A busy week

One of the highlights of being in the state House is the ability to help recognize and honor constituents who have made an impact on our community.

Monday evening was one of those times when Rep. Russell Fry, Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and I had the pleasure of presenting Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District board member Wesley Gordon with a resolution passed by the General Assembly honoring him for his over 50 years of service on the board.

Wesley was a founding member of the fire district in 1966. Under his leadership the district has one of the best ISO fire protection ratings (top 3 percent) in the nation, which we can all be proud of. Congratulations to Wesley Gordon for a well deserved honor.

On Tuesday, after hearing from a lot of concerned fishermen, I cosponsored a House resolution, H. 3856, opposing the privatization of our federal fishery resources through “catch share” fishery management, which gives individuals and corporations ownership of commercial fisheries based on catch history. Catch shares can be bought and sold like stock shares on Wall Street.

Click here for news coverage of the resolution.

Catch shares hurt fishermen and fishing communities by putting access to fishery resources in the hands of just a few large shareholders, forcing most fishermen to either pay the large shareholders for the right to fish or stop fishing. Click here for an investigative report into the Gulf of Mexico red snapper catch share program in which just 50 businesses and individuals own 81 percent of the fishery.

Fishery regulators in the South Atlantic are considering snapper-grouper catch share management that would impact South Carolina and District 108, so I think it’s important to stand up for our fishing jobs by opposing catch shares.

Also on Tuesday, I voted for a state pension reform bill that passed 99-14, which would help put the pension plan back on solid financial footing after incurring a $20 billion shortfall through mismanagement. Follow up legislation will consider changing the system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k) investment plan.

On Wednesday, I voted for the gas tax road infrastructure bill, which passed 97 to 18, after a portion of the tax increase was designated for County Transportation Committees to help upgrade our local roads and Georgetown County remained a “recipient” gas tax county under the bill. When fully implemented, it’s estimated the legislation will provide Georgetown County with over $1 million a year in extra CTC funds.

The average driver will pay about $60 more per year when the tax is fully phased in. It’s estimated that visitors to our state will pay about a third of the tax revenue annually.

In the debate of this bill, I supported an amendment that prevented the diversion of about $38 million per year from educational purposes. I heard from a lot of teachers on this.

Thank you for the privilege of serving in the House. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Another bill passes and fighting addiction

I wanted you to know that another bill I cosponsored passed the House on Wednesday.

The flounder bill, H. 3665, which increased the minimum size limit to 15” and reduced the per person limit to 10 fish per day and boat limit to 20 fish per day, passed the House 108-0 and is now in the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee. Click here for media coverage.

Also, on Wednesday I joined Rep. Eric Bedingfield (R-Greenville) for a news conference to introduce a series of bills to help combat the growing opioid and heroin addiction problem. Rep. Bedingfield’s 26 year old son died last year from a heroin overdose after a long period of addiction, starting with prescribed medicine. Click here for WISTV coverage of the news conference.


Rep. Lee Hewitt, left, with Rep. Eric Bedingfield at state House news conference. (Photo: WISTV)

The State reports that in 2015, 515 South Carolinians died from overdosing on opioids. That number is likely even higher for last year. We’ve got to get a handle on this problem as soon as possible. I’m committed to helping Rep. Bedingfield pass this legislative package.

On Thursday, a bill that would ask voters in 2018 to amend the state constitution to have the Governor appoint the state Superintendent of Education passed the House. I voted for the bill because it would allow the Governor to directly oversee the delivery of public education to South Carolina’s children and be held accountable for the results. In 38 states, the Governor makes this appointment.

This week the state pension reform and gas tax bills should hit the House floor for debate, which may make for some long days.

Today, Monday, Feb. 27th, I’ll be attending the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District Board meeting. I appreciate the great work the fire district does in fire protection and emergency medical services.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

SUN NEWS: Bag limit reduction added to flounder bill

“Changes are afoot with a bill that has designs on changing limits for South Carolina’s population of flounder.

Bill H 3665 in its original form was set to increase the minimum size limit for flounder from the current 14 inches to 15 inches in Palmetto State waters.

