Offshore drilling is making waves at the State House.
Last week the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee created an ad hoc group to research and study whether or not offshore drilling and seismic testing is right for South Carolina.
“It’s more of a task force than a committee,” state Rep. Lee Hewitt said. He was appointed to the group last week, and is the only representative from a coastal district.
“I’ve been clear in my opposition to offshore drilling off our coast based on what I’ve heard from my constituents, particularly the municipalities I represent,” he said. “I look forward to bringing this perspective to the committee to ensure our coast is protected from a drilling disaster.”
Since the group is new, it will likely not meet until late summer or early fall, and Hewitt is speculative about what the committee will study. “The way it was explained to us was that South Carolina has kind of been told that within the next five years there’s going to be a bull’s-eye on this area and on this subject and that we just need to start exploring and studying it,” Hewitt said. “And trying to do the best we can to protect South Carolina.”
The state’s territorial rights over the ocean extend approximately 3 nautical miles offshore, as measured at mean low tide. The federal government owns mile 3 to mile 200 and has jurisdiction to determine whether or not to lease the area for exploration and drilling.
In 2015, state Department of Health and Environmental Control made an agreement with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Department of the Interior, to grant restricted seismic testing permits to applicants. The agreement was reached without a public hearing, prompting a challenge from the Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation and others. The decision was appealed to the DHEC board, but they supported the staff’s decision, Hewitt said.
One permit for testing, submitted by Spectrum GEO, was approved at the state level.
Hewitt was a member of the DHEC board in 2015. “Basically a compromise was reached,” he said. “The feeling was that having a restricted permit was better than having an unrestricted permit.”
The agreement happened in the midst of the Obama administration’s review of the South Atlantic region. South Carolina was not included as part of the administration’s protected coastline, but it did later deny six permits for drilling. Current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stated he is reviewing the area for the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf program. That action could put the BOEM-DHEC agreement back in play.
The agreement restricts seismic testing from being conducted in water shallower than 98 feet, less than 40 miles off the coast, between April-September due to sea turtle nesting season, and in designated Marine Protected Areas.
Hewitt’s district extends from Murrells Inlet to Dewees Island in Charleston County. He has some ideas about what legislators can do to serve constituents on this issue even if the drilling is out of their hands. “There are other things in the actual drilling that could possibly affect South Carolina,” he said. “The support services and everything that’s needed to support the industry, whatever rules and regulations. I would assume those ideas would be brought up and areas of concern that we need to be looking at.”
Other members of the ad hoc committee represent Greenville, Spartanburg, Berkeley, Aiken, Pickens, Florence, Cherokee and Calhoun counties.
I hope you and your family enjoyed the Memorial Day holiday.
A lot has happened since the adjournment of the House of Representatives.
Last week I was honored to be appointed to the House Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee that will consider the issue of oil and gas drilling off South Carolina.
I’ve been clear about my opposition to offshore oil drilling off our state based on what I’ve heard from constituents. All the municipalities in the district have gone on record opposing drilling. I’m glad to have a voice at the table and will work to ensure the committee is well aware of the concerns of the coastal area about an oil spill disaster that could greatly harm our beaches, marine life and tourism industry. Click here for the news release.
On May 19th, Gov. McMaster signed into law the flounder sustainability bill I cosponsored that unanimously passed the House and Senate. It increases the minimum size limit to 15” and reduces the per person limit to 10 fish per day and boat limit to 20 fish per day and will go into effect on July 1st.
The House was scheduled to go back in session last week to consider the state budget and any vetoes from the governor, but because the House and Senate conference committee has been unable to find a compromise on the budget bill, we’re now scheduled to go back in session next week, June 6-8.
Big differences remain between the House and Senate on how to bail out the underfunded pension system and on funding for education and aid to local governments. The Senate has passed a resolution funding state government at current levels in the event a compromise can’t be reached by the July 1st start of the fiscal year. While I’m hopeful a compromise can be reached next week, the House may have to sign off on the stopgap funding legislation.
On Monday, I’ll have the privilege of being in Charleston to tour the Boeing plant and Port of Charleston facilities – both big economic drivers for the district and state.
I was pleased the Army Corps of Engineers last week agreed to provide $17.5 million for the dredging of Charleston Harbor – the final piece of funding needed for the $525 million project to accommodate the very large neo-Panamax container ships and keep the port as a leader in tonnage on the East coast.
I hope this information is helpful.
