.

    “I think it’s clear the legislature’s intent is to prevent seismic testing and oil drilling activities off our coast,” Hewitt said. “SCDHEC should find the proposed WesternGeco permit inconsistent with the coastal management program because of its impact on natural resources and the economic impact on South Carolina.”

    Hewitt, a Murrells Inlet resident and realtor, represents coastal areas of Georgetown and Charleston counties. He serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs and Legislative Oversight committees.

    Click here for the letter.

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    Special legislative session

    Last week the legislature finished its three-day special session by passing the budget and legislation that effectively puts state-owned utility Santee Cooper up for sale.

    The 2019-2020 budget is balanced, built on the foundation of protecting taxpayers, a renewed commitment to being resourceful and efficient, funding core functions of state government, and providing value for every dollar spent. It even includes a modest rebate for taxpayers.

    The budget is focused on improving education, with an additional $300 million devoted to that purpose, of which nearly $160 million is to provide every teacher a pay raise.

    The budget also includes $2 million for dredging Murrells Inlet.

    Last year $300,000 was included in the budget to develop a dredging master plan for the inlet that includes all the main channels, particularly areas where SCDOT stormwater drains have caused shoaling, and spoil disposal options. Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, Rep. Russell Fry and I are hopeful that this initial funding will eventually help accomplish comprehensive dredging in the inlet.

    I strongly support the ban on approval of offshore oil drilling infrastructure permits by the state or local governments that was included as a provision in budget.

    In a near unanimous vote, the legislature agreed on a process of deciding what to do with Santee Cooper in wake of the $8 billion debt accumulated from the failed VC Summer nuclear reactor project and sharp upcoming rate increases. The Dept. of Administration will seek binding offers from companies interested in purchasing or managing Santee Cooper. In addition, Santee Cooper can submit its own plan on how they would improve if allowed to maintain ownership. The Dept. of Administration is charged with bringing the best proposals to the General Assembly to consider by January 15, 2020.

    I’m very disappointed the legislative session ended without the anti-child luring bill I cosponsored with Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Charleston, even getting a committee hearing.

    You may recall this bill was introduced in response to multiple attempts in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston to lure children into vehicles using puppies and candy. Now another attempted child luring has occurred, last week in Aiken, where a man attempted to lure little girls with money into a pickup truck. He was apprehended, but not arrested because luring is not a crime in South Carolina.

    We’re going to continue to work hard for the bill’s passage next year.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    End of legislative session

    My week began with Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and I presenting General Assembly adopted resolutions to the Francis P. Bunnelle Foundation and Waccamaw Intermediate School.

    The resolution presented to the Bunnelle Foundation declared Tuesday, May 7th as Palmetto Giving Day in Georgetown County and in South Carolina and recognized the Bunnelle Foundation’s important role in leading this event. Palmetto Giving Day is a 24-hour online fundraiser benefitting dozens of area nonprofit organizations. This week the event raised a record $1.2 million.

    The resolution presented to the Waccamaw Intermediate School congratulated the school for receiving the prestigious Palmetto's Finest Award from the SC Association of School Administrators for having one of the most innovative and effective educational programs in the state.

    After casting nearly 700 votes, the legislative session ended on Thursday, although we’ll return on May 20th for a special session to discuss Santee Cooper, vote on the budget, and receive any vetoes from Governor McMaster.

    Although both the House and Senate have passed separate resolutions to pursue a sale of Santee Cooper, which is $8 billion in debt, there are differences that need to be resolved. When we return we’ll consider a joint resolution that would approve seeking binding offers from companies interested in purchasing or managing Santee Cooper.

    In this final week, I’m pleased the following bills I either sponsored or cosponsored passed both houses and await Gov. McMaster’s signature:

    H. 4239: Allows our struggling shrimpers access to prime inshore shrimping grounds off Horry County.

    H. 4380: In the wake of the tragic death of Samantha Josephson, it requires better identification of rideshare vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft.

