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.

Strengthening election integrity

It’s been a busy week.

Free, fair, and secure elections strengthen public confidence in electoral institutions and give efficacy and legitimacy to our democracy.

I cosponsored H. 4919 to improve and fortify the integrity of our election system by combating voter fraud and inconsistencies in the way elections are held in each county.

On Wednesday, the bill received full bipartisan support, with a unanimous 114-0 vote.

Here are some of the safeguards, protections and improvements to the election process that are in the bill:

Makes election fraud a felony and creates a SLED hotline to report suspicious activity at the polls.

Requires the witness of every absentee ballot to be verifiable by providing a printed name, signature, and address.

Improves cybersecurity, by ensuring ballot machines will never be connected to the Internet.

Creates an ‘early voting’ system, which extends two weeks before an election for all qualified voters.

Allows absentee ballots to be opened before the election for quicker election results when polls close, but makes disclosing information about results a punishable offense.

It was my pleasure to meet with the Leadership Georgetown County class at the State House this week. Sponsored by the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, this great program focuses on leadership development and community awareness and service.

Wednesday was Nurse Practitioner Day at the State House and an opportunity to meet with nurse practitioners from around the state to hear their concerns about their profession and healthcare. I appreciate their dedication to patients and the difficulty of their work during the pandemic.

My thanks to Jon Tester for his kind letter to the editor about my support for including substantial teacher pay raises in the House budget bill. South Carolina is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, only to be made worse by pandemic conditions. More and more teachers are leaving the profession. These pay raises can help retain teachers.

We’re at about the midpoint of the legislative session and we’ll begin to debate the state budget bill, which contains raises for teachers and law enforcement officers, on the House floor soon.

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

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.

Raises for law enforcement officers and teachers

Last Wednesday, the tax relief bill I cosponsored passed the House 110-0, which is indicative of a good bill that both Democrats and Republicans supported with a common goal: to make South Carolina a better place to work, live, and raise a family.

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

We were able to lower that effective tax rate to 2.54 percent, with a new simplified two-rate income tax system. Our current system includes 6 different complex and outdated tax brackets, but our plan collapses those brackets into just two rates.

We’ve focused on finding the best ways to use our state’s surplus funds, the federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, and dollars we’ve received for infrastructure projects. Throughout this process, my goal has remained the same -- to provide the best benefit for taxpayers while prioritizing resourcefulness and funding the core functions of state government.

Last week, I voted to designate millions of dollars to improve, expand and repair the condition of our state’s infrastructure, such as roads, highways, interstates, bridges, sewer, and broadband access.

The budget bill incorporates needed raises for law enforcement officers, teachers, and state employees.

It’s imperative that we recruit and retain law enforcement officers. To accomplish this, we’re increasing the base salary by 17 percent, making salaries competitive with local municipalities and surrounding southeastern states.

South Carolina is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, only to be made worse by pandemic conditions. More and more teachers are leaving the profession, so to help mitigate this, we are increasing the minimum salary across all levels by $4,000 and raising the starting teacher salary from $36,000 to $40,000.

Our state employees have always been a huge asset. They continued to work hard and face the challenges that this pandemic brought. In the budget bill, we have recognized their hard work and dedication by including a 3 percent across the board pay raise -- the largest pay increase in six years – and a $1,500 bonus for all state employees.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to represent District 108 in the House. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.