It’s an honor to serve in the House. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
MURRELLS INLET – State Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, has been appointed to a House committee that will study offshore oil and gas drilling and make recommendations concerning drilling off South Carolina.
“I’m honored to serve on this very important committee,” Hewitt said. “I’ve been clear in my opposition to offshore drilling off our coast based on what I’ve heard from my constituents, particularly the municipalities I represent. I look forward to bringing this perspective to the committee to ensure our coast is protected from a drilling disaster.”
Hewitt was notified of his appointment to the House Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee in a letter this week from House Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens.
In the letter Hiott said, “Offshore drilling is an important issue and several bills have already been introduced. This issue will attract national attention and call for concern from across the state.”
All of the municipalities in Hewitt’s coastal district – Pawleys Island, McClellanville, Awendaw and Mt. Pleasant – have passed resolutions opposing offshore oil drilling.
According to media reports, all of the current mayors of South Carolina coastal cities and towns have taken positions opposing drilling.
“The coastal areas of South Carolina are very concerned about the impacts of oil spills on the beaches, marine life and the tourism industry, and understandably have taken strong positions opposing drilling,” Hewitt said. “My job is to convey these concerns to the committee and work toward an outcome that protects our natural resources and coastal economy.”
Last month President Trump signed an executive order expanding oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, overturning President Obama’s withdrawal of the Atlantic and other areas from drilling consideration.
Hewitt, a freshman legislator, serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and the Environmental Affairs Subcommittee. Last month Hewitt was appointed by House Speaker Jay Lucas to the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee.
Hewitt is also a former S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board member.
The final week of the legislative session began with the first meeting of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee on Tuesday morning. House Speaker Jay Lucas gave us our marching orders: find legislative ways to help fight addiction and curb the hundreds of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. The 16-member bipartisan committee will be working through the summer and fall to find solutions. Click here for media coverage.
The gas tax road infrastructure bill dominated the week.
I voted for the bill negotiated by the House and Senate conference committee because it significantly increases funding for County Transportation Committees. When fully implemented, Georgetown and Charleston counties will receive an additional $1.2 million and $5.8 million respectively per year for local roads. Additionally, the bill reforms the DOT commission, makes commissioners accountable to the governor and provides some tax relief. We’ll also get the benefit of visitors to the state generating about a third of the tax revenues annually.
I’m pleased to report that the flounder sustainability bill, H. 3665, I cosponsored unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday and now heads to Gov. McMaster for his signature as law. The bill increases the minimum size limit to 15” and reduces the per person limit to 10 fish per day and boat limit to 20 fish per day. My thanks to all the fishermen who helped get this bill passed to maintain a healthy flounder stock.
On Wednesday, as part of the freshman House caucus, I got a chance to meet with S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Beatty and tour the court. It was a great learning experience to hear Justice Beatty discuss the court system and its funding, caseloads and important qualifications to consider of judicial candidates.
While the legislative session ended last week, a special three day session May 23-25 will take place to approve a state budget and consider any vetoes from the governor.
Today, Monday, May 15th, I’ll be a part of a road infrastructure discussion panel at the East Cooper Republican Club luncheon meeting at noon at the Holiday Inn, 250 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., in Mount Pleasant. I hope you can attend. Please click here for more details.
I’m privileged to serve in the House and represent the citizens of District 108! Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
Last week in the House was hectic with efforts to vote on bills that came over from the Senate.
One of the Senate bills we dealt with is the gas tax road infrastructure bill, which differed significantly from our House bill. The House voted against the Senate bill, forcing a conference committee of House and Senate members to work on a compromise.
Late Friday the conference committee reached an agreement that would raise the gas tax by 12 cents over six years, increase car registration fees and sales tax, provide some offsetting tax credits and reductions, and change the way the DOT commission is appointed.
In March, I voted for the House bill 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. It’s estimated the legislation would provide Georgetown County with over $1 million a year in extra CTC funds. So this week I’ll be looking hard at the details of the compromise gas tax legislation to ensure District 108 is treated fairly.
On Thursday, I voted for a Senate bill that passed the House 95-2, which allows out of season shellfish harvesting in mariculture operations that involve the controlled cultivation of oysters and other shellfish. The bill should enhance the availability of fresh local seafood.
Also on Thursday, the legislature recognized and honored the teachers of the year from each school district. It was my privilege to meet Georgetown County School District teacher of the year Ashton Goretzke, who teaches language arts and social studies at Waccamaw Middle School. I greatly appreciate the hard work and dedication of Ashton and her fellow teachers.
