Legislative session ends, budget still being negotiated

When the clock struck 5 pm this past Thursday, it marked the end of the legislative session for the year.

Up to the last minute, my colleagues and I fought to push many of our conservative agenda items over the finish line. Our successes this year will make South Carolina a better place to live, work, and raise a family for years to come.

I recently reported how the Senate killed the House’s strong, bipartisan election reform bill that passed the House unanimously back in March. Thanks to the work of the House leadership and election reform champions, last week the Senate agreed to a bill which included much of the House’s election integrity language, and on Friday, Gov. McMaster signed the bill into law.

A conference committee was appointed last week to finalize school choice legislation to give thousands of low-income families educational freedom. This legislation aims to provide scholarships to eligible students to put towards tuition, books, transportation, and other school expenses involved in attending the private school of their choice.

On Tuesday, my colleagues and I approved the Senate's tweaks to a bill that saves women’s sports. This bill requires student athletes to only compete in sports based on their biological gender. The bill will soon be sent to Gov. McMaster for his signature.

We had to fight again last week for a bill to outlaw Critical Race Theory indoctrination from our classrooms and give parents more insight into what their children are being taught. Unfortunately, our original House bill never made it out of the Senate, so our original language was incorporated into a different Senate Bill and sent back for approval.

The House will reconvene on June 15th to finalize the state budget and review any gubernatorial vetoes.

Our budget centered around 4 R’s: increasing reserves, roads and infrastructure, raises for teachers and first responders, and over $1 billion in tax relief. It passed the House and was sent to the Senate, where they developed their own version. Given the differences, the House and Senate will each send three delegates to meet in a conference committee where they will reconcile the differences to write a final budget.

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Close to the end of the legislative session

I hope you’re doing well.

Another week in Columbia has come to an end and we only have three legislative days left until the end of the regular session. This week will be marked by long days on the House floor with a plethora of bills trying to make their way through the legislative process before the end of session.

In the coming weeks and into the summer, we have the finalization of the budget process to look forward to. Weeks ago, we passed our House version of the budget which focused on the four R’s: Reserves, Raises, Relief, and Roads. The Senate has come up with its own version of the budget which is drastically different from ours. These differences will be reconciled over the summer to ensure that we have an appropriate budget that properly serves the people of South Carolina by our deadline of July 1.

The House has already passed an impressive state income tax overhaul that restructured our state's convoluted and outdated tax bracket system. It provides significant relief to almost all taxpayers with a focus on relief for the working middle-class. Once fully phased in, this plan will cut over $1 billion in taxes for taxpayers and exempts all military retirement from taxable income.

Our tax plan differs from that of the Senate. When comparing the two plans, our plan saves more money for more South Carolinians -- period. We’re not focused on just bringing down the top tax rate, but rather, we’re focused on lower rates for the middle-class -- where most South Carolinians find themselves. That’s why last Thursday, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I voted with the committee to strike the Senate language and insert our tax plan, sending it to the floor for a vote.

The House passed the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” which bans biological men, despite sexual identity, from participating in women’s sports. Upon passage in the House, it was sent to the Senate for approval. The Senate passed the bill with some tweaks, which will soon be back in the House for review. I look forward to supporting this legislation once again to outlaw these dangerous situations in our daughters' locker rooms and sports teams from taking place.

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Oftentimes, teachers are so much more than educators: they are role models that truly shape the lives of our children. My sincere thanks to all of our teachers for their tireless efforts!

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Weekly report: Election integrity bill

Last week in the House of Representatives was highlighted by the retirement of Speaker Jay Lucas and the election of our new Speaker, Murrell Smith.

Speaker Lucas has been an outstanding leader for the House and very kind to me with a Majority Whip appointment and assignment to the powerful Ways and Means Committee, for which I’m so grateful.

Speaker-Elect Smith previously served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He will serve our body with a respectful consensus-building manner and will serve South Carolina in a way we will all be proud of.

The incredibly strong election integrity bill that earned bipartisan support and unanimously passed the House stands to die in the Senate.

This bill had the support of Gov. McMaster and election officials because of the important guardrails it provides for our election system. Essentially, it makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat in South Carolina.

In an effort to get election integrity legislation enacted this year, last week my colleagues and I inserted election reform language into eight different bills that will soon pass the House and go back to the Senate. This gives the Senate eight separate chances to vote YES, in favor of election integrity and reform.

In our Ways and Means Committee meeting, I voted in support of a Senate bill that would create education scholarship accounts for eligible students who would like to attend a private school. These scholarships can be used to pay tuition and other necessary school costs. Most importantly, this bill gives parents more educational choices for their children.

Speaking of education, on Wednesday I met with the Georgetown County School Board at the State House. I appreciate their efforts to improve educational outcomes in the county.