…The bill now includes reducing the bag limits to 10 per person with a boat limit of 20 per boat per day, along with the one-inch increase in minimum size limit.

Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, a member of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and co-signer of the legislation, said feedback from anglers fueled the addition of bag limit reduction to the bill.

…“There is some concern up there (in the Little River area) with the catch limit being that much higher in South Carolina than North Carolina,” said Hewitt. “The concern is that we have people coming down (from North Carolina) to increase pressure on their fishery.”

The bill passed second reading in the House 108-0 this week, according to Hewitt, and has moved to the Senate.

“I feel like from the ones I’ve talked to it’s going to be well received in the Senate and it’s something (S.C.) DNR supports as well,” said Hewitt. “If you catch 20 flounder, that’s 80 pieces of fish for a fish fry. You could feed 30-40 people and its not like you can only catch that amount once a year, you could do it every day. Twenty fish (per boat) still gives anglers the opportunity to put a lot of fish in the freezer. If changing it helps sustain the fishery, then everybody wins.”

Click here for the full article.

Boeing rollout and a somber week

Friday, I was honored to attend the Boeing rollout celebration of the 787-10 Dreamliner, the newest and largest of the Dreamliner series that will only be built in South Carolina. It was great to have President Trump in attendance at this very important economic event.

This celebration comes on the heels of 74 percent of Boeing workers voting last Wednesday to reject union representation. The vote sends a very strong signal to unions and businesses considering locating here.

Last week in the House was a somber time as Rep. Joe Neal (D-Richland) passed away on Tuesday.

Rep. Neal served for 24 years in the House. Even though we were on different sides of the aisle and I’m a freshman, Rep. Neal took the time to personally welcome me to the House, for which I’m very grateful.

No major bills hit the House floor; however, most committee work continued.

My thanks to all who provided input on the flounder bill, H. 3665, I cosponsored. It was unanimously passed out of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee on Thursday with the new minimum size limit of 15”, plus it was amended to include a reduction in the bag limit from 15 per person and 30 per boat to 10 per person and 20 per boat. I received a lot of comments in favor of these changes. The bill will be taken up on the House floor soon.

I attended a Charleston County Legislative Delegation meeting on Wednesday to approve a budget. Also, on Wednesday I attended a meeting with the United Way Association of SC and got to spend some time with Georgetown and Charleston County United Way leaders Lucy Woodhouse and Christopher Kerrigan.

Thank you for the privilege of serving in the House! Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Flounder hearings, gas tax and doing homework

I wanted you to know that I have two bills, both flounder related, up for hearings this week in the Wildlife Subcommittee.

The first, H. 3665, would increase the flounder minimum size limit from 14” to 15” total length to increase the sustainability of the stock, which has been declining. Click here for media coverage of the bill.

The second, H. 3723, which I introduced last week, would make permanent the 2010 ban on lights powered by engine-powered generators while gigging or fishing for flounder in the waters from Murrells Inlet through Pawleys Inlet. This is in response to the Town of Pawleys Island and others raising safety and noise concerns.

If you would like to provide comments on these bills to the subcommittee, please email them to me ([email protected]) no later than this Tuesday, February 14th. You’re also welcome to testify before the subcommittee, which will meet on Wednesday, February 15th at 2:00 p.m. or one hour upon adjournment, whichever comes first, in Room 410 of the Blatt Building in the State House complex.

Last week in the House was another busy one, but House Speaker Jay Lucas is telling us that it will be even more intense as bills to increase the gas tax, fix the state pension system and allow the Governor to appoint the state Superintendent of Education move to the House floor for debate this week.

The spending part of the gas tax bill continues to cause me concern, particularly as it relates to District 108. So far the details are skimpy.

Will Georgetown and Charleston counties become substantially donor counties, where significant portions of any new gas taxes and fees collected in the counties are sent to Columbia and spent elsewhere? I can’t support that. The district has very important road needs that need to be met.

