Statehouse Report – January 24

House Republicans began moving several pieces of our ambitious, seven-piece agenda through the House – after only seven days of session.

The first major achievement was reforming how the General Assembly spends your tax dollars. I know you’re getting tired of hearing about this but I wanted you to see that my colleagues have taken the first step towards EARMARK REFORM.

You and I have been talking about this for years, and I’m glad to see that others are finally talking (and acting on it) this year!

I pledged at the beginning of the year to make spending more transparent by reforming the anonymous earmarks that are a piece of nearly every government budget throughout the nation. The reform we passed allows House members to object to any budget item not specifically requested by a state agency. That item must be defended or it will require a separate two-thirds vote by the membership of the House.

For example, if someone puts an item called “Pickens County Water Facility” in the budget, that member will have to defend the project through a written description or on the House floor. My colleagues and I will get to determine the merit of the specific project. Seems obvious, right? At first glance, that title might make you (and many of my colleagues) think “I’m guessing Pickens needs a water-treatment facility and has exhausted all local financing measures possible?” While that could actually be the case, what we never knew was another possibility: could there be a water park being built for a local Representative/Senator and could this really be a way to garner votes back home?

We now should know more about who is requesting funds as well as where those funds are going.

I understand that the budget process can be overwhelmingly complicated to you (it’s not exactly easy for us over here) so I’m hopeful this brings a new measure of transparency and accountability to the process.

This is only a start, but it takes effect immediately and will change how we write this year’s state budget. We will also pursue a permanent, statutory change this year. Presently I know of three bills: Speaker Harrell’s, Representative Michael Thompson’s, and mine.

Each bill varies a little. The Speaker’s allows for a 2/3 “override” if a name/description is not listed (this is identical to the House Rule Change we passed this week). Mine has no “2/3 provision” and states (paraphrased) “No name, description – no consideration, no funding”. Rep. Thompson’s bill also eliminates the Competitive Grants Fund in addition to dealing with the budget process.

Two other major agenda items filed this week were an additional tax cut for married couples, exempting more of their income from state income tax; and a proposal to designate the $300 sales tax you pay on cars to fund improvements to our state’s roads and bridges.

In addition, the top item on our agenda – illegal immigration reforms – moved to the House floor this week after debate in the House Judiciary Committee. It is a sweeping package of reforms that requires law enforcement to determine the legal status of any person arrested for committing a crime, prohibits sanctuary cities, prohibits college admission and scholarships for illegal aliens, and prohibits paying public benefits and public employment for illegal aliens.

The bill also makes it a felony to possess false identification papers, but provides safeguards for businesses that unknowingly hire illegal immigrants that use falsified Social Security or other documents.

This debate should occur next Wednesday and will probably be the first legislation that receives lengthy discussion from both sides of the aisle.