Last month, the House unanimously passed a resolution I sponsored to recognize and declare this Tuesday and Wednesday, May 3-4, as "Palmetto Giving Day" in South Carolina.

The Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation organizes this annual thirty-six hour online giving event that benefits nonprofit organizations in Georgetown County. Many of these organizations have matching donation opportunities during this event that will essentially double your donation.

For more information about Palmetto Giving Day and to make donations please visit PalmettoGiving Day.org.

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Three weeks left in the legislative session

Last week, the House was back in session after some time off for Easter. As we near the end of the legislative session, we’ve been very busy in Columbia.

In the coming weeks, we should expect long days on the House floor of passing important legislation and finalizing our state budget as it comes back from the Senate. As a reminder, we have just three weeks remaining until the House adjourns for the remainder of the year.

On Wednesday, after hundreds of amendments and over eight hours of debate, the House voted to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory to keep bias and impartiality out of our schools.

The "Transparency and Integrity in Education Act'' requires that when our rich history is taught, it is taught without bias and age-appropriately. It requires teachers to teach facts without bias and includes a complaint process for when it is not. It ensures that teachers, school employees, or volunteers will not be required to teach children gender or sexuality diversity training.

Additionally, we worked hard in committees, reviewing and amending legislation sent over from the Senate. I’m pleased to see the Senate working through several important bills sent to them from the House.

H. 3144 received a favorable report from a Senate Committee this week. The “South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarships Act” (SC WINS) provides certain students attending a two-year technical college a state scholarship, given they meet certain eligibility requirements.

However, I’m disappointed the Senate did not support the election reform and integrity bill that I cosponsored, H. 4919, as passed by the House and supported by Gov. McMaster.

This bill would ensure that our election system is secure, uniform across the state, and free of voter fraud. Hopefully, the Senate will reconsider amending the bill with unnecessary language that would force Gov. McMaster to veto the bill, killing any chance of election reforms this important election year.

We need these election safeguards in place as soon as possible.

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Crossover week

Last week was crossover week in the legislature, the deadline for when bills must have passed out of the House and have been sent to the Senate to be considered this session through the normal legislative process.

Any legislation that clears either the House or Senate from this point forward 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 this year.

The “Save Women's Sports Act” passed the House last week. I firmly believe that women should be able to participate in sports with a competitive edge and feel comfortable and safe.

Despite nearly 1,000 amendments from the Democrats meant to derail the legislation, the House Republicans fought tooth and nail to outlaw the participation of biological men (who identify as women) in women’s sports throughout K-12 education and college. Now, the bill goes to the Senate, where I hope they will support this measure.

Another hot topic last week was Critical Race Theory, or the curriculum which teaches that people of a certain ethnicity or race should be held responsible or blamed for past oppression of other races.

A bill to outlaw CRT being taught in South Carolina K-12 schools was debated on the House floor last week and was bogged down with over 200 amendments from the Democrats. When we return after Easter, we will continue the debate on CRT, and I look forward to passing a bill to outlaw the curriculum.

The House is constantly working to make the lives of those who served our country easier. including lowering their tax burden. This year, we exempt veterans from state income taxes, and this week, we gave third reading to a bill that exempts disabled veterans from property taxes for the year the disability occurs to allow them to get back on their feet.

I’m appreciative of Gov. McMaster’s op-ed published yesterday in the Post & Courier titled “It’s time for SC to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in our elections,” in support of election reform and integrity bills passed by the House that I cosponsored. I join Gov. McMaster in the hope the Senate will pass these vital bills.

The House will be on Easter break until April 19th.

I hope you have a good week and a happy Easter. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Unopposed going into the November election

I wanted you to know that the filing period for office ended at noon last Wednesday and I’m unopposed going into the November election. I’m so thankful for all of the supporters who made this possible!

The campaign is far from over. Work still needs to be done to ensure a good turnout in November and there is always the possibility of petition or write-in candidates.

I ask for your continued support and prayers as the reelection campaign moves forward.

We returned to Columbia last week after a week off and began aggressively dealing with a number of bills before the April 10th “crossover” deadline, the deadline we have to send bills to the Senate.

My colleagues and I worked on some ‘big-ticket item’ bills in committee, including a bill that excludes biological males, who are now transgender females, from participating in K-12 female sports and a bill that excludes ‘Critical Race Theory’ from being taught in K-12 schools. It’s likely that both of these bills will be debated on the House floor next week.

The House passes its annual tax conformity bill, which ensures that the State and Federal tax codes align to ensure that when you go to file your taxes, our state rules match those of the federal government.

