Legislators discuss 2014 goals

First Byline: 
Jonathan Vickery - Staff Writer

With the 2014 legislative session underway, Barnwell County legislators cite education, especially helping their rural school districts, as a priority.
"Education is always at the top of the list," said Rep. Lonnie Hosey, whose District 91 encompasses most of Barnwell County. He said teachers need to be paid at the national level and more needs to be done to ensure students in poorer districts receive the same level of education as students in bigger ones.
"It's something that has to happen," agreed Rep. Bakari Sellers of increasing pay and giving students more resources. Sellers represents District 90, which includes part of Barnwell County, but is hoping to become the state's next lieutenant governor.
Sen. Brad Hutto (District 40) also hopes to increase public education funding "and therefore our quality of education." Specifically, the formula for school funding needs to be changed to a poverty weighted formula, he said.
He called Gov. Nikki Haley's plan to spend more on poor students, add classroom technology and provide more funding for elementary reading coaches "very beneficial to rural districts" like Barnwell County's. "The quality of a child's education should not depend on the size of the school district they're in," he said.
Improving the state's roads and bridges is another area the three lawmakers agree on.
While more funds have been allotted recently, "we have to do more than the little trickle we did," said Sellers, of how more funds are needed to truly fix the problem. He added they should prioritize what the state's needs.
Hosey estimates they need roughly $20 billion to fix the issues. Though not a popular solution, he said raising the gas tax is a possibility lawmakers should look at. At least two bills have been pre-filed dealing with this matter.
Hutto said they need to ensure funds are spread evenly throughout the rural areas. To prevent the problem from growing, he said they need a "regular schedule" for routine road and bridge maintenance.
Improving roads and bridges can also help economic development by attracting new industries, added Hutto.
Hutto also wants to protect and build back up the local government fund - state money that is distributed to municipalities and counties. "Local governments have not had their funding fully restored," said Hutto of cuts they made to the fund during the economic downturn.
A topic of importance for Sellers is combating domestic violence. That's why he's filed a bill that toughens penalties for first-time offenders, including increasing jail time from 30 days to 180.
Unlike Hutto and Sellers, Hosey has not pre-filed any bills, but said he wants to amend some in order for citizens to better understand them. "My goal is what the people want," said Hosey, who led the way last year to get $100,000 appropriated in the budget for repairs to the Barnwell County Courthouse.
Sellers said he hopes legislators - Democrats and Republicans - can work together to get things done and pass legislation that will help South Carolinians. "We need to put partisan politics aside," he said.
Keep up with the legislative session at www.scstatehouse.gov.