Three area state senators are optimistic that 2017 could be a year of legislative progress, with a positive impact for Horry County and the Grand Strand. When the General Assembly convenes this month in Columbia, “it will be a new session, a new year and a new atmosphere,” Sen. Luke Rankin of Myrtle Beach told The Sun News Editorial Board. Rankin has served in the S.C. Senate since 1993. Greg Hembree of Little River was re-elected in November to a second four-year term and Stephen L. Goldfinch Jr. was elected a senator after serving in the House.
The new atmosphere to which Rankin alludes is the leadership of Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who will become governor if Gov. Nikki Haley is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as ambassador to the United Nations. Haley has bipartisan support and her nomination by President-elect Donald Trump is expected to be confirmed. All three senators expressed optimism for a better working relationship between the legislative and executive branches, Rankin and Goldfinch being more outspoken on that topic.
“Surely it can’t be any worse,” Rankin says of Haley’s attitude and approach. Goldfinch added that the Horry County “delegation begged Haley to help us with a number of issues, including beach renourishment,” to no avail. Haley has “disdain for anything east of the [Intracoastal] Waterway, including beach renourishment.”
McMaster was the S.C. attorney general before being elected lieutenant governor with Haley in 2014. He became an ally of Haley after running against her in the 2010 Republican primary. She won the governorship and was re-elected two years ago. While Haley served in the House, she has had an off-again, on-again, at times abrasive, approach with legislative leaders.
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As lieutenant governor, McMaster has presided over the Senate, so he understands the legislative process, including the give-and-take that can mean progress on such issues as infrastructure and public education, two of the state’s most pressing problems. Comprehensive funding for highways and bridges includes an increase in the gasoline (motor fuel) tax, thwarted by Haley’s threats to veto such legislation.
Haley did veto legislation that would have placed mopeds and their drivers under the motor vehicle code. Hembree and Rep. Crosby of North Charleston have pre-filed bills for another try. After the Haley veto in 2016, the House overrode but the Senate ran out of time, although there were enough votes to override.
Additional legislative concerns include placement of a constitutional amendment on the ballot to appoint, not elect, the state education superintendent. Reform of how homeowners associations operate is likely to come up again, as well as changes in the criminal code to try and deal with the heroin epidemic. Other area concerns include the state training of law enforcement officers and tightening the dram shop laws to require liability insurance.