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Column: Busy session addressed festering problems

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By Rep. Brandon Newton

Here’s my final legislative summary for you regarding the just-finished General Assembly session.

Roads funding and restructuring
After years of inaction, the General Assembly passed a roads bill that reforms both the DOT and the State Infrastructure Bank, as well as provides a major increase in funding for long-overdue maintenance needs. The governor now has the authority – and responsibility – to appoint, oversee and, when necessary, fire the nine SCDOT Commissioners.
With this reform comes new recurring revenue from a 12-cent increase in the gas tax over six years, a fee on out-of-state truckers, a new fee on car registrations for people who move to the state, and a fee on hybrid cars, which generate less in gas taxes but still use our roads. Thirty percent of the new money will be paid by out-of-state drivers.

Education superintendent
The House passed and sent to the Senate legislation that would allow voters to decide on an amendment to the state Constitution that would allow future governors to appoint the state superintendent of education. If the bill is passed, the issue would be decided in a statewide referendum in November 2018.
I supported this bill because I believe that for governors to properly run the executive branch, they must be able to choose those who run every major state agency.

USC Lancaster funding
During my campaign last year, I promised to fight for fairer state funding for USC Lancaster. South Carolina does not fund its colleges on a per-pupil basis, which has led to USC Lancaster coming in last in funding per student for any public college in the state.
This year, USC Lancaster received an increase of $180,000 in recurring dollars to its budget. This increase will continue to slowly close the gap between us and other colleges. Until the state sets up a fairer system, I will always fight for more funding for our local university. A student in Lancaster is not worth less than a student in Sumter or Columbia.

HOA reform
South Carolina is way behind in having rules that govern Home Owners Associations, which has led to abuses by some developers. I was proud to join representatives from Horry County in pushing for South Carolina’s first laws that address how HOAs are governed.
This legislation would require HOAs to disclose financial documents to their residents and other transparency issues. This bill passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate.

Work-zone safety
I was a co-sponsor of House Bill 4033, a comprehensive work-zone safety law that recently passed. It provides tougher penalties for dangerous driving in work zones and dedicates funds from the penalties to paying for law enforcement. These patrols have been paid for out of construction budgets, so the change will steer millions back into paving roads.

Opioid epidemic
One of the largest problems currently facing our nation and our youth is the rise in opioid abuse. I co-sponsored two bills that became law this year regarding this growing problem.
The first requires that physicians look at a patient’s controlled substance prescription history before prescribing opioids. This will help reduce what is termed “doctor shopping,” where people secretly go to several doctors to get more medicine than one doctor is allowed to prescribe.
The second law will allow pharmacies to accept and dispose of unused medications that might otherwise make their way to addicts.

Moped safety
Many people who operate mopeds do so dangerously, creating traffic congestion and becoming hazards. Many operators have lost their driver’s licenses and continue to drive with the same level of reckless disregard. House Bill 3247, which I supported, makes it illegal – for the first time – to operate a moped while drunk. A special moped license will now be required, which can be suspended for dangerous or drunk driving. And drivers and passengers younger than 21 must wear helmets.

Contact me
No legislative session is ever perfect, but this year some big problems were finally addressed. It was a busy session, and I have enjoyed representing District 45. If you have issues to discuss or questions about state government, please contact me at brandonnewton@schouse.gov.

Republican Brandon Newton represents District 45 in the S.C. House.