    H. 3145: Protects electric cooperative ratepayers by providing oversight of the state’s 20 electric cooperatives.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Yawkey Wildlife Center

    One of the biggest legislative issues this week for our area was the news that the Senate had passed a provision in the budget that would allow hunting in wildlife sanctuary areas and more particularly in the 20,000-acre Yawkey Wildlife Center in Georgetown County. Click here for news coverage.

    The concern is that by allowing hunting in the Yawkey Center, it would violate the provisions of Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s will that essentially gifted the land to the state of South Carolina as a wilderness area, possibly causing the Yawkey Trust to take back the land.

    I have gotten assurance from the House leadership that the budget will not pass the House with the Senate provision allowing hunting in sanctuaries in it.

    The Senate voted Thursday 42 to 1 to seek binding offers to purchase or manage Santee Cooper in the wake of the massive debt accumulated from the failed VC Summer nuclear reactor project. The Senate’s proposal asks the State Department of Administration to evaluate offers from companies who want to buy or manage Santee Cooper and bring the best ones to the General Assembly to consider.

    The House passed a joint resolution weeks ago 101 to 6 that would allow the special legislative committee to proceed with the process of analyzing bids and making recommendations on offers to purchase or manage the utility. The House will consider the Senate’s proposal next week while continuing to make the ratepayers, taxpayers, and employees’ the top priority.

    On Wednesday a joint legislative session elected trustees for Coastal Carolina University, The Citadel and Medical University of SC.

    The bill I sponsored to allow our struggling shrimpers access to prime inshore shrimping grounds off Horry County in the fall was passed out of the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee and hopefully will get a floor vote on Tuesday or Wednesday. Sen. Stephen Goldfinch has been very helpful in moving the bill forward.

    There are just three days left in the legislative session.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Working waterfronts

    I think most people are aware that commercial fishing is very important to our area. It supplies our restaurants and seafood markets with fresh local fish, shrimp and shellfish and defines us as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina.”

    But you may not be aware that one of the biggest threats to commercial fishing is the lack of working waterfronts. More and more of our waterfront property is being developed, squeezing out fishermen and seafood packing houses.

    That’s why I attended a town meeting in McClellanville on April 17th to support a Charleston County Greenbelt grant application to purchase commercial docks in the town to preserve them with a conservation easement, which would restrict future uses to only those compatible with the seafood industry.

    I believe preserving working waterfronts is important to our coastal economy and culture.

    This week, the House was back in session after a week-long Easter break and fishery issues were on the Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee’s agenda.

    The committee passed reasonable size and bag limits for spadefish and tripletail to help sustain those fisheries.

    The Senate passed their version of the state’s $9.3 billion budget last week. The House and Senate will meet over the next few weeks to negotiate the differences between the two budgets and come up with a final version.

    I strongly support the ban on approval of offshore oil drilling infrastructure permits by the state or local governments that was added by the Senate to the budget bill.

    I’m cautiously optimistic about the news this week that U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said his department is “indefinitely sidelining” plans for offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

    On Wednesday at the State House I was privileged to meet with three young women who represent Georgetown County with distinction: Miss Georgetown County, Brooke Vu; Miss Five Rivers, Jada Samuel; and Miss Georgetown County Teen, Julia Herrin.

    There are just six days left in the legislative session for this year.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Thank you

    My thanks to all who took the time to support my bill opposing seismic testing and offshore oil drilling either in person at Wednesday’s Environmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing or in writing.

    Hewitt_-_H._3087_hearing_copy.jpgTestifying in support of Rep. Hewitt's bill opposing offshore oil drilling, from left to right, Gabriella Martin, Peg Howell, Sandra Bundy and Mary Salvatore.

    Dozens of people spoke in support of my bill and against offshore oil drilling. This despite the unfortunate last minute on-off-on whipsawing of whether the hearing would occur or not.

    The stack of written comments supporting my bill was over 2 inches thick.

