Despite extreme difficulties of dealing with COVID-19 issues since March, I can say this has been a banner final few months for the Beaufort County delegation in the General Assembly when it comes to achievements.
As chairman of the Beaufort County Delegation for the past three years, I am extremely gratified about the success we have had as a bipartisan team both in the House and in the Senate.
My fellow representatives (both Republican and Democrat) Bill Herbkersman, Weston Newton, Shannon Erickson, Michael Rivers and Shedron Williams, along with senators Tom Davis, Chip Campsen and Margie Bright Matthews, have worked together on several key issues to improve the quality of life in Beaufort County and the Lowcountry.
The biggest success of all was in August when the State Infrastructure Bank had $363 million to allocate across the state for road projects. The SIB sent $176 million of it (48%) to our area, including $120 million for our Hilton Head Island bridges and roadways, plus another $56 million for the expansion of Exit 3 on Interstate I-95 and concurrent widening of the interstate.
Then, when the General Assembly was able to return to an abbreviated session last month, our delegation played a key role in passing important new legislation affecting our area that included:
• Extending the period in which property owners must redeem properties sold at tax sales, from one year to two years. This extension helps those owners who have been struggling financially during the pandemic from losing their property. It’s especially advantageous for owners of heirs’ property, of which there are many on Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie.
• Postponing for one year the Dec. 31 deadline for local governments to complete comprehensive land use and master plans they might have in process. The change enables Beaufort County, Hilton Head Island and other local counties and municipalities across the state to have more time to fine tune their plans to better achieve their objectives.
The amendment was attached to a bill in the Senate that authorizes the use of local hospitality tax revenue for flood mitigation – a matter of increasing importance here in Beaufort County.
• Establishing a new State Resiliency Fund and Resiliency Office to manage, finance and mitigate storm surge, sea level rise and nuisance flooding. According to the bill, this new office will develop, implement and maintain a statewide resilience plan that can coordinate disaster recovery efforts between federal, state and local government agencies.
This is another significant step that could prove critical to our area.
• Providing WiFi hot-spots for lower income K-12 students with no available internet so that they will have the capability to participate in virtual home instruction during COVID-19, and as an emergency response solution for these families while the state’s universal broadband proposed program is getting underway.
Altogether, it has been a most successful past three months.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.