I’ve found that the best way to do homework on bills under consideration is to attend the subcommittee meetings, even if I’m not on the subcommittee. I’ve been spending time attending the Natural Resources, Judicial, DHEC Oversight, and Ways and Means subcommittees to find out details about bills and hear the public testimony. It’s a great learning experience that helps when it comes time to cast votes on legislation.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

SUN NEWS: Proposed legislation could lead to larger flounder population in S.C. waters

"A bump up in the size limit could be on the horizon for South Carolina’s population of flounder, and nowhere on the Palmetto State coast is flounder fishing more popular than along the Grand Strand from Georgetown to Little River.

The current minimum size limit for flounder is 14 inches, and proposed legislation calls for a 1-inch increase to 15 inches.

...According to Mel Bell, Director of S.C. DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management, female flounder first mature at 14 inches and begin substantially contributing to the spawn at 15 inches.

Raising the minimum size limit to 15 inches is designed to increase the number of females that successfully migrate into the ocean to spawn in late fall and winter.

'The benefit of going to 15 is allowing the females another year to mature and give them more spawning capacity,' said Bell. 'Excluding the 14-inch fish, we would be reducing the (recreational) catch by 29 percent, and that should be beneficial.'

...Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, a member of the house’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, co-signed the legislation.

Hewitt is a longtime area resident and sees the need to enhance the flounder population.

'I grew up on (Murrells Inlet), I’ve been out there since I was 10 years old, fishing, gigging and crabbing,' said Hewitt.

'(With the 14-inch minimum size limit) we’re taking fish out of the water without them having a chance to reproduce. We’re just trying to give them a chance to reproduce and produce more fish so we have more fish to catch.'

Hewitt has found the increase looks to have solid support in the House of Representatives.

'I’ve personally reached out to every House member who represents the coast seeking their support for the bill and the results have been positive,' said Hewitt."

Click here for the full article.

Protect our fishery resources

Hope you had a good week. My week in Columbia was productive.

Fishing is important economically to Charleston and Georgetown counties as well as the rest of coastal South Carolina, so it’s important to protect our fishery resources. As an avid fisherman, who loves to fish for flounder, it caught my attention when local fishermen and the SC Dept. of Natural Resources raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of the flounder stock.

As a result, on Thursday I cosponsored a bill (H.3665) to increase the flounder minimum size limit from 14” to 15” total length statewide. According to SCDNR, this one-inch size increase should greatly increase flounder reproductive capabilities.

I’ve personally reached out to every House member who represents the coast seeking their support for the bill and the results have been positive. The bill has been referred to the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, of which I’m a member.

On Wednesday, the General Assembly convened in a joint session to fill judicial seats, including an opening on the state Supreme Court. My colleagues and I elected Judge George C. “Buck” James by acclamation to a term on the Supreme Court.

A bill that would ask voters in 2018 to amend the state constitution to have the Governor appoint the state Superintendent of Education made its way out of the Judiciary Committee and is heading to the House floor. I support the bill because it would allow the Governor to directly oversee the delivery of public education to South Carolina’s children and be held accountable for the results. In 38 states, the Governor makes this appointment.

As part of the Charleston County Legislative Delegation, I met with the Mt. Pleasant Town Council and Mayor Linda Page to hear about town concerns and discuss issues. I enjoyed meeting the town leadership and found the discussions enlightening and productive.

Thank you for the privilege of serving District 108 in the House! Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

My second bill passes, a new Governor and Sen. Goldfinch’s forum

This week my second bill passed the House. This one, cosponsored with Rep. Carl Anderson (D-Georgetown), fixes some problems with Georgetown County voting precinct names and the precinct map records.

On Tuesday evening, I got to witness the swearing in of Henry McMaster as the 117th Governor of South Carolina. I wish Ambassador Nikki Haley well in her leadership role at the United Nations.

Also on Tuesday, I was prepared to vote “yes” on a resolution by House Speaker Jay Lucas that would have expelled suspended Rep. Chris Corley (R-Aiken), who was indicted for criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature for beating his wife and pointing a gun at her in the presence of their two children, ages two and eight. However, before the vote, Rep. Corley resigned, which should have happened weeks ago.