    A special thanks to Gabriella Martin, an eighth grader at the Coastal Montessori Charter School in Pawleys Island, for her compelling testimony in favor of my bill. She was the only speaker to receive applause. Click here for news coverage.

    Only one person, a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, spoke against my bill and in favor of drilling. Yet in the end, the subcommittee voted to advance both my bill and a bill supporting seismic testing and offshore drilling, so we’ll have to continue the fight.

    Coincidentally, on the same day offshore oil drilling off our coast was being debated, it was the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Hospitality Day at the State House – a day in which the importance of the restaurant and lodging industry to the state’s economy is highlighted.

    This is an industry that would be at peril should an offshore oil spill impact our coast.

    I enjoyed seeing SCRLA board member and past president David McMillan from Drunken Jack’s Restaurant in Murrells Inlet during the Hospitality Day event.

    On Tuesday, the bill I cosponsor in the wake of the tragic death of Samantha Josephson to require better identification of rideshare vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft, passed the House on a 99 to 1 vote. Click here for news coverage.

    Wednesday, April 10th was crossover day in the legislature. Any legislation that clears either the House or Senate after April 10th requires a two-thirds majority vote to even be debated by the other body this year, greatly narrowing down bills that can pass both houses.

    The House will be on furlough next week and will resume on Tuesday, April 23rd.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Need your help

    I need your help.

    This Wednesday, April 10th, a hearing on competing seismic testing and offshore oil drilling bills – one for and one against – will be held by the House Environmental Affairs Subcommittee. I’m a cosponsor of the bill against seismic testing and offshore oil drilling, H. 3087.

    The inevitable oil spills that come with offshore drilling would be a disaster for our coastal economy and environment.

    Your written comments or testimony at the hearing in support of my bill would be greatly appreciated. The hearing will start one hour after House adjournment, which is usually 2 pm to 3 pm, in Room 410 of the Blatt Building at 1105 Pendleton Street in Columbia. Please send written comments to elliehayes@schouse.gov as soon as possible.

    Thank you in advance for your help!

    On Tuesday the bill I sponsored to allow our shrimpers access to prime inshore shrimping grounds off Horry County in the fall passed the House on a 101 to 0 vote.

    On Wednesday the House passed a joint resolution on a 101 to 6 vote that will take the next step towards negotiating with the four entities who have bid to purchase Santee Cooper. The bids offer assurances about rate reductions, employee retention, retirement protections, environmental assurances, and more. Click here for news coverage.

    In the wake of the tragedy involving the killing of Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina student last weekend, I cosponsored legislation to make it easier for riders to identify Uber and Lyft vehicles. The proposal requires drivers for ridesharing services to display illuminated stickers on their windshields. Click here for news coverage.

    Yesterday I was on the morning WRNN radio show. I used the opportunity to talk about the importance of building the proposed Southern Evacuation Lifeline Highway.

    The SELL would vastly improve access across the Waccamaw River between Conway and Georgetown, expediting hurricane evacuations, reducing traffic congestion, and providing a needed additional transportation corridor in the event other vital roadways became flooded and impassable. It needs to be built.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Governor's signature

    This week two of my bills passed the Senate and head to Gov. McMaster’s desk for his signature.

    One was my deer hunting bill, H. 3750, which would modify the current doe tag program from eight specific date tags to two any day tags. This would allow hunters more flexibility in days to hunt does.

    The other bill, H. 3732, requires opioid abuse training as part of the continuing education requirements for veterinarians, who are able to prescribe opioids for animals that might fall into the wrong hands. This bill was strongly supported by the Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee.

    The bill I sponsored to allow our shrimpers access to prime inshore shrimping grounds off Horry County after September 15th passed the Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and could hit the House floor next week for a vote. Our struggling shrimpers need the help.

    On Tuesday, I was honored to meet with the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors’ leadership class and discuss legislative issues. I’m appreciative of their efforts to become involved and learn about the legislative process.

