Rep. Lee Hewitt interview -- Quintin's Close-Ups

Rep. Lee Hewitt was recently interviewed by Charleston journalist Quintin Washington on his Quintin’s Close-Ups show. Lee talks about a lot of important issues like education reform, the budget surplus, pension reform, the Port of Georgetown, and roads.


Legislative report

I hope you’re doing well.

The highlight of the legislative week was Gov. Henry McMaster’s State of the State address on Wednesday.

Gov. McMaster set as his priorities improving public education and returning a portion of the budget surplus to taxpayers. I share those priorities.

On the education issue, I’m excited to work with the Governor and am hopeful the Senate will soon pass their own comprehensive education reform bill like the House passed last session. In addition, I also support the Governor’s plan to expand 4-year-old kindergarten programs, increase teacher pay again and freeze higher education tuition rates for in-state students and universities.

Speaking of education, I’m pleased that House Speaker Jay Lucas has proposed H. 4760, which will continue our education reform efforts by reducing the number of state-mandated tests and assessments. This will allow more time in the classrooms for teachers to teach. The bill successfully passed subcommittee and full committee this week.

We’ve made great strides in economic and job growth. The Post & Courier reported yesterday that South Carolina tied with Utah for the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.3 percent, an accomplishment we can all be proud of.

On Friday, I was privileged to participate in the annual Georgetown County Legislative Delegation Breakfast, hosted by the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Coastal Carolina Association of REALTORS. Senators Stephen Goldfinch and Ronnie Sabb and Rep. Carl Anderson and I answered a lot of great questions from a packed house.

My thanks to the chamber and CCAR CEO Laura Crowther, who was moderator, for a great event.

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

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.


House committee assignments announced

As usual, this first week of the legislative session is one of organizing and getting committee assignments.

It seems as if House Speaker Jay Lucas is calling on me to do more and more each year in the House leadership and on committees.

I’m honored to remain a House Majority Whip for Speaker Lucas.

He assigned me to the following committees and subcommittees:

Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee
Banking & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee
Real Estate Subcommittee
Business License Fees Ad Hoc Subcommittee

Legislative Oversight Committee
Economic Development, Transportation, and Natural Resources Subcommittee

Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee

The Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee did meet this week and agreed to an extension of the application period for seats on the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities. Finding qualified candidates for these seats has been difficult as is noted in this news story.

It appears the House will vote next week on a bill I cosponsored, H. 3087, which would effectively prohibit the onshore infrastructure needed for offshore oil drilling and seismic testing. The bill is now cosponsored by a majority of the House.

A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, passed a Senate subcommittee hearing last week chaired by Sen. Stephen Goldfinch. Click here for news coverage.

I’m appreciative of the efforts to protect our coastal economy and environment from the threat of oil spill disasters.

Next Friday, I’m privileged to participate in the annual Georgetown County Legislative Delegation Breakfast, sponsored by the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce and the Coastal Carolina REALTORS Association. Senators Stephen Goldfinch and Ronnie Sabb and Rep. Carl Anderson and I will discuss issues and what to expect in the legislative session. Please click here for more details.

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

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.


Legislative session starts next week

I hope you and your family had happy holidays.

I wanted you to know the legislative session starts this Tuesday in Columbia.

I believe the most important issues for the legislature are:

*The need for continued education reform.
*Passing a fiscally responsible budget that provides some taxpayer relief with the estimated $1.8 billion surplus.
*Protecting our coast from offshore oil drilling
*Deciding what to do with debt-ridden state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

Possibly as early as next week, recommendations on bids received to either buy, manage or internally reform Santee Cooper will be presented to the legislature. My decision will be based on the best long-term interests of Santee Cooper ratepayers.

On Saturday, I’ll attend the Conservation Voters’ Legislative Kick Off event in Litchfield. One of the topics of discussion will be our continuing efforts to prevent offshore oil drilling and seismic testing off our state.

We can’t put our coastal economy and environment at risk from an oil spill.

Last year, I cosponsored legislation, H. 3087, which would effectively prohibit the onshore infrastructure needed for offshore oil drilling and seismic testing. The bill should be up for a vote on the House floor this month.

I wanted to make sure you had this link to my official House webpage, where you can find the bills that I have either sponsored or cosponsored, view my voting record, search for bills and access video feeds of the House sessions and committee meetings.

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

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.


Legislators applaud order for November referendum to decide Horry-Georgetown County border issue

MURRELLS INLET – Horry and Georgetown County state legislators Wednesday applauded Gov. Henry McMaster’s order for a November referendum to address an error in the border between Horry and Georgetown counties.

“I appreciate Gov. McMaster’s order and the work of the special annexation commission resulting in a November 5th referendum to allow the affected voters to decide which county they want to reside in,” Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, said. “This issue is very important in that it affects property taxes, school attendance and voting. A referendum is the best way to decide the issue.”

“It’s important to the community to provide continuity and security in their choice of schools and services,” Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, said. “I’m proud to have been part of the team to secure that peace of mind.”

“From the very beginning, my constituents wanted a choice and I believe they should have it. After all, they didn’t invite this problem,” Rep. Russell Fry, R-Horry, said. “Now they’ll get that opportunity to choose which county they’d like to live. I appreciate the diligent efforts of Gov.McMaster and the committee for helping us bring closure to this local issue.”

McMaster issued the order Monday for the referendum to coincide with the November 5th general election.

Click here for the order.

For many years, Horry and Georgetown counties have recognized a border that differs from the official border as enacted in statute. As a result, about 200 parcels of land, long believed to be in Horry County, are actually in Georgetown County. The border error was discovered last year by the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.

Click here for a map of the affected border area.

Hewitt, Fry and Goldfinch sponsored the legislation to enable the referendum.


Hewitt applauds SCDHEC rejection of seismic testing off SC

MURRELLS INLET – State Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, applauded the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control decision Monday to reject a federal permit application to conduct seismic testing for oil off the coast of South Carolina.

“SCDHEC made the right decision. Seismic testing is not in any way consistent with our state’s coastal management plan,” Hewitt said. “Seismic air gun blasts are harmful to marine life and would hurt fisheries that are very important to my constituents and the coastal economy.”

SCDHEC said in its letter to WesternGeco, LLC, the company seeking the federal permit, “DHEC finds that the risks associated with 2D seismic surveying to the resources under the purview of the SCCZMP are significant due to the known and unknown physiological and behavioral impacts to individual fish and sea turtles, populations and the ecosystems that support them... DHEC must find the federal application for seismic surveying in the Atlantic OCS by WesternGeco to be inconsistent with the enforceable policies of the South Carolina Coastal Zone Management Program.”

Click here for the SCDHEC letter.

According to the SCDHEC letter public opposition to the permit was unanimous, stating that “all 1,720 comments received, communicated opposition to the specific proposed activity of seismic surveying and/or potential future offshore oil and gas development generally.”

In a June letter to SCDHEC asking for rejection of the permit application Hewitt said “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.”

Click here for Hewitt’s letter.

WesternGeco, LLC 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.

WesternGeco may appeal SCDHEC’s determination to the federal Secretary of Commerce. An appeal must be filed by within 30 days of SCDHEC’s decision.

Hewitt, a Murrells Inlet resident and Realtor, represents District 108, which consists of the coastal areas of Georgetown and Charleston counties. He serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs and Legislative Oversight committees.


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.


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.


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.


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.