The Georgetown County Legislative Delegation met in Columbia on Wednesday and voted to reappoint two Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District board members, Booty Shelley and Kay Benton. I greatly appreciate the efforts of Booty and Kay in leading the fire district to achieve an ISO fire protection rating that puts it into the top three percent nationally – an achievement we can all be proud of.

Thursday night, I attended Sen. Stephen Goldfinch’s Murrells Inlet bird sanctuary forum, which was well attended – media reports estimated 250 were there. Sen. Goldfinch stated upfront that a sanctuary designation is being taken off the table and that consideration would be given only to possible legislation that would prevent hunting in the inlet. It was very clear that the majority of those attending were against a bird sanctuary or stopping hunting.

It’s an honor to serve District 108 in the House! Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Road funding details matter

I wanted you to know that this was another busy week.

On Monday, I spoke to the East Cooper and Waccamaw Neck Republican Clubs.

What I said at the WNRC meeting about a gas tax bill the House leadership is filing got media coverage. Here’s what the Coastal Observer reported:

“District 108 Rep. Lee Hewitt said state House members have proposed a tiered increase of 2 cents per gallon a year for five years along with possible increases in the sales tax on automobiles and drivers license fees. ‘It’s a combination of a lot of different things,’ he said. ‘How is that list going to be prioritized? How is that money going to be spent? The devil is in the details. It’s great to say we’re going to raise the gas tax. If you continue spending it the way you are, we are not going to get the bang for the buck we need to get.’”

A meaningful DOT reform/funding bill is needed to address crumbling road infrastructure, but I would never say yes or no to such legislation without knowing the details of how and where monies would be allocated. So far the details of the bill have been very skimpy.

The House is in the midst of judicial elections for seats on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the Circuit, Family and Administrative Courts, with candidates actively seeking commitments from House members this week and next, which means meeting with a lot of candidates – a responsibility I take seriously. The actual voting for judicial candidates should occur in two weeks.

I hope you will visit my official House webpage, by clicking here, where you can see bills that I’ve sponsored or cosponsored, see my voting record or watch the House in action by clicking the video link.

Finally, it was with great pride and respect that I watched the peaceful transition of presidential power in Washington yesterday. It was the best of democracy in action. God bless America!

Thank you for your support. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

My first week in the House

I wanted you to know that my first week in the state House was a great experience and productive.

A bill I cosponsored with Rep. Carl Anderson (D-Georgetown) to waive make up days for the Georgetown County School District for days missed as a result of Hurricane Matthew was put on the fast track and will likely pass the House on Tuesday – my first bill to pass.

I got to experience Gov. Haley’s last State of the State Address from the floor of the House. Her speech highlighted the many successes that were achieved during her term. My sincere thanks go to Gov. Haley for her service to South Carolina. I wish her well as Ambassador to the United Nations and look forward to working with Lt. Gov. McMaster.

House Republicans issued a Business Plan for 2017 focusing on broad job retention and growth concerns that I think hits the mark.

The plan includes:

Education Reform: Every child in South Carolina should receive a 21st Century education no matter what zip code they live in. By doing so, we ensure each child is prepared for life in the workforce.

Retirement Solvency: The state’s retirement system, which now has a $24.1 billion shortfall -- more than triple our entire annual state budget -- must be fixed.

Fixing our Roads & Bridges: A meaningful DOT reform/funding bill must be passed to address crumbling infrastructure.

Workforce Development: To combat the shortage of skilled workers, options must be developed through our high schools and technical colleges to provide the specialized training necessary for a career in technology, manufacturing, or other fields requiring analytical thinking skills.

Real Tax Reform: House Speaker Jay Lucas appointed a special committee tasked with updating our existing tax code. The result should be a flatter and fairer tax code for all taxpayers.

This Monday, January 16th I’ll be speaking to these Republican groups in Charleston and Georgetown counties and hope you can join me:

East Cooper Republican Club: 11:30 am luncheon ($22 members; $25 non-members) at the Holiday Inn, 250 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Waccamaw Neck Republican Club: 7 pm (no charge) at Applewood’s Restaurant, 14361 Ocean Hwy, Pawleys Island

Thanks for your support. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt