COMMUNITY UPDATE: July 2007

Here’s this month’s regular update to keep you informed of what’s going on in the State House and in our community. Feel free to forward to your friends and neighbors!

I’m sorry for the delay in not sending this out sooner (I usually try to email the first few days of the month). Between family vacation and the new requests to be added to the distribution list, it took a little longer than I had planned for the July update.

Remember, when you send me email, please place the word CONSTITUENT in the subject line so that I can reply to your email before the others I receive daily. Even when we’re out of session in Columbia, the email volume is tremendous.

STATE HOUSE

Just two weeks ago, we FINALLY finished the 1st session of the 117th General Assembly. You may have read all the flurry of events in the final days and oftentimes work from earlier in the session gets overlooked. In this brief space, I will recap some of the major legislation enacted in 2007. (I’ll cover the approved budget in the next section). In the upcoming weeks and months, I will report in more detail the specifics of these laws in my New Irmo News columns.

Elimination of Grocery Tax: EFFECTIVE November 1, 2007.

Income Tax Relief: EFFECTIVE January 1, 2007.

Department of Transportation Reform (includes): qualifications and screening for DOT Commissioners, a Secretary of Transportation appointed by the Governor, mandatory ethics training for employees, a chief internal auditor, compliance and performance audits, and the prioritization of projects using objective criteria.

Prevention of Underage Drinking and Access to Alcohol Act of 2007 requires registration of kegs, equalizes the penalties for the purchase or possession of beer, wine and liquor by minors, requires certain repeat DUI offenders to pay for and have ignition interlock devices installed on any vehicle the repeat offender operates.

South Carolina Critical Need Nursing Initiative Act addresses the need for more nurses as our state is facing a nursing shortage. Provides incentives to retain nurse faculty scholars, attract new nurse faculty, provide loans, grants, and scholarships to IN-STATE resident nursing students, establishes a research office to predict health care workforce needs.

Workers’ Compensation Reform (includes): enhanced penalties for making fraudulent claims, provides for new means of discouraging and investigating fraud, limits and ultimate eliminates the Second Injury Fund, and establishes new requirements for proving medically complex workers’ compensation claims.

Ryan’s Law: requires health insurers to provide coverage for the treatment of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders.

Joint Resolution creating a committee to study the feasibility of offshore natural gas exploration.

Energy Freedom and Rural Development Act establishes tax credits, rebates, and incentive programs to encourage biomass fuel development and utilization.

To learn more about legislation that passed this year (or the status of pending bills), please visit www.scstatehouse.net and explore the site. If you have a specific question and need my assistance, please call or write and I’ll look into the matter for you.

YOUR MONEY

Obviously in a $7 BILLION budget, I can’t mention everything that is included, but I’ll try to touch on some “highlights” for fiscal year 2007-2008:

$221 million in tax relief; a 3% pay raise for state employees and a cost of living adjustment for retirees using $62.7 million; $38.5 million to cover the increased cost of health insurance for state employees; an increase of $94 million to fully fund the Education Finance Act base student cost ; $21 million for Education and Economic Development Act initiatives; $28 million to provide for a nurse in every elementary school in the state; $30.5 million for school buses and $29.5 million for bus fuel and parts; an additional $20 million in recurring and $10 million in non-recurring funds for Medicaid; $22 million in recurring funds to expand coverage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIPs) for children of low-income families so that it includes 200% of poverty level; $5.2 million in recurring funds to provide for 100 new highway patrol troopers; $167 million in non-recurring funds for the port access road; $30 million for advertising South Carolina as a tourist destination.

COMMUNITY

Friarsgate Park will receive $25,000 for the construction of much needed sidewalks. As you may know, the Irmo Little League plays their ball games at the park and have expanded to include a Challenger Series (league for handicapped children). Obviously the sidewalks will be a huge benefit for the children and our community!

Local politics: Irmo Town Councilman, Barry Walker, has announced his intentions to run for the Mayor of Irmo. For details, please visit: http://www.thestate.com/154/story/110238.html

Iceland Skating Rink: A deal is in the works for the purchase of Iceland Irmo. Greg Light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development office in Columbia said the ice rink is under contract, but he would not disclose the people involved in the deal. The deal should be finalized by the end of the month, Light said. The buyer is expected to keep the facility as an ice rink. Iceland closed in May, marking the second failed attempt at owning and managing the large ice rink. The company that owned the business, Roustan Columbia, a subsidiary of Roustan United of Johnstown, Pa., reported it had lost $700,000 on the rink since taking over in 2003. The USDA must approve any sale of the rink because it guaranteed the loan when Iceland was built in 2001.

If you haven’t been on board the Southern Patriot for a Purple Martin Cruise, you haven’t experience the lake like only our area can! Today, Lezlie Patterson (also a member of the community) wrote a great story about Jay Downs and I encourage you to check it out at http://www.thestate.com/154/story/114349.html

Richland County Council has approved funding for the operation of the “Ballentine Library”. As you already know, the facility will be located where the present Bookmobile is parked (outside the Ballentine Food Lion) until a permanent location can be found.

SCHOOLS

Last month, the Board of Trustees voted on proposed changes to the 2007-08 and 2008-09 calendars that would provide student and staff holidays on both Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The board voted unanimously to leave the 2007-08 calendar as previously approved. Therefore, Memorial Day and Veterans Day will not be holidays. The first day of school for teachers will be Thursday, August 16, 2007 and the first day of school for students will be Thursday, August 23, 2007. The last day of school for students will be Thursday, June 5, 2008. The board also voted unanimously to observe the Memorial Day holiday in the 2008-09 school year. Therefore, staff will begin on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 and the first day for students will be Wednesday, August 20, 2008.

Over the past few months, several committees have been at work on various projects for Lexington/Richland School District Five. To learn more about these projects, please visit: http://www.lex5.k12.sc.us/super/schoolfacinfo.html

THANK YOU

I want to thank you for the honor you give me representing you in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Please contact my office, 734-2969, or email me at BallentineN@scstatehouse.net anytime I can be of service to you or your family.

Nathan Ballentine
House of Representatives, District 71
Richland-Lexington Counties
320A Blatt Building
Columbia, SC 29221