This final week of the legislative session begins with the first meeting of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee on Tuesday morning. I was appointed to the committee by House Speaker Jay Lucas. This summer and fall we’ll be working to find legislative ways to help fight addiction and curb the hundreds of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. I look forward to taking on this very important task.
I’m privileged to serve in the House. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
The last two weeks in the House of Representatives was filled with meetings with constituent groups and committee meetings on bills that have come over from the Senate.
On Tuesday I was honored to meet with members of the Georgetown County Board of Education, including Superintendent Dr. Randy Dozier, to discuss education issues. I appreciate their hard work for our students.
Georgetown County Board of Education members Elery Little, Johnny Wilson, Richard Kerr, Sandra Johnson, and Sarah Elliott and Superintendent Dr. Randy Dozier with me in my Columbia office.
Also on Tuesday, I was pleased to meet with the leadership of the Coastal Carolina Association of REALTORS, who brought their concerns to the State House.
With just six legislative days left in the House session, the focus has been on getting Senate bills through committee hearings and on to the floor for votes. The most important pieces of Senate legislation we now have are the state budget and gas tax bills, which differ substantially from the House versions. These bills will be in a conference committee of House and Senate members to try and work out the differences before they go to floor votes.
Likewise, the focus in the Senate is getting House legislation to the Senate floor for votes. I’m pleased to report that the flounder sustainability bill, H. 3665, I cosponsored, that unanimously passed the House, was reported favorably out of the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee and should be up for a floor vote soon. The bill increases the minimum size limit to 15” and reduces the per person limit to 10 fish per day and boat limit to 20 fish per day. I’m hopeful it will pass the Senate and become law.
And finally, last week I was honored to be appointed by House Speaker Jay Lucas to the Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee to “identify legislative solutions to help combat addiction and curb the hundreds of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state.” Click here for media coverage.
I’m a cosponsor of a package of bills aimed at this addiction problem. According to the latest statistics, nearly as many people die in South Carolina from opioid abuse as die in car crashes. We’ve got to conquer this problem as soon as possible.
It’s an honor and privilege to serve in the House. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
Last week, three more bills I cosponsored passed the House.
Two of those bills are to help combat the growing opioid addiction problem.
H. 3824 establishes requirements for health care practitioners to review a patient’s controlled substance prescription history before issuing a prescription for a Schedule II drug, which includes opioids.
H. 3821 requires mandatory higher education curriculum on prescribing controlled substances in the training of health care professionals. The coursework must include instruction on strategies to recognize and reduce the likelihood of patient addiction to opioids and other controlled substances.
The State reports that deaths from opioid and heroin abuse “almost rival those on car crashes in South Carolina: In 2015, 637 people died in vehicle crashes in South Carolina. The same year, 550 died of heroin and opioid abuse.”
We’ve got to get a handle on this epidemic as soon as possible. I’m committed to doing what I can as a legislator to stop these senseless deaths.
The third bill that passed, H.3793, makes provisions for a doctor of philosophy degree in Education Administration at Coastal Carolina University and a doctor of philosophy degree in Computer and Information Science at the College of Charleston, among other degree programs for other colleges and universities.
These bills met the April 10th crossover deadline. Any legislation that clears either the House or Senate after April 10th requires a two-thirds majority vote to even be debated by the other body this year.
Wednesday was University of South Carolina legislative day, where the academic and athletic accomplishments of the school were celebrated. This was a particularly timely event with the USC women’s basketball team just having won the national championship and the men’s basketball team making it to the national final four tournament teams.
The House is taking this week off. When we return to session on April 18th, there will be just 12 legislative days left before adjournment, unless additional days are added through a special session.
Thanks so much for the privilege of serving in the House. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
I have to start this week by praising my wife Whitney.
The Georgetown County School District recognized her as Volunteer of the Year for Waccamaw High School. I’m so proud of Whitney for the recognition and her dedicated involvement with the school and students. She cares so much about the importance of education to our youth and community.
Last week in the House was a mix of meeting with constituent groups and intensified floor votes.
On Tuesday, I met with the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors and was privileged as part of the Charleston County Legislative Delegation to recognize and welcome the group from the House well.
Thursday, I met with the S.C. Beach Advocates, a group of local governments, community associations and businesses that advocate the importance of our beaches in providing critical habitat, protection from storms, and in serving as a vital economic asset. It was great to see two constituents as part of the group: Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis and Emerson Gower with the DeBordieu Colony Community Association.
Out of the 47 votes on the House floor last week, I wanted to mention a couple of the bills I supported.
H. 3886, which I cosponsored, passed 91-0 and requires full public disclosure of homeowners association governing documents and public notices of all HOA meetings set to discuss changes in rules or fees. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about HOAs is that of nondisclosure.
H. 3041 passed 103-0 and requires state and federal fingerprint-based criminal background checks for all initial real estate licenses and renewals.
The bill was filed in response to the case of real estate broker Todd Kohlhepp, who is accused of seven murders and kidnapping in Spartanburg County. He was able to get a real estate license despite being convicted in Arizona of kidnapping and also being charged with sexual assault.
This week is the last chance to get bills out of committee and on to the House floor for a vote to meet the April 10th crossover deadline. Any legislation that clears either the House or Senate after April 10th requires a two-thirds majority vote to even be debated by the other body this year. I’m sure it will be a scramble.
It’s an honor to serve as a Representative. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
Last week I got a call from a legislator in another state asking for help.
North Carolina Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, called about the House Resolution, H. 3856, I introduced and cosponsored opposing the private ownership of our federal fisheries through “catch shares” that was unanimously passed by the House this month.
Sen. Rabon wanted to use the same language in a Senate Resolution since he also represents a lot of fishermen and fishing communities that would be economically hurt if access to fisheries were restricted by private ownership.
I welcomed his efforts and provided assistance, which resulted in Sen. Rabon’s introduction of Senate Resolution 370 on Thursday in the N.C. General Assembly. I applaud Sen. Rabon for standing up for fishermen and the coastal economy.
On Monday, I spoke to both the East Cooper and Waccamaw Neck Republican Clubs. Both meetings were well attended. It was great to discuss issues and get feedback from constituents.
The pace in House was slower last week with most of the work in committees to get bills out to the floor to meet the April 10th crossover deadline. There were just 27 floor votes. I just want to highlight a couple of my votes.
I voted for H. 3427, the "South Carolina Computer Science Education Initiative," which will expand access for all students to computer science learning experiences. No later than the 2019 school year, each public high school and public charter high school must offer at least one rigorous, standards based computer science course. I believe this is an important step in improving our workforce development.
I also voted to improve the S.C. Freedom of Information Act through H. 3352, which will provide greater government transparency and accountability to taxpayers. The legislation adjusts time frames for responding to FOIA requests to require more prompt compliance from public bodies. The fees that government bodies may charge for complying with FOIA requests are revised to better ensure that they do not become prohibitive.
I hope this information if helpful. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
I wanted you to know that I cast 231 votes on the House floor this week.
It was budget bill week, where hundreds of sections of the bill and amendments were debated and voted on. We began on Monday and then had a marathon 15-hour session that started on Tuesday morning and ended at nearly 1 am on Wednesday morning with the amended bill passing 115-3. The bill is now in the Senate.
The $8 billion General Fund budget, which does not increase taxes, includes extra funding for educational purposes such as $100 million for upgrading K-12 schools with a high poverty index, $38 million in additional K-12 per student funding and $10 million for new school buses.
The budget also includes $5 million for statewide beach renourishment to repair damage as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
I voted against the renewal of the Competitive Grants Program, which many, including former Gov. Mark Sanford, have called a “pork-barrel slush fund.” The program would have given $6 million to a grants committee to dole out as they choose, without the transparency and accountability of going through the state budget process.
Budget week coincided with the Alzheimer's Association’s "State House Day" on Tuesday. I was privileged to meet with area representatives who were concerned about adequate funding for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Respite Program, which helps caregivers take a needed break from caregiving so they can attend to their own physical, mental and emotional well-being.
The budget that passed did include the $900,000 respite program funding the association asked for, plus an additional $200,000 was included for family caregiver services, both of which I supported.
The next few weeks will be devoted to getting bills out of committee and on to the House floor for a vote to meet the April 10th crossover deadline. Any legislation that clears either the House or Senate after April 10th requires a two-thirds majority vote to even be debated by the other body this year.
Since I’ve talked about a lot of House votes this week, I hope you’ll visit my official House webpage by clicking here, where you can see my voting record and bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored.
It’s a privilege to represent the citizens of District 108 in the House. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt