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.


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.

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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.


Education and the budget

Last week the House of Representatives was focused on education reform and preparation for the upcoming budget bill debate.

The bipartisan comprehensive education reform bill, the S.C. Education, Career, Opportunity, and Access for All Act, passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 113-4. As a cosponsor, I’m proud of all of the people who contributed, provided input and made this piece of legislation into a true reform bill.

The bill increases teacher pay, eliminates several mandatory tests, strengthens the ‘Read to Succeed’ program, requires school district consolidation for districts with fewer than 1,000 students, requires school board adoption of ethics policies and training, and gives teachers daily, 30-minute planning periods, among other important reforms.

Today the House will meet to start debating the 2019-2020 budget and continue through the week. In addition to efficiently funding the normal core functions of government, this year we are making substantive investments in education (the education reform bill must be funded) and workforce development. We have prioritized public and higher education in the budget not only because we owe it to our students, but also to ensure our students are better prepared for the workforce.

The budget does not increase taxes and in fact offers tax relief in the form of a tax rebate from the budget surplus.

I’ve cosponsored a bipartisan bill, H. 3145, to provide oversight of the 20 electric cooperatives in the state to protect ratepayers 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.

The bill allows the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff, a utility watchdog, to audit the electric cooperatives’ compliance with state law, particularly in spending ratepayers’ money.

And finally, I hope you’ll visit the “Important Links” page on my website by clicking here. There you can find important links to state and local government, which I hope you’ll find helpful.

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.


Last week in the House

My legislative week started last Monday night with a Charleston County Legislative Delegation meeting on The Citadel campus. I was honored to meet Citadel President General Glenn Walters, United States Marine Corps. Prior to his arrival at The Citadel, General Walters served as the Marine Corps’ second-highest ranking officer.

Last week was dominated by joint sessions of the House and Senate to hear special speakers.

On Tuesday, the General Assembly honored the Clemson national football championship team and heard an inspiring speech by Coach Dabo Swinney on the importance of unity in order to get things done.

On Wednesday, we heard the State of the Judiciary address from S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Beatty. He said judicial branch’s top funding needs are infrastructure, technology and personnel, and asked to end the judiciary’s funding dependence on fines and fees.

Our education reform legislation, the S.C. Career Opportunity and Access for All Act, was reported out of the full education committee on a 15-1 vote and is expected to be debated on the House floor this week.

The bill includes needed reforms like raising teacher pay, testing less and teaching more, consolidating small school districts so they run more efficiently, and creating accountability for school boards.

Also, on Wednesday I was pleased to meet with Dwight McInvaill, Director of Georgetown County Library Services, and some of his staff. They were at the State House to support the House Ways and Means budget as written, which increased fiscal support for public libraries.

And finally, some good news for SC tourism. For the sixth consecutive year, tourism in SC has shown record growth. 2017 generated a record economic impact of $22.6 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion from 2016. Tourism growth in the state has increased 50 percent since 2010, according to the SC Parks and Recreation Division.

It’s an honor to serve in the House of Representatives! Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.


Honored

I wanted you to know I’m honored to be named a 2018 Friend of the Coast by the South Carolina Beach Advocates for my efforts as primary sponsor to pass the 2018 Beachfront Management Reform Act, which resolved the issue of how beachfront jurisdictional lines will be set -- an issue that affects 20,000 property owners.

This week the budget was successfully passed out of the Ways and Means Committee. The budget is built on the foundation of protecting taxpayers, a renewed commitment to being resourceful and efficient, and funding only core functions of state government.

On Wednesday, Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas, Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, and Sen. Greg Hembree held a press conference in support of the comprehensive education reform bill, H. 3759. After hearing input and concerns from teachers, parents, students and the business community, the original legislation was amended, and the bill is now stronger.

Also, on Wednesday, it was my pleasure to speak to the S.C. Association of Probate Judges and to be with Georgetown County Probate Judge Leigh Powers Boan. Topics included an update on opioid legislation and mental health issues.

On Thursday, my bill requiring opioid abuse training as part of the continuing education requirements for veterinarians unanimously passed the House and is now in the Senate.

Yesterday, I attended the Georgetown County Republican Morning Club meeting in Litchfield. I got to hear Georgetown County Council Chairman John Thomas speak and enjoyed meeting constituents.

I made the news (click here) this week concerning the recently released report on offers to buy troubled utility Santee Cooper. Based on the report, there are offers to buy Santee Cooper that would pay off all the debt and lower rates for Santee Cooper and electric cooperative customers. I stand with House Speaker Lucas on the need to further evaluate the offers and to enter into negotiations with potential buyers to best evaluate the terms of a sale. We owe it to ratepayers and taxpayers to take these next steps.

