Take a look at what most of our freshman legislators have done thus far in Columbia, and you might get the understandable idea that they’re largely getting their feet under them and finding out how it all works before attempting any substantive work.
Together, the four newcomers from Horry County – Sen. Greg Hembree and Reps. Heather Ammons Crawford, Kevin Hardee and Mike Ryhal – have proposed three insubstantial resolutions honoring local folks, one road-naming resolution and two actual lawmaking bills, neither of which got further than the committee level.
That’s fine. We don’t expect new legislators to get to their desk and change the world the next week. It takes a while to find the bathrooms, let alone draft regulations and learn to navigate the halls of power.
But one newcomer from Georgetown hasn’t wasted any time getting his feet wet.
Republican Stephen Goldfinch of Murrells Inlet showed up in January ready to go. He’s already introduced 13 pieces of legislation this year, including what he said was the first bill by a freshman to pass the House this year. A former commercial spear fisherman, many of those efforts take aim at issues near and dear to his Murrells Inlet fishing constituents.
Goldfinch has proposed easing limits on black sea bass fishing, came out against vessel monitoring systems under consideration and is attempting to make it harder for restaurants to label seafood as local if it’s not.
“There’s no reason that a fish market or a restaurant should lie to us about what’s on the menu,” he told us this week.
But he’s not just the fisherman’s man in Columbia. He’s also proposed a sales tax exemption on the sale of clothing for needy children, penalties for those who reap benefits by falsely claiming military service or awards, and stronger rules for the financial audits that municipalities must submit to the state treasurer.
That last idea caught our eye as a potentially good way to prod Atlantic Beach toward some action on its notoriously lax accounting. If a municipality is more than 13 months late in submitting its financial audits (as Atlantic Beach is), the treasurer withholds state-collected fines and fees from the town (as has happened to Atlantic Beach). Goldfinch’s bill would add another penalty, decreeing that if a municipality still hasn’t caught up 13 months after the treasurer begins withholding money, it would surrender its charter and unincorporate.
“We decided to put some teeth in the law and simply make it where it’s necessary to follow the law,” Goldfinch said. He said he talked with local mayors about the idea and they were all supportive.
The legislative calendar means the bill isn’t likely to pass this year, but it could yet pass next year. Better yet, Atlantic Beach could take its mere filing as a warning and get its books in order as a preventive measure.
Goldfinch recognizes that he’s been busier than many freshmen and said that he has benefited from good mentoring, particularly from his deskmate, Myrtle Beach Rep. Alan Clemmons, as well as Surfside Beach Rep. Nelson Hardwick and Murrells Inlet Sen. Ray Cleary.
It would be a mistake to judge the effectiveness or performance of legislators solely on the quantity of legislation they propose. Much can be done behind the scenes and in amending the proposals of others. But when Goldfinch returns to his constituents and they ask what he’s done, he will at least be able to point to his proposals as concrete evidence that he hasn’t been asleep at his desk. He’s been hard at work, and the citizens he represents should be grateful for that busyness.