A lot of the news coverage of the end of the General Assembly’s legislative session has focused on the more “popcorn worthy” moments of the Senate choosing its internal leadership. But what those news stories left out is that despite it all, 2014 was a banner year for education, government restructuring and common-sense reform.
When it comes to education, I’m pleased to announce after two years of hard work, we finally passed my Read to Succeed initiative. There’s a reason the old song about “reading, writing and ’rithmatic” puts reading first. Reading is the foundation for all educational success. These days, you often hear folks say, “Up until third grade, children learn to read. After third grade, they read to learn.”
Read to Succeed means that in early childhood education, our educators are going to be laser-focused on making sure South Carolina’s children can read and ending social promotion.
Read to Succeed is based on another simple principle – that we in South Carolina know better than bureaucrats in Washington, DC, what our kids need. It was for that reason that we took another major step this year – we passed a bill to pull South Carolina out of the Common Core testing standards.
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Common Core was well-intentioned at first, but then it became a tool of the Obama administration to reward states that went along with it, and punish those that didn’t. I don’t believe anyone outside of South Carolina has any business dictating our educational standards to us, and so the General Assembly acted to stop it.
In addition to education, 2014 was an incredible year for government restructuring. In too many ways, South Carolina’s government is still operating like a horse and buggy in a smart-car world. It only makes sense to modernize our structure so that our government is more transparent and accountable to those we serve.
This year, the Department of Administration bill finally passed after nearly a decade of effort. The bill finally gets rid of the antiquated Budget and Control Board, a powerful government entity that existed only in South Carolina.
The Department of Administration places many of the board’s old functions directly under the governor. There’s a simple principle at work here – the buck needs to stop somewhere, and that wasn’t happening in South Carolina. Letting the governor control an agency doesn’t guarantee better results, but it guarantees accountability for an agency’s successes, and for its failures.
In addition, we continued the progress made two years ago when we gave voters the option of electing the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket. This year, we put forward a referendum to allow future governors to appoint the Adjutant General. Currently, South Carolina is the only state in the nation that elects an Adjutant General, and it’s a situation that simply didn’t make sense when it comes to chain of command during a state of emergency.
Finally, I was proud to work with the House to pass common-sense reforms aimed at improving quality of life and public safety in South Carolina.
We passed Emma’s Law, which strengthens DUI laws for first time and repeat offenders. The new law will also expand the use of ignition interlock devices. In that same vein, we’ve passed a statewide texting-while-driving ban to crack down on this dangerous behavior.
All of that being said, this year was not without a couple of disappointments. Our state’s roads are in sorry shape, and a bill to begin addressing our road funding deficiencies was held up and didn’t get over the finish line. You can be sure addressing our deficient roads and bridges will be a top priority next year.
As well, a comprehensive ethics reform bill, despite passing both the House and Senate, ended up bogged down at the last minute concerning differences between the House and Senate versions. Ethics reform is critical to making sure people have trust in the government they elect, and I’m committed to making its final passage a top priority next year.
I’m proud of our record of reform this year, and it’s a record I believe the people of South Carolina can be proud of, too.
Sen. Harvey S. Peeler Jr. represents Dist. 14, which includes York County. He is chairman of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee. He can be reached at 803-212-6430.