This week saw the first round of one of the biggest decisions faced by the General Assembly in modern times: whether or not to sell the state-owned Santee Cooper utility company. This is a major decision worth billions of dollars. In addition to being a direct utility for some areas along the South Carolina coast, it is a major supplier of power to the state’s electric co-cops and owns the state’s two largest lakes: Lakes Marion and Moultrie.

This started with the introduction of House Bill 4940 , which was quickly passed by the House and sent to the Senate this week. This legislation will establish the formal framework by which three options will be considered: accept the best-qualified proposal to sell Santee Cooper to a privately-owned utility company, accept the best-qualified proposal Santee Cooper to be managed by privately-owned utility company or to keep Santee Cooper and attempt to reform the utility while keeping state ownership and management.

There will be a number of hearings by both the House and Senate to consider the various courses of action, with the intent of reaching a decision in the spring. The failure of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant project has resulted in staggering debt, lawsuits and higher rates for electric customers who are served by Santee Cooper as well as those utilities which buy electricity for their customers. It’s an issue we must push to a resolution as soon as possible.

While Santee Cooper was the biggest issue happening at the State House, the House was busy on a number of other matters.

STATE ETHICS COMMISSION: State House members voted unanimously to elect Alonzo "AJ" Holloway and Victor Li to serve on the State Ethics Commission. This board is responsible for overseeing ethics reporting, including campaign finance reporting for candidates and financial interest reporting for public officials

EDUCATION REFORM: Much my work this week was in the Education Committee, where I serve as the Chair of the K-12 Education Subcommittee, which deals with issues related to our state’s K-12 school system. We moved three bills out of subcommittee and they will be going before the House:

House Bill 4761 addresses needed education reforms related to testing and reading and math skills:
·        Of the 5 universal early literacy and numeracy tests allowed for K through Grade 3 students, they must be evidence-based to ensure they are effective measures, following a multi-tiered system of supports adopted by the state’s Department of Education.
·        School districts must be able to identify students with dyslexia and other reading disorders as early as possible to ensure.
·        School districts are authorized - and required - to offer summer reading camps for students that are substantially not proficient in reading earlier than 3rd grade.
·        The state Department of Education will hire reading coaches in the districts that have more than one-third of third grade students scoring at the lowest achievement level on the State English/language arts assessment.
Two other bills passed out of my subcommittee deal with the growing problems associated with school lunch programs and will go before the full House in the coming weeks:

·         House Bill 3328 would require school districts to provide the same breakfast and lunch options to students who pay for free or reduced lunches that they offer to those who pay full price.
·         House Bill 4765 would prevent school districts from using debt-collection agencies to collect unpaid breakfast or lunch money owed by students. It would also prevent school districts from charging fees, interest or any other penalties for breakfast or lunch money.

The House also passed House Bill 3066 , which would require the destruction of arrest records for those who are arrested as a result of mistaken identity and require that to be done at no charge to the person who was wrongfully-arrested. This bill now goes before the Senate for their consideration.

Much of the work in the State House in the next few weeks will focus on the Santee Cooper issue, as well as the state budget. A lot of work will also continue on the Education front, as we continue the work we began last year on education reform. As I am in a lead role on education in the House, this is an important issue of mine.

As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. If I can ever be of assistance to you, please don't hesitate to contact me at  RayeFelder@SCHouse.gov .

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