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
Last week I had the privilege of being front and center in the spotlight on the House floor. I spoke twice from the House well.
On Tuesday, I spoke from the well about H. 3856, a resolution I cosponsored to oppose private ownership of our offshore fisheries through what is called “catch shares,” which would severely restrict access to fishery resources, hurting fishermen and our fishing communities. The House unanimously passed the resolution and forwarded it immediately to federal fishery regulators.
I believe the House resolution was instrumental on Wednesday in getting a pilot catch share proposal withdrawn from consideration by fishery regulators.
On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of introducing the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce’s 25th Leadership Georgetown class to the House from the well. I also had a chance to meet with the class and chamber President and CEO Beth Stedman and talk about issues over dinner in Columbia. It was great to be with these up and coming county leaders.
The issue of plastic bag regulation by cities and counties came to the House floor last week in the form of the “plastic bag” bill, H. 3529, which would have prohibited cities and counties from enacting ordinances restricting or banning the use of the bags. The bill is in response to Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms adopting such ordinances.
In a close 50-49 vote, debate was ended on the bill, effectively killing it for this year. I voted to kill the bill, because I think home rule is important for cities and counties – they should have the right to regulate plastic bags if they so choose.
On Tuesday, I voted for a bill aimed at improving moped safety, which passed on a 75-29 vote. The bill requires moped drivers to either have a valid driver’s license or a separate moped exclusive license, wear a reflective vest at night and a helmet if they are under 21 and it applies drunken driving laws to mopeds.
This week the budget bill hits the House floor for debate, which should make for long legislative days and an interesting week.
I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Lee Hewitt
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.
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
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
“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.”
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
"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."