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Features : Editorial Last Updated: Aug 21, 2013 - 9:17:40 AM

Legislative Update - August 22, 2013
By Rep Jim Merrill Hanahan, Daniel Island, Cainhoy, Mt Pleasant, Goose Creek
Aug 21, 2013 - 9:16:31 AM

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As our soggy summer comes to an end, the start of school and the beginning of football season (high school, college, NFL and English Premier League!) hints at a fun and exciting fall. On the political front, the House Ways and Means committee will begin its annual budget process in the next few weeks, but for the most part the state legislature will be out of session.  
In my previous column I promised to follow up on local items of interest, so this report is dedicated to explaining new precinct changes in Berkeley County; activity at the State Ports Authority; and by special request, the Aviation Authority.  
During the last general election there were better than two hour waits at some polling locations.  Of course, this is a result of high growth and increased population. State law currently reads that a precinct should be divided at approximately 1500 voters.  That rule is somewhat antiquated since it was made during the era of paper ballots, and electronic voting machines have expedited the voting process.  According to state election officials the actual number should be somewhere between 1800 and 2100 registered voters.  
After consulting with state and local election officials it was recommended that there be three new precincts for lower Berkeley County. I introduced a bill that was co-sponsored by the Berkeley County delegation that increases the number of precincts on Daniel Island and in the Cainhoy area from two to five.  
The new precincts will be named Daniel Island 1,2 and 3; The Village; and Yellow House. (I honestly have no idea who is responsible or how those names came about, but someone clearly dropped the creativity ball with the DI precincts!) We are still working to determine the physical location for voting and Adam Hammonds with Berkeley County Voter Registration and Elections is working to identify those sites. Notification will be sent out as soon as that process if finalized.    
No changes were recommended for Hanahan or Mt Pleasant so voting locations remain the same in those areas.  
Concerning the State Ports Authority, there has been a good deal of activity. I serve on the Legislative Port Oversight Committee (along with Senator Grooms) and it is significant that two people from the Lowcountry are involved with the SPA because the majority of that committee, and the SPA Board of Trustees, and the Budget and Control Board are from other parts of the state.  
While the makeup of these Boards is good for creating a macro, pro-business perspective, it can be detrimental when considering the infrastructure needs, local impact, and quality of life issues affected by SPA activity.  
The SPA is currently addressing numerous issues, but its primary focus has been to increase its market share; complete the Navy Base expansion project; and receive the necessary approval to reach a 50 foot depth for the harbor so it can handle post-panamax ships.
The land that the SPA owns on Daniel Island is divided into two parts - that which is used for dredge disposal and a smaller amount of high ground.  By law, the high ground is to be sold as of December 31st of this year or it reverts to the Budget and Control Board.
However, in May I wrote a proviso for the budget that extends the SPA time period for transferring or selling the Daniel Island property by 6 months - until June 30, 2014 instead of December 31, 2013.  
The primary reason for this proviso is to put the law on the same timetable as the annual state budget, which is from July to June; and to provide a bit more time for proposals to be researched.  Significantly, there has been increased agreement between the involved parties as to the circumstances affecting the SPA land and its value. That is progress. Furthermore, as strange as it may sound, the ability to negotiate and impact activity is greater for Senator Grooms and myself while the SPA controls the land rather than the Budget and Control Board (again, none of whose members are from this region).  
I believe the SPA is working in good faith to follow the law and I am hopeful that we can work with them over the next year to accomplish those goals that are in the best interest of the Lowcountry and state.  
And finally, the Aviation Authority is a definitely a strange bird. Until recently hardly anyone knew that this group even existed, but with the increased presence of Boeing and tremendous need for upgrades at the terminal it has become highly visible. My opinion is that Sen. Campbell is the correct choice at this time because the very thing that led to discord (political heavy handedness) will not affect him. There is nobody on the current board who can pressure Paul because of his position in the Senate and because he is a highly competent, former CEO of a successful company.  
He should be allowed to get in there and roll up his sleeves so we do not lose momentum on current projects. In the meantime, I believe it is imperative that we restructure the Authority.  There should be an emphasis placed on two things - balancing the number of political and industry/community members and giving Berkeley and Dorchester counties representation. The airport is a regional asset and it should be treated as such. This may require some buy-in from the taxpayers or governments of Berkeley and Dorchester, but what happens at the airport clearly impacts all communities in the tri-county region. I will introduce legislation to reform this entity.
Finally, since elections have been a topic of discussion it is important that we recognize and thank a person who has worked tirelessly for Berkeley County and the Lowcountry, Wanda Farley. In June, Wanda retired as the executive director of Voter Registration and Elections.  During that time she did an amazing job keeping up with election law and technological changes, while addressing constant funding challenges. Her leadership is appreciated and will be greatly missed.        
That about covers it for this week.  Thank you for the opportunity to represent you.
Rep Jim Merrill is the former Majority Leader of the SC House of Representatives and represents District 99.

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