The last week of January was a busy one in Columbia filled with committee meetings as well as teachers visiting the State House. We visited with teachers from around the state who came to Columbia while the Senate was addressing the education bill this week and while the House was debating different education initiatives. Representative Huggins and I are hopeful that the Senate will approve some version of the House Education Bill we passed last year so that we can then work to amend this large reform package with the best ideas from both chambers and work to send to Governor McMaster’s desk in the coming weeks to become law.

Nathan Ballentine
Nathan Ballentine SC House of Representatives Richland and Lexington Counties (803) 734-2969 www.nathansnews.com

Education

This week, I (along with every one of my House colleagues) voted for the Teacher Bill of Rights (H. 4753) that addresses many concerns heard from teachers about limitations that have been placed on them in the classroom. This bill addresses student discipline, reducing frivolous lawsuits, cutting out burdensome paperwork, compensation for extra days, providing ongoing professional training, and adding a daily “duty-free” planning period. The bill also enacts a 100 percent property tax credit for teachers in the I-95 corridor.

Boosting our reserves:

The House introduced legislation to raise the state’s reserve limits from 5 percent to 10 percent incrementally over the next several years (H.5081 and H. 5082). We have the opportunity to do this because our economy is doing so well but we still need to prepare our reserves for a potential recession in the future. You may recall in this column two weeks ago, I mentioned my desire and push to double our current $500M reserves with another $500M this year (coming from the $1.8 Billion excess we have for the upcoming budget). If we don’t put a large sum away, I’m afraid you and I don’t want to see where it ends up going.

Other legislation and news:

We voted to expand high school financial literacy program requirements (H.3199) so that students will learn practical lessons in college as well as an education about loans, key loan terms, monthly payment obligations, repayment options, credit, and education loan debt.

To help meet the nursing shortage and to support veterans seeking post-service employment, we passed H.4404 that enables military medics and corpsmen to get credit for their experience as they seek associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees in nursing. Speaking of veterans, the Joint Bond Review Committee (made up of a group of House members and Senators) approved the building of four new veterans nursing homes across the state. Veteran nursing homes will be installed in four counties; Sumter, Florence, Gaffney and Horry. Keep in mind, while only 30,000+ voters here in the are can vote for me and the bill did not include a facility in our community, I am proud to address the needs of our state and was glad to support these counties and their veterans. South Carolina’s mental health agency currently cares for over 500 veterans in three existing nursing homes in Anderson, Columbia and Walterboro, but there are thousands of more Veterans who need our help.

Representative Huggins and I also voted this week for H.4403 which provides for a more expansive definition of “harassment, intimidation, or bullying” in schools and establishes procedures for responding to and re-mediating allegations of bullying.

Lastly, the House unanimously supported H.4076 that requires members of state boards and commissions to sign a document ensuring they have studied and understand their statutory duties and powers. Repeated refusal to sign the required documents constitutes grounds for removal from office by the Governor.

Budget week is still weeks away and Representative Huggins and my subcommittees have been hearing from many state agencies as they request appropriations to fund their missions. The full House will begin floor debate on the budget the week of March 9th. It’s important to me to be sure politicians in Columbia spend your money wisely. While you will hear that we are “spending more than ever”, please know that when we put millions of dollars into reserve account and millions of dollars into tax breaks each year, that counts as “spending”. So always ask me questions anytime you want to know where the money goes. This year (as in other years) we have more money coming into Columbia each year. We need to address this. It’s a good “problem” to have; but we need to restructure our state’s tax code so that more money stays in your wallet than comes to Columbia.

By the time you read this, I will be in Central America on another mission trip with colleagues from my paying job at Movement Mortgage. Prior to these mission trips, I had only been out of the country 3 times in my 49 years. Because of these opportunities, I have now visited Central America villages in multiple countries for the past 5 years. Working with doctors, dentists, and other people to help build community centers and churches. I’ll post pictures on Facebook when I return next week. When I used to hear these countries mentioned, I always had visions of tropical beaches, luxury cruise liners, fine dining and water sports. That’s not where we visit when we make these trips. It is truly eye-opening how others live in other parts of our world. We are extremely blessed to live here in America – especially in the Irmo/Chapin area.

Did you know?

Before I close, I wanted to again point out that the State House has an interactive app that helps keep you up to date on everything happening in the General Assembly and allows you to live stream committee hearings and session. You can locate the app by going to the website www.scstatehouse.gov. Of course, you can always visit www.nathansnews.com as well to stay informed about the State House and our local community. After more than a decade using that site, I’ll finally pay to upgrade to something that may be more appealing to everyone to follow and check each week. Check your email box this week for February’s COMMUNITY UPDATE and be sure to share with your friends and neighbors who may not be on the distribution list.

Thank you again for the privilege to serve you and your family in Columbia. Please call my legislative office anytime I can be of service to you.