I will only support the sale of Santee Cooper if it’s in the interest of the district.

On Monday night, I will be in Charleston attending a county legislative delegation meeting and then it’s off to Columbia again.

It’s an honor to serve in the House of Representatives! Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


COASTAL OBSERVER: Hewitt backs negotiations for utility sale

BY CHARLES SWENSON

State Rep. Lee Hewitt said this week he will support the sale of Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, following the release of a consultant’s evaluation of proposed offers from investor-owned utilities.

The Murrells Inlet Republican was initially cool to the idea, saying he wanted to see the proposals. “How do we get out of it so that it’s in the best interest of the people Santee Cooper services?” he said.

This week, he said he will follow the lead of House Speaker Jay Lucas and back negotiations to come up with the best terms.

“Based on the study committee report, there are offers to buy Santee Cooper that would pay off all the debt and lower rates for Santee Cooper and electric cooperative customers,” Hewitt said. “We owe it to ratepayers and taxpayers to take these next steps.”

Gov. Henry McMaster created a review committee to explore options for the sale of Santee Cooper following the failure of a joint venture with South Carolina Electric and Gas to expand the V.C. Summer nuclear plant. That added over $4 billion to Santee Cooper’s debt, pushing its total debt close to $9 billion. That debt is guaranteed by the state, Hewitt noted.

The committee sought offers that would cover the debt, ensure low rates and maintain the utility’s workforce and economic development efforts.

The evaluation of four offers by the firm ICF said “Were the state of South Carolina to negotiate with these entities, it would find four counterparts with the financial, technical and managerial capability to purchase Santee Cooper and provide reliable, safe and economic electric and water services.”

The four potential buyers were not identified.

The buyers would be able to maintain low rates even while buying up the debt because they are able to generate power at lower cost. They would rely more on natural gas and less on coal, transmitting power from existing facilities, according to the IFC report.

“Participants’ customer rate decreases appear reasonable given their assumptions, but additional detailed study should be conducted to confirm assumptions, especially regarding transmission,” the report said.

Tom Swatzel, a former Georgetown County Council member and county GOP chairman, has been encouraging residents to back the sale of Santee Cooper. He won the support last week of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association, whose board voted to write legislators to support the sale.

“It’s a debacle for sure,” Steve Minta, the association treasurer, said.

Swatzel said the sale faces its biggest hurdle in the state Senate, where one senator can hold it up. He expects that to be Sen. Larry Grooms of Berkeley County, where Santee Cooper is based. State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch of Murrells Inlet also opposes the sale.

“Lee, on this issue, is where he needs to be,” Swatzel said.

The Georgetown County Republican Club will hold a meeting on the Santee Cooper sale Monday at 7 p.m. in the Waccamaw Library.

Click here for the article.


Legislative report

My legislative week began last Tuesday with Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs subcommittee meetings that resulted in two of my bills passing out of both subcommittee and the full committee.

My deer doe tag bill, H. 3750, passed, 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 that passed the committee is H. 3732, which 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.

On Wednesday, I joined a bipartisan group of legislators in sponsoring legislation, H. 3968, that would change the way civil forfeiture cases are handled. Right now, law enforcement can seize property from residents, sometimes without charging or convicting them of a crime, and then profit from the proceeds. Our bill ensures that no person can lose their property unless they are convicted of a crime.

Also, on Wednesday, our Legislative Oversight Committee held a subcommittee meeting to review the operations of the Department of Motor Vehicles with Executive Director Kevin Shwedo to look for ways to increase efficiency.

On Thursday, the House unanimously passed a bill that will end a loophole in our current DUI law that allows those charged with drunk driving to get back on the road within days of their arrest. H. 3312 would force DUI offenders to have ignition-interlock devices (breathalyzers) in order to start their cars. The proposed law is supported by Gov. McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson.

And finally, on Friday I attended an event in Charleston with Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, and Rep. Joe Daning, R-Berkeley, where Trident Health employees could ask us questions. I enjoyed meeting constituents and appreciated the thoughtful questions.

It’s a privilege to serve District 108 in the House of Representatives! Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


COASTAL OBSERVER: Hewitt wants tougher penalty for looting

BY CHARLES SWENSON

Hewitt_official_photo.jpgGeorgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb vowed to get tough on looters as coastal residents evacuated in advance of Hurricane Florence last year. A bill filed last week by state Rep. Lee Hewitt will help police fulfill that promise.