The Ways and Means Committee I sit on approved a bill that expands the earnings limitation on retired South Carolina police officers who desire to return to work in an effort to help provide a solution to the officer shortage.

Last month, the Post & Courier/Georgetown published an opinion piece I wrote about the importance of flood resilience and mitigation to our area. Please click here to read the piece.

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Hewitt: Protecting the SC Coastline through Flood Resilience

March 23, 2022

By Lee Hewitt

Every year, residents along the Carolina coast keep a watchful eye on the latest weather forecasts. During the peak of hurricane season, it is important for all of us, both here on the coast and for those who live further inland, to stay alert.

We all know our coast is susceptible to these climate-fueled systems, from storm surge to heavy rainfall that in turn causes widespread flooding. I am proud to say that our leaders on the local, state, and federal level are all working together to combat the damaging and deadly impacts of this flooding.

Thanks to a 2020 law, South Carolina is now a national leader when it comes to flood resilience. Republicans and Democrats came together in the General Assembly to pass the Resilience Revolving Fund Act, a bill I supported, to create a new statewide Office of Resilience.

Led by a Chief Resilience Officer, the Office of Resilience is tasked with developing and implementing a Statewide Resilience Plan and coordinating statewide climate resilience and climate disaster recovery efforts with federal, state, and local entities. With this office’s creation, South Carolina became the 10th state in the country to name a statewide Chief Resilience Officer.

During the Office’s first year, the General Assembly appropriated close to $50 million for it to begin its important work. And just this month House leaders passed another $100 million for the fund. The Office has already had a tremendous impact along the Grand Strand and other parts of the SC coast, approving more than $30 million in infrastructure mitigation grant funding last March for stormwater infrastructure and drainage improvements to several local governments, including Georgetown County.

Leaders are acting on the state level to solve this issue, but we need to be sure that county leaders all across the state are taking important steps to protect its citizens. Recently, Charleston County implemented a flood prevention program which rewards communities with lower flood insurance premiums for flood mitigation beyond minimum standards. It is imperative that all our county governments take a proactive approach to combat catastrophic flooding.

For us to be truly successful in the fight against catastrophic flooding, we need our partners at the federal level to also step up to the plate. Thankfully, our elected leaders in Washington, including Senator Lindsey Graham, are supporting measures to better protect us.

Senator Graham was a leader in passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act through Congress in November 2021, which invests $12 billion in flood mitigation, including funding for FEMA flood mitigation grants and infrastructure investments to increase coastal climate resilience throughout our country.

These efforts over the last several years to protect our state and country from catastrophic flooding will soon save lives and money. With the threat of storms becoming more frequent and intense, we need to ensure that we stay on top of flood resiliency in our state and further invest in this important issue.

Hewitt represents parts of Charleston and Georgetown counties in S.C. House District 108.

Click here for the op-ed.

Officially filed for reelection

I wanted you to know that last Wednesday I officially filed for reelection to the House District 108 seat.

I’ve been privileged and honored to serve the residents of the district in Columbia. I share the conservative values of Georgetown and Charleston County residents and want to continue representing their interests in the House. I ask for your continued support.

Last Monday, after casting 211 votes, the state budget bill passed the House. The bill uses the state’s record surplus to cut taxes, improve our roads, raise pay for teachers, law enforcement officers, and state employees, and increase our reserves.

Georgetown County and the City of Georgetown will greatly benefit from a proviso I included in the budget bill that transfers the dormant SC Ports Authority property, 250 acres on the Sampit River, to Georgetown County for economic development.

I was glad to work with officials from the SPA, county and city to reach an agreement on the property transfer, which will eventually turn the property into a working waterfront, creating needed jobs for the area and enhancing the tax base. I believe this has the potential to lift the county and city to an entirely new level.

Thanks to my Georgetown County Legislative Delegation colleagues, Rep. Carl Anderson and Senators Stephen Goldfinch and Ronnie Sabb, for their support and help.

Click here for news coverage.

Last week House Speaker Jay Lucas announced his retirement. I have great respect for Speaker Lucas. He’s been an outstanding leader for the House and very kind to me with a Majority Whip appointment and assignment to the powerful Ways and Means Committee, for which I’m so grateful.

Congratulations to my Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Murrell Smith, who is slated to be the next House Speaker in December.

Also, my congratulations to Dr. Gerald Harmon of Tidelands Heath, who last month served as Doctor of the Day for the House for the 30th year. We’re proud of Dr. Harmon’s service on a national level as the president of the American Medical Association.

This week the House will be on furlough. We’ll resume on March 29th and have just seven weeks left in the session.

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

County set to take over Georgetown port

March 16, 2022

By Charles Swenson

Georgetown County is on track to acquire the port of Georgetown from the state in a deal that officials say could transform the city’s economy.

“The port’s been sitting there for years undeveloped,” state Rep. Lee Hewitt said. “It’s dragging down the city.”

Hewitt has worked for two years on a deal to get the S.C. Ports Authority to turn over 250 acres on the Sampit River to the county. In exchange for the property, the ports authority will keep $3.25 million that the legislature budgeted for a port dredging project in partnership with the county and the Army Corps of Engineers. That project was scrapped because the cost was more than twice the initial estimates.

The deal is outlined in a budget proviso that Hewitt introduced. It received final reading from the S.C. House this week.

The budget needs approval by the Senate and the governor. Hewitt said Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and Sen. Ronnie Sabb have told him they support the measure.

“I would hope everybody realizes there’s an opportunity there,” Hewitt said.

County Council Member Bob Anderson said he started talking with port and county officials about the project about six years ago when he realized that the port dredging wasn’t going to take place. He was out of office at the time.

“Lee’s been outstanding on making this go forward,” Anderson said.

Georgetown became a port of entry in 1732. In 2000, the port handled 1.8 million tons of cargo. That had declined to 7,500 tons by 2017 and the port hasn’t been used since, according to figures compiled by Georgetown County.

“The city of Georgetown is not healthy when it’s losing segments of its population,” Hewitt said. “Look at Beaufort, look at Charleston, look at Myrtle Beach. They’ve got jobs. They’ve got energy.”

Hewitt said he believes a waterfront development could bring that kind of energy to Georgetown.

The S.C. Ports Authority property is actually just outside the city limits. There are 45.2 acres overlooking the harbor between the Sampit River bridge and Liberty Steel’s mill. Another 210 acres are upstream of the bridge and diked for a spoils site.

The property on the harbor was included in a 2016 redevelopment study by the Urban Land Institute prompted by the shutdown of the steel mill, then owned by ArcelorMittal. It envisioned a mix of commercial, residential and civic uses along the waterfront. The ports authority property was envisioned as part of a “University Village” that would build on the county’s ties with USC, Clemson and Coastal Carolina. But it also included a park and marine services at the site of the existing docks.

“It’s just the best report. Everybody ought to have it memorized,” Mayor Carol Jayroe said. “That’s what I like about it. Make it a working waterfront.”

Hewitt expects the city and the county will work together on a master plan for the property. So far, there haven’t been any discussions, County Council Chairman Louis Morant said.

“The county hasn’t discussed any development,” he said.

Morant noted that any plan for the port property will hinge on the fate of the steel mill. Its property, 55.3 acres, was rezoned in 2017 from “heavy industrial” to a “redevelopment district.” The mill was grandfathered, but the city said this year it was in violation of the current zoning and needed to cease its manufacturing operation.

Liberty Steel has appealed the decision to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which will hold a hearing next month.

If the deal is approved as part of the state budget, the ports authority will have until June 30, 2023 to transfer the title. That will give the county time to perform due diligence, Hewitt said.

“I see no down side to this,” he said.

Like Jayroe, Hewitt would like to see a working waterfront created. “I’m not talking about condos and residential development,” he said. “It’s not just restaurant jobs.”

The county has $6 million from a capital projects sales tax that was earmarked for the port dredging. It has used surplus sales tax revenue to fund a study of the inner harbor and look for solutions to the shoaling.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead to get the inner harbor dredged,” Anderson said.

He hopes federal or state funds can be found for that and the county’s money can be used for the redevelopment of the port property. “It’s going to take a lot of work,” Anderson said.

Click here for the article.

Work on the state budget

A quick update.

We’re nine weeks into the legislative session. The focus has been on enhancing several bills prior to them moving to the floor of the House for debate.

Today begins one of the busiest and most important weeks in the House: Budget Week.

The theme of this year’s budget is four R’s:

Improving our roads

Increasing our reserves

Tax relief

Raises for teachers, law enforcement officers, and state employees

I will work long and hard to ensure that the House budget allocates appropriate dollars to fund core state functions and improvements while ensuring South Carolinians have more money back in their pockets.

Our economy is booming, with American Rescue Plan Act funds, infrastructure money, and years of conservative planning, we have a historic $3 billion surplus.

The budget bill cuts taxes by $1 billion, putting $600 million back in the pockets of South Carolinians in the first year.

If this Budget Week is like those of the past, it will involve casting hundreds of votes on budget line items, making for a challenging week.

Last Wednesday was Alzheimer’s Advocacy Day at the State House. I was glad to meet with constituents to talk about Alzheimer’s related issues, including the important Caregiver Respite Program funded by the state. More than 95,000 South Carolinians have this terrible disease, with nearly 200,000 family members and friends providing care for them.

I hope you have a good week. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.