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The national debate over gun laws made its way to Lancaster as a federal legislator stopped through the area to speak Friday, April 12.
Tim Scott, South Carolina’s recently appointed U.S. Senator, was the keynote speaker at the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast.
The event, presented by Nutramax, was held at the Lancaster Golf Course Fairway Room.
Scott, a Republican who replaced Sen. Jim DeMint in January, spoke of his humble beginnings in North Charleston growing up in a single-parent household.
He said he wants to spread a message of hope and opportunity.
“If you think and believe and work, good things are possible,” he told the Fairway Room crowd.
Before being appointed to the Senate by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, Scott served two years in the U.S. House as the state’s District 1 representative.
Prior to that, he served two years in the S.C. House. His first political experience was a 14-year stint on Charleston County Council.
Regarding federal matters, Scott said health care and energy are big issues right now in Washington, D.C., as is gun control.
The junior senator said there will be a “great debate” over the next few weeks on gun laws. Recent mass shootings have thrust the issue back into the forefront over the last several months.
“The Second Amendment is pretty clear and not really up for debate,” Scott said, referencing the constitutional right for citizens to bear arms.
His comment drew applause from many in the crowd.
“If we address the systemic indicators of crime, we do a better job of solving crime,” Scott said. “The focus on education is a far better solution.”
‘Road’ to vitality
Robert J. St. Onge Jr. was the first speaker during Friday’s Legislative Breakfast. He’s the secretary for S.C. Department of Transportation.
He gave a slideshow presentation that highlighted the condition of infrastructure in South Carolina, as well as related financial challenges.
The Palmetto State has the fourth-largest state-maintained highway system in the country. Nearly half of SCDOT’s financial needs are for Interstate highways, 35 percent are for primary roads (such as U.S. 521) and 17 percent are for secondary roads, he said.
However, he said 47 percent of the state’s primary roads and 53 percent of its secondary roads are in poor condition.
“Primary and secondary is where we need to spend some time,” St. Onge said.
St. Onge said funding remains a challenge, as the idea of an increased state gas tax is tossed around. However, with an emergence of more electric vehicles, St. Onge believes that won’t be the “sole solution” for the future.
“Part of my job is to manage the decline of the state highway system,” St. Onge said. “When you don’t have the resources, that’s our challenge.”
When asked by an audience member, St. Onge said there’s been a drop in the rate of fatal highway accidents statewide. Though the state has safe roads, motorists must obey the laws, he said.
“We’re moving in the right direction but we can do better,” he said. “We’ve got to change behaviors.”
After St. Onge spoke, the audience was treated to a panel discussion that featured Lancaster County’s state legislative delegation – Sens. Greg Gregory and Vincent Sheheen and Reps. Deborah Long and Mandy Powers Norrell. Otis Rawl, president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, also sat on the panel.
Coming off Onge’s presentation, many of the comments touched on funding for roads and other infrastructure.
The lawmakers shared their thoughts on raising the state’s gas tax, which is the fourth lowest in the United States.
“I’m in favor of increasing the gas tax,” Gregory said. “To not do it, I think is foolish.” Long said you should “never say never” when it comes to taxes.
“I would consider that, but that’s way down the line,” she said.
Norrell said although Lancaster County’s roads need work, most of them unfortunately “don’t have the traffic to justify the work.”
Sheheen, who recently announced his plans to again run for governor, said the roads are a symbols of what’s going on right now in the state.
“Our state is moving forward,” he said. “We don’t want that (poor roads) to be a symbol.”
Duke Energy’s Rick Jiran, the panel moderator, later asked the speakers about their take on Act 388 – a controversial state law that changed the way public schools are funded.
All of the panelists expressed their opposition to it.
“That’s one of the worst pieces of tax policy that’s ever been passed,” Rawl said. “We need to go back and look at how we fund public education.”
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152