This week, Governor McMaster delivered his first State of the State address to the General Assembly and members of the House spent significant time on the floor debating two bills to reform the regulatory bodies that oversee utilities and set utility rates in South Carolina.
On Tuesday, the House passed its first bill included in a series of legislation designed to increase protection for ratepayers who have been affected by the VC Summer nuclear debacle. This legislation creates a Utilities Consumer Advocate, grants subpoena power to the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) and the Consumer Advocate, and removes a utility’s financial integrity from ORS’s concerns. By removing a utility’s financial integrity from its purview, ORS will be required to focus solely on the consumer’s interests. The House passed this bill 114-1.
The following day, the House passed a second proposal to abolish the Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC) and create a Utilities Oversight Committee. This new committee will be comprised of House and Senate members and an equal number of appointments from the general public. Having the balance between “real people” and the politicians was important to me. I made this recommendation last October and I’m glad my colleagues agreed to open up the committee to individuals from the public who, most likely, have more experience and knowledge than some of the politicians. The bill also imposes strict ethical requirements to prohibit outside influence from utilities regulated by the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) and the Public Service Commission (PSC).
These bills were a direct result from the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee’s work over the summer and fall. Serving on this important committee provided me the opportunity to learn more about what happened and, most importantly, how to avoid this in the future. (I did not accept pay during these hearings and, since I was serving in an oversight capacity in this situation, I returned SCANA’s campaign contribution this summer.) When this news broke this summer (during family vacation), I called our Speaker and told him I wanted to serve and I wanted to be sure the work of the committee would be considered when we returned this session. I’m glad my House colleagues have now debated and approved the first two pieces of legislation we filed. There is much more to come.
After passing these two reform bills, my colleagues and I heard from Governor McMaster as he delivered his State of the State address. The address highlighted numerous matters of policy, many of which the House has already championed in our work this session. Among them are: protecting ratepayers and regulatory reform, workforce development, ethics reform and education reform to name a few. The Governor proclaimed our state to be in good order, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on legislative matters this session.
This week, the House also said farewell to our dear colleague, former representative Eric Bedingfield, and welcomed his replacement, Representative Ashley Trantham (R-Pelzer). Bedingfield leaves the House after a decade of distinguished service and was presented with the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in our state. We also added Representative Nancy Mace (R-Daniel Island). Presently, only one seat is vacant – House District 69 which had been represented by Rick Quinn until he was suspended from the House and has since resigned.
I want to encourage you to continue to contact me directly on any matter in the House (or Senate). While our Senator John Courson is supsended, I have been handling many requests for his constituents. Many who live right here in our House District and some who live in other parts of Richland and Lexington Counties.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia again this year. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at home: 732-1861.