    I’ve steadfastly opposed seismic testing and offshore oil drilling off our coast. A bill I’ve cosponsored to help prevent seismic testing and oil drilling may get a committee hearing by April 10th.

    H. 3087, prohibits the approval of actions to facilitate seismic testing or the transportation of offshore oil and natural gas into the land and waters of this state by the state of South Carolina, a state agency, or a political subdivision of this state.

    I believe the inevitable oil spills that come with offshore drilling would be a disaster for our coastal economy and environment.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Protecting electric utility customers

    This week the House of Representatives was focused on protecting electric utility customers.

    On Wednesday, a bill I cosponsored to protect electric cooperative ratepayers by providing oversight of the state’s 20 electric cooperatives passed the House on a 104-6 vote. Please click here for news coverage.

    We filed the bill after the recent Tri-County Electric Cooperative scandal in which the nine part-time directors paid themselves $52,000 a year each, plus expensive benefits and inappropriate perks – all at the expense of ratepayers. My thanks to Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, the prime sponsor, for his leadership on this bill.

    The House issued a Joint Resolution this week to authorize the special Santee Cooper legislative committee to take the next step towards analyzing bids and making recommendations on offers to purchase the state-owned utility, which is now faced with having to sharply increase rates to start paying off its $9 billion debt. This issue also affects electric cooperative customers as the co-ops buy their power from Santee Cooper.

    Last month the committee released a promising preliminary report showing a number of qualified bids that would effectively pay off all the debt and offer lower long-term rates than Santee Cooper.

    The bill I sponsored to allow our struggling shrimpers access to prime inshore shrimping grounds off Horry County in the fall passed the Agricultural Subcommittee on Tuesday and will be considered by the full committee next week. I was overwhelmed with written testimony in support of the bill.

    As the April 10th crossover deadline approaches, I’m very concerned about the lack of committee hearings on two important bills I’ve sponsored: H. 3064, which would outlaw child luring and H. 3931, which would increase criminal penalties for looting during an evacuation order.

    I will continue to press the committee chairmen for hearings so these bills can get to the House floor for a vote. Any legislation that clears either the House or Senate after April 10th requires a two-thirds majority vote to even be debated by the other body this year.

    Tuesday was Legislative Day for the S.C. State Firefighters Association. I was privileged to meet with a number of firefighters, including Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District Chief Norman Knight. I greatly appreciate their efforts to keep us safe.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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    Budget week

    I wanted you to know that we’re nearing the middle of the legislative session which, for the House, means this week was “Budget Week,” our weeklong debate on the $8.7 billion 2019-2020 budget. After going through the budget line by line, casting 226 votes, and working past 1 am on Wednesday, we passed the budget bill on a near unanimous vote.

    The budget is based on four pillars: protecting taxpayers (no tax increases and a tax rebate from the surplus), attracting and retaining teachers, funding higher education and freezing tuition, and funding the core functions of government.

    This week I introduced a bill, H. 4239, to allow our shrimpers access to prime inshore shrimping grounds off Horry County after September 15th. Experimental shrimp trawling was successfully conducted in the area last fall under the supervision of the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources. With our shrimpers struggling to survive against a massive wave of shrimp imports, it just makes good sense to allow them to access prime shrimping areas.

    Hewitt_-_GT_leadership_copy.jpg

    It was my privilege to meet with the Leadership Georgetown class this week in Columbia. I was very impressed with the class.

    On Tuesday, I had the privilege of meeting with the Charleston County 4H Club. I always appreciate their pledge: I pledge my head to clearer thinking, My heart to greater loyalty, My hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

    The Senate will be holding a subcommittee hearing on its version of the education reform bill next Thursday, March 21st at the Georgetown High School Auditorium from 6 pm to 8 pm. Please click here for more information.

    Next week will be filled with committee meetings, including three Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs subcommittee meetings, and Legislative Oversight and Opioid Abuse Prevention Study committee meetings.

    As always, please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

    Rep. Lee Hewitt

    Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

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