With the session scheduled to close in a couple of weeks, I can say we had a pretty productive time of since we reconvened on the second Tuesday in January. We have passed a rational, conservative budget that will be reconciled with the Senate version very likely before you see this column.
We also passed several opioid abuse prevention bills to try and tamp down the rising casualty rate from this pernicious epidemic. Speaker Jay Lucas appointed the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee early in the session to recommend a number of measures to address this matter. Their work product included increased availability of opioid overdose antidotes, a database to track prescriptions for these drugs and new limits on their prescription.
The effort is to provide a venue for cooperation between the medical community, the pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacists, and law enforcement, to attack this scourge from multiple directions.
The House, by a large margin, also passed a Santee-Cooper reform bill to protect ratepayers, and to prevent another catastrophic failure such as the V.C. Summer nuclear energy project. The bill increased Santee-Cooper Board of Directors’ accountability by revamping the utility’s governance structure.
There is also a Rate Reduction and Stability Fund, as well as a study committee to evaluate whether a sale of the utility would be in the best interests of ratepayers and taxpayers. They would also vet any potential buyers.
We also took steps to help preserve the population of one of our state’s favorite game and food fish, the Red Drum. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented information that indicated that the rate of reproduction of these fish was less than optimal, most likely from overfishing.
We therefore reduced the current catch limit from three to two a day, and prohibited gigging of Red Drum any time of the year.
These modest efforts, according to our experts, should, in time, stabilize fish populations and preserve this excellent fish for many years to come.
With all the productivity sampled above not withstanding, there was one important bill that fell short. It was H.4421, also known as the Solar Bill.
This measure sought to build on the success of the legislature’s good work of several years ago when they jump-started the rooftop solar panel industry in the state. It helped to create 3,000 to 4,000 solar jobs, but was capped at 2 percent of the local utility’s customers.
The Solar Bill was, among other things, to raise the cap and also clear up some inequity in how the utilities charged their customers. There was a constitutional issue with the bill that could have been easily remedied, but the legion of utility lobbyists piled in and peeled away some members from the necessary super-majority on the last vote.
As a cosponsor of the bill and a supporter of renewable energy, I was disappointed.
Fortunately, the core support around the state in both the General Assembly and among South Carolinians is still intact and growing. A more evolved bill will appear early in the next session and I am optimistic it will become law.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.