This will be my final legislative update for this year. The session has ended and we will reconvene a new session on the second Tuesday in January 2017. As I stated in previous issues, I was disappointed in the progress that was made by the General Assembly; however, I am somewhat pleased that some progress was made during the last month of the session.
My diploma bill passed on the last day of the session. That means that any South Carolina high school student that did not receive their high school diploma only because they did not pass the exit exam can now contact their school district and receive their high school diploma. We also passed the South Carolina Farm Aid Fund Bill which allocates $40 million to provide grants to farmers who suffered as a result of the flood of October 2015.
We passed a bill that would provide an income tax deduction for military retirees and their spouses. We also passed a bill to shorten the legislative session by three weeks. These are just a few of the bills that we passed during the last month of the session. Perhaps the most important piece of legislation that passed near the end of the session is the road funding bill. Although this is not the full bill that we need, it goes a long way in providing funding that will begin to address some of the deplorable conditions of our road system. In this bill we were able to allocate $200 million that will be bonded to provide $4 billion to the transportation department. This funding will replace 400 bridges that are structurally deficient and load restricted and will expand and improve our interstates.
After trying for four years, an ethics reform bill was passed. Although this bill does not represent total ethics reform, it is a step in the right direction. The two major components of this bill is public disclosure of private income sources by appointed and elected officials and the fact that legislators can no longer investigate other elected officials.
That task will be done by an independent panel. Finally, we passed a $7.5 billion dollar general fund budget, which includes $1.2 billion of new revenue. In this budget we were able to provide more funding for public education, local government and much needed funding for several of our state agencies.
The 61,000 dedicated and hardworking state employees will receive a 3.25% cost of living adjustments and the increase in their health insurance premiums are also covered.
This ended up being a somewhat productive session and I hope you know that I enjoy having the opportunity to serve the citizens of South Carolina and especially SC Senate District 36. Please remember to visit www.scsenate.gov to see the bills that I have sponsored and co-sponsored as well as to receive more information about the aforementioned bills. As always, please feel free to contact me at any time that I may be of service.