The bill would upgrade the charge of “felony looting” to first degree burglary for crimes committed during a declared emergency. Felony looting doesn’t have a sentencing guideline. First degree burglary has a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.

“The sheriff’s office did a great job,” Hewitt said, but sentencing for the looting charges is “up to the judge to decide.”

The bill has four Horry County representatives as co-sponsors, including Alan Clemmons and Russell Fry, who are attorneys. Clemmons also chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

“If we ask you to evacuate, you ought to know that we’re doing everything in our power to protect your property,” Hewitt said.

During the evacuation from Hurricane Florence in September, there were break-ins at six homes in Pawleys Plantation. Two safes containing over $100,000 in items were stolen from one home. Coleman Tudor, 32, of Pawleys Island was arrested on 18 charges including six counts each of burglary, grand larceny and looting. The cases are still pending, according to court records.


Passing legislation

I had another packed week in the House of Representatives.

On Tuesday night, I had dinner with Mt. Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie and other town officials to discuss local issues. One of their major issues is preventing anymore child luring attempts and their support for my anti-child luring bill.

On Wednesday, we held a joint assembly in order to elect judges for the Court of Appeals, Family Court and Circuit Court. We reelected The Honorable Paula Thomas of Pawleys Island to the Court of Appeals and The Honorable Jan Bromell of Georgetown to the Family Court.

Also, on Wednesday I presented H. 3750, which would modify the current doe deer tag program from eight specific date tags to six specific date tags and two any day tags. This would allow hunters more flexibility in days to hunt does. The bill received a tremendous amount of support and was carried over in order to build a consensus between hunters and the Dept. of Natural Resources.

I presented two bills, H. 3698 and 3700, pertaining to dock and sea wall permitting, from the well of the House on Thursday. Both bills passed unanimously.

On Friday I filed H. 3931, a bill in response to break-ins that occurred in the district during evacuation orders. Entering into anyone’s dwelling, during a declared state of emergency, would be considered felony burglary in the first degree and could be punished with a minimum 15-year sentence, or up to life in jail. Under current law, this crime is only considered felony looting with punishment being in the discretion of the trial court.

The legislative committee studying whether to sell Santee Cooper received a detailed report this week summarizing the top four offers to buy the state-owned utility. Three of the offers would ensure customers who get power from Santee Cooper would pay no more for the failed nuclear plant. My thanks to Rep. Russell Fry, R-Horry, for his service on the committee.

And finally, I was able to assist the Town of McClellanville with receiving high-speed internet service for the first time this week. My thanks to TDS Telecom for their assistance with this important project.

It’s a privilege to serve District 108 in the House of Representatives! Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


The week in the legislature

It was another busy week in the legislature. It started on Monday with Legislative Oversight Committee hearings on the Dept. of Corrections and Aeronautical Commission.

On Tuesday, I had three bills, H. 3698, 3699, and 3700, before the Environmental Affairs Subcommittee, concerning docks and sea walls, that required compromise between environmental groups and regulated property owners to move forward. My thanks to both groups for working to achieve a needed consensus on these bills.

On Wednesday, a bill I sponsored to eliminate the conflict between realtors and homeowners association over realtor for-sale signs, H. 3203, got a hearing before the Judiciary Committee. The bill would prohibit HOAs from prohibiting or dictating the content of realtor for-sale signs as the S.C. Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation has jurisdiction over the display and content of these signs.

Also, on Wednesday the first public hearing for the comprehensive education reform bill, H. 3759, was held. House Speaker Jay Lucas began the hearing by explaining that the bill is a starting point and asked for the public’s input to fine-tune this important legislation. The K-12 education subcommittee listened to compelling testimony from county officials, teachers and parents from across the state to find ways to incorporate their ideas into the bill.

Speaker Lucas is requesting public input on the education reform bill, with a hearing on February 12th at 5 pm, so teachers and the public can attend after work. If you cannot attend, please click here and provide input via the online survey or contact me directly.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Charleston, and I are working to get our anti-child luring bill, H. 3064, before the Judiciary Committee for a hearing soon. You may recall that this bill was introduced in response to multiple attempts in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston to lure children into vehicles using puppies and candy.

And finally, in an effort to attract more military retirees to South Carolina, the Ways and Means Committee proposed a bill that exempts retirement income for more than 38,000 retired veterans from being taxed.

It’s a privilege to serve District 108 in the House of Representatives! Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt