COASTAL OBSERVER: Hewitt wants tougher penalty for looting


Hewitt_official_photo.jpgGeorgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb vowed to get tough on looters as coastal residents evacuated in advance of Hurricane Florence last year. A bill filed last week by state Rep. Lee Hewitt will help police fulfill that promise.

The bill would upgrade the charge of “felony looting” to first degree burglary for crimes committed during a declared emergency. Felony looting doesn’t have a sentencing guideline. First degree burglary has a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.

“The sheriff’s office did a great job,” Hewitt said, but sentencing for the looting charges is “up to the judge to decide.”

The bill has four Horry County representatives as co-sponsors, including Alan Clemmons and Russell Fry, who are attorneys. Clemmons also chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

“If we ask you to evacuate, you ought to know that we’re doing everything in our power to protect your property,” Hewitt said.

During the evacuation from Hurricane Florence in September, there were break-ins at six homes in Pawleys Plantation. Two safes containing over $100,000 in items were stolen from one home. Coleman Tudor, 32, of Pawleys Island was arrested on 18 charges including six counts each of burglary, grand larceny and looting. The cases are still pending, according to court records.

Passing legislation

I had another packed week in the House of Representatives.

On Tuesday night, I had dinner with Mt. Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie and other town officials to discuss local issues. One of their major issues is preventing anymore child luring attempts and their support for my anti-child luring bill.

On Wednesday, we held a joint assembly in order to elect judges for the Court of Appeals, Family Court and Circuit Court. We reelected The Honorable Paula Thomas of Pawleys Island to the Court of Appeals and The Honorable Jan Bromell of Georgetown to the Family Court.

Also, on Wednesday I presented H. 3750, which would modify the current doe deer tag program from eight specific date tags to six specific date tags and two any day tags. This would allow hunters more flexibility in days to hunt does. The bill received a tremendous amount of support and was carried over in order to build a consensus between hunters and the Dept. of Natural Resources.

I presented two bills, H. 3698 and 3700, pertaining to dock and sea wall permitting, from the well of the House on Thursday. Both bills passed unanimously.

On Friday I filed H. 3931, a bill in response to break-ins that occurred in the district during evacuation orders. Entering into anyone’s dwelling, during a declared state of emergency, would be considered felony burglary in the first degree and could be punished with a minimum 15-year sentence, or up to life in jail. Under current law, this crime is only considered felony looting with punishment being in the discretion of the trial court.

The legislative committee studying whether to sell Santee Cooper received a detailed report this week summarizing the top four offers to buy the state-owned utility. Three of the offers would ensure customers who get power from Santee Cooper would pay no more for the failed nuclear plant. My thanks to Rep. Russell Fry, R-Horry, for his service on the committee.

And finally, I was able to assist the Town of McClellanville with receiving high-speed internet service for the first time this week. My thanks to TDS Telecom for their assistance with this important project.

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

The week in the legislature

It was another busy week in the legislature. It started on Monday with Legislative Oversight Committee hearings on the Dept. of Corrections and Aeronautical Commission.

On Tuesday, I had three bills, H. 3698, 3699, and 3700, before the Environmental Affairs Subcommittee, concerning docks and sea walls, that required compromise between environmental groups and regulated property owners to move forward. My thanks to both groups for working to achieve a needed consensus on these bills.

On Wednesday, a bill I sponsored to eliminate the conflict between realtors and homeowners association over realtor for-sale signs, H. 3203, got a hearing before the Judiciary Committee. The bill would prohibit HOAs from prohibiting or dictating the content of realtor for-sale signs as the S.C. Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation has jurisdiction over the display and content of these signs.

Also, on Wednesday the first public hearing for the comprehensive education reform bill, H. 3759, was held. House Speaker Jay Lucas began the hearing by explaining that the bill is a starting point and asked for the public’s input to fine-tune this important legislation. The K-12 education subcommittee listened to compelling testimony from county officials, teachers and parents from across the state to find ways to incorporate their ideas into the bill.

Speaker Lucas is requesting public input on the education reform bill, with a hearing on February 12th at 5 pm, so teachers and the public can attend after work. If you cannot attend, please click here and provide input via the online survey or contact me directly.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Charleston, and I are working to get our anti-child luring bill, H. 3064, before the Judiciary Committee for a hearing soon. You may recall that this bill was introduced in response to multiple attempts in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston to lure children into vehicles using puppies and candy.

And finally, in an effort to attract more military retirees to South Carolina, the Ways and Means Committee proposed a bill that exempts retirement income for more than 38,000 retired veterans from being taxed.

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

Need for Education Reform

I was honored to be in attendance for Gov. McMaster’s State of the State address on Wednesday and pleased with what he said.

In particular, I stand with the Governor on the critical need to reform and improve our education system, lower taxes by returning a portion of the budget surplus to taxpayers in the form of a tax rebate, and protect our coastal economy and environment from offshore oil drilling.

The need for education reform was the main topic in Columbia this week, not only in Gov. McMaster’s address, but in the House where House Speaker Jay Lucas introduced an 84-page comprehensive education reform bill, H. 3759, that I support.

The Speaker’s bill would substantially increase teachers’ salaries, dissolve failing school districts, consolidate small school districts, improve job-training and encourage innovations. The bill includes a Student Bill of Rights that ensures every student has highly qualified teachers, excellent principal leadership and a system that puts their successes first. I am hopeful for its passage.

As a lead sponsor, I filed two bills this week. One is a re-filed bill, H. 3731, from the last session that would vastly expedite the regulation of synthetic opioids or “designer drugs” by the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control.

Currently, when a new unregulated synthetic opioid shows up on the market it takes at least four weeks to be able to list it as a controlled substance. My bill would allow the SCDHEC Director to immediately list it, allowing law enforcement to immediately crack down on its sale.

The other bill, H. 3750, affects deer hunters by changing two of the doe tags from Saturday use only to any day use, which I think is fairer to hunters.

Yesterday, I was honored to take part in the annual Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast with Rep. Carl Anderson and Senators Stephen Goldfinch and Ronnie Sabb. It was great to talk with constituents and answer questions.

It’s a privilege to serve as a state Representative. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

A busy week in the legislature

I wanted you to know that this second week of the House session was a busy one.

On Monday, I had my first Legislative Oversight Committee meeting. We heard public testimony from the Departments of Mental Health and Motor Vehicles and the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School.

I had an Agricultural, Natural Resource and Environmental Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday. We heard testimony from the Department of Natural Resources about the turkey population and proposed changes to the hunting season.

On Wednesday, the Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee met. Our committee recommended seven bills for sponsorship, one of which I’m the lead sponsor. It requires opioid abuse training as part of the continuing education requirements for veterinarians, who are able to prescribe opioids for animals that might fall into the wrong hands.

I cosponsored a bill that would prohibit actions by the state to facilitate seismic testing and the transportation or storage of Atlantic Ocean offshore oil or gas onto the land or waters of our state. We cannot risk our coastal economy and environment on the inevitable oil spills that come with offshore drilling.

I signed on as a cosponsor to a bill to further combat human trafficking. The bill revises the definition of "sex trafficking" to include certain sexual exploitation and prostitution offenses involving minors.

Gov. McMaster released his executive budget this week which includes an extra $1 billion of one-time money and tax revenues the state can expect to collect this year. I support the Governor on many of the issues in his proposed budget, including a five percent across-the-board salary increase for teachers that brings the average teacher salary above the southeastern average and using a part of the surplus for tax relief in the form of a tax rebate.

And finally, this week, I joined my fellow House members in unanimously supporting legislation to exempt federal workers in S.C. from being penalized for not paying their property taxes on time while the federal government is shut down.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve in the House of Representatives. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Honored to be in the House leadership

The legislative session started this week and I was appointed a majority whip by the House Speaker.

I’m honored to be in this House leadership position.

I was reappointed to the Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs and Opioid Abuse Prevention Study committees and appointed to the Legislative Oversight Committee.

On Wednesday, I attended the inauguration of Gov. McMaster. His inauguration address focused heavily on tax reform, education reform, infrastructure and making sure South Carolina has a bright future. I appreciate the Governor’s leadership and his service to our state.

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.

A bill I filed last session, that I refiled this session, would make it illegal to lure a child into a vehicle using things like candy or puppies. Click here for the bill.

Surprisingly, this is not already a crime in South Carolina. Last year, I was made aware of concerns by Mt. Pleasant town officials about attempted efforts by adults to lure children into cars or vans and the inability to charge the person with a crime.

Next week committees start working on bills. I have Legislative Oversight and Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee meetings on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

Tomorrow, I’m privileged to speak at the annual meeting of the Litchfield Country Club POA. I look forward to this opportunity to meet and hear from constituents.

It’s an honor and privilege to serve in the state House. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

SC Representatives Lee Hewitt and Nancy Mace Refile Bill to Outlaw Child Luring

Child luring is not a crime in South Carolina after multiple
attempts reported in Mt. Pleasant and City of Charleston

Hewitt-Mace_III.jpegMT. PLEASANT, S.C. – Two lowcountry legislators refiled a bill Tuesday that would make it illegal to attempt to lure a child into a vehicle after multiple attempts to lure children were recently reported in Mt. Pleasant and City of Charleston. South Carolina has no law that makes child luring a crime.

Reps. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown and Nancy Mace, R-Charleston, refiled a bill they introduced in the last legislative session in response to multiple attempts of child luring in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston. Residents may recall a publicized event in October of 2017 when an individual attempted to lure multiple children into a van using a puppy.

Click here for the bill.

“Rep. Mace and I are one hundred percent committed to seeing this bill pass, giving law enforcement officers the tools they badly need to arrest these creeps who would do harm to our children,” Hewitt said. “The legislature must make this issue a priority. Children are at risk.”

“As a mother, it is mind blowing to me that the state of South Carolina hasn’t given law enforcement the tools necessary to arrest individuals who would attempt to lure a child away,” Mace stated. “After multiple attempts just in this last year alone, two in Mt. Pleasant and one on the Charleston peninsula, this legislation should be our number one priority when it comes to crimes against children.”

In October, Mt. Pleasant police reported a man in a U-Haul pick-up truck attempted to lure children into the truck with a bucket of gum. The man was stopped by police, but law enforcement was unable to charge him with a crime.

Click here for the news report.

Mt. Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie and police chief Carl Ritchie expressed strong support for the bill:

“We thank Representatives Hewitt and Mace for representing Mount Pleasant so well in the legislature and for introducing this bill. Our town council looked into this matter after several local incidents raised public awareness and we back our fine law enforcement professionals in recommending passage of this bill in order to protect our children,” Mayor Haynie said.

“The current state kidnapping statute allows for law enforcement to make a charge of ‘attempted kidnapping’, however it does not address the act of luring a child in the detail the proposed anti-luring law would provide,” Chief Ritchie said. “As a law enforcement official with over 30 years’ experience I support the proposed anti-luring law and know it would better equip law enforcement agencies when dealing with situations outlined in the law and provide the level of protection our children deserve.”

The state House will take up the bill when the session starts January 8th.

Rep. Lee Hewitt’s interview by Quintin Washington

Monday, November 19th, Rep. Lee Hewitt did this video interview about his second term in office with Charleston journalist Quintin Washington on his Quintin’s Close-Ups web show. Lee talked about some of his legislative priorities, which include education improvement, stopping offshore oil drilling off our coast and road improvements like construction of the badly needed Southern Evacuation Life Line Hwy.

Goldfinch and Hewitt: Recent flooding spotlights need for evacuation highway

By Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and Rep. Lee Hewitt

Hewitt-Goldfinch_copy_II.jpgIn the month of September, Georgetown and Horry counties faced a disaster on two fronts. First, as Hurricane Florence slowly moved toward the coast we faced a strengthening category four storm. Then, as it moved ashore in North Carolina, we watched the storm stall and dump up to 17 inches of rain into the watershed that drains into rivers that feed into Winyah Bay.

Both of these scenarios required the local Emergency Operations Centers to call for evacuations of the affected areas. Luckily, we were spared damage from the land fall of Florence. However, we were not so lucky from the affects of the rainfall. The flooding caused closure of Highways 501, 22 and 9 in Horry County and aqua dams were installed on Highways 17 and 521 in Georgetown County as the Dept. of Natural Resources flood modeling projected these roads would become impassable as well. If Hwy 17 had become inundated with flood waters as predicted this would have been a nightmare situation for both counties, with the Grand Strand and particularly the Waccamaw Neck becoming inaccessible islands.

As we look back and review the outcome, it’s obvious the proposed Southern Evacuation Lifeline Highway (SELL) must become a priority for the safety of our residents and visitors. This proposed 28-mile limited access highway connecting Hwy 31 with U.S. 378 would vastly improve access across the Waccamaw River between Conway and Georgetown, providing a needed additional transportation corridor in the event other vital roadways became flooded and impassable.

Studies by the S.C. Dept. of Transportation and the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce show the SELL project will reduce traffic congestion, improve road network efficiency and significantly expedite hurricane evacuations, particularly for Georgetown County, and now it’s clear the project would also improve safety in the event of flooding.

Planning for this important road began in 2003 and a feasibility study was completed in 2009. Currently, Horry County has allocated $25 million for the final environmental impact study, road design and right-of-way acquisition. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $600 million price tag. While there are many road improvements that are important and needed in our area, we call on our Congressional delegation to help us find funding for this very important evacuation route.

Recently, Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order creating the S.C. Floodwater Commission, which we applaud. This commission is tasked with identifying potential short and long-term mitigation solutions for low lying and coastal areas along the state’s rivers. We ask this commission to address a flawed FEMA home buyout program that bars many hard-working families impacted by flooding from qualifying for the mitigation program. We also ask for additional funding to improve the accuracy of the DNR flood modeling, which was flawed, particularly for Georgetown County. It is vital that local Emergency Operation Centers and the residents of affected areas have the best possible information to plan for a flood event.

It is important that we begin to address these critical needs as soon as possible to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors.

Sen. Goldfinch and Rep. Hewitt live in Murrells Inlet and represent Districts 34 and 108 respectively in the SC General Assembly.

Hewitt named Legislator of the Year

First freshman legislator ever named Legislator of the Year

COLUMBIA -- Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, along with Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford, R-Horry, were named Legislators of the Year Monday by the S.C. Association of Realtors.


Reps. Lee Hewitt and Heather Ammons Crawford with their awards.

Hewitt is the first freshman legislator to ever win the award.

“I’m honored to have been awarded Legislator of the Year, particularly as a freshman legislator,” Hewitt said. “My sincere thanks to the association for this award.”

Hewitt was the lead sponsor for legislation signed into law this year that reforms the process for determining beachfront jurisdictional lines. Where these lines are drawn impacts first, and in many cases, second row properties regarding the structures that can be built or rebuilt.

Hewitt was a cosponsor of the S.C. Homeowners Association Act, which was also signed into law this year. This reform legislation requires increased HOA transparency concerning notices, budgets and documents.

Hewitt, a Murrells Inlet realtor, serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and Environmental Affairs Subcommittee, Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee and Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee.

He is also a former S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board member.