February 10, 2016

Aiken County legislator says new job means he won’t seek reelection

State Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken, (Image: Facebook)

State Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken, (Image: Facebook)

An Aiken County Republican who has served in the South Carolina House as a back-bencher for the past four years will not seek reelection this fall.

State Rep. Don Wells announced his decision in a press release Tuesday. He told South Carolina Radio Network he has been offered a new construction job that will not allow him to continue serving part-time in the legislature.

“I actually had hoped that some position may come along that would allow me the opportunity to provide for my family as well as stay in the Statehouse and serve,” he said. “Unfortunately, that did not present itself. But looking at the additional benefits of that is going to be the ability to have more time with my family.”

Wells will serve out the rest of his term this year before taking the new job. He previously owned a paint store in Aiken but had to close two years ago, saying business never recovered from the 2008 recession.

He served on the Aiken City Council for six years before running for the open House District 81 seat in 2012. During his time in the House, Wells has focused much of his attention on the House Education and Public Works Committee where he serves. He sponsored a bill that passed the House last year requiring CPR to be taught in high school health classes. The measure remains in a Senate committee. He sponsored a bill in 2013 dealing with notary public qualifications that also passed the House but never cleared the Senate.

The 56-year-old Wells said he would have liked to continue serving, but believes now may be a good time to step aside anyway as his four sons start to reach high school age. “This is a season in my life that I really look forward to being there for my boys and spending more time with my wife, as well.”

He did not rule out a return to public office in the future.


Bill to register Syrian refugees passes Senate committee

US Rep. Mick Mulvaney speaks to the committee Wednesday (Image: SCETV)

US Rep. Mick Mulvaney speaks to the committee Wednesday (Image: SCETV)

Republicans on a state Senate committee advanced a bill Wednesday that requires refugees to register with South Carolina so they can be monitored. It also bans any state agencies from spending money to benefit refugees without approval from state lawmakers. 

The Senate General Committee vote came after two GOP congressmen told state senators they think the federal government does not do enough to check the backgrounds of refugees from war-torn countries like Syria. The bill would also hold resettlement nonprofits liable for damages if any refugees are later charged with terrorism.

Congressman Mick Mulvaney said states need to send a message to the federal government about their concerns for potential ISIS sympathizers among would-be refugees.

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Legislation seeks to improve workforce training in South Carolina

Legislation which tries to streamline workforce programs across South Carolina passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson (File)

Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson (File)

At a press conference right before the measure passed in a 106-5 vote, State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, said the bill creates a new statewide Coordinating Council for Workforce Development that will work with various agencies and county workforce training programs to better organize jobs programs with the needs of companies.

“We’ve listened to the business community, we listened to the technical college system, we listened to the economic development folks,” White said. “And we tried to put something together.”

Gov. Nikki Haley hoped the new council will help ease some coordination problems currently hurting South Carolina’s workforce. Haley cited that there are about 124,000 people out of work in the state, but 60,000 job openings that are not being filled.

“This is us going to our businesses and saying what are the 60,000 jobs you can’t fill?” she told reporters in the press conference with White and state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman. “It is going to our technical colleges and saying we want you to partner with us to make sure that they can get skilled to get these jobs.”

The legislation would require the new council make recommendations to the state Board of Education on what basic skills and core competencies are needed for K-12 education as they relate to workforce training and education. The council, which will be part of the state Commerce Department, will also monitor the development of secondary curriculum which integrates career and technical and academic education. It also requires the council craft a 10-year comprehensive plan for workforce development.

White’s bill would also expand opportunities for high school students, allowing them to take college-level courses that count toward their diploma and a technical certificate or associate’s degree. It also provides grants to the state’s unemployed so they can train for a job offered in their area.

Only a few Republicans voted against the idea. State Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville, worried it was expanding government to benefit large manufacturers at the expense of small business.

“This whole effort seems to be a big step in the direction of a centrally-planned economy,” Hill said, arguing the state would fail at trying to guess future job needs. “We cannot centrally-plan the economy of this state and hope to have a thriving economy long-term.”

The bill needs one more procedural vote, likely coming on Thursday, before it heads to the Senate.


SC House panel rejects raising high school dropout age

State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg (File)

State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg (File)

A House education panel on Wednesday voted against a proposal to raise South Carolina’s high school dropout age.

The House K-12 Education Subcommittee voted along party lines to end debate on a bill that would increase the minimum dropout age from 17 to 18. Republicans on the panel questioned if the requirement was enforceable and if it would actually improve student academics.

Democrats said it would help give educators and parents another year to change a teen’s mind. “It will allow parents to have some leverage in terms of working with the school system and in terms of getting the children to comply with attending school,” State Rep. Jerry Govan, who is also an Orangeburg County truancy officer, said during the meeting.

Govan said the bill could raise graduation rates, give students another year to reconsider quitting school, create a better educated and skilled workforce and eliminate the current “gap year” in which students are ineligible for many career training programs until they turn 18.

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SC State University seeks help as it tries to get off probation

SC State Interim President Franklin Evans (File)

SC State Interim President W. Franklin Evans (File)

Officials with SC State University are asking legislators to help forgive some of the school’s debt as it tries to get off probation this summer

The president and board of trustees for South Carolina’s only public historically-black college appealed to a House budget panel Tuesday. Specifically, SC State officials are asking legislators to forgive a three-year, $12 million loan granted by the General Assembly in 2014. That loan was meant to help the school pay more than $7 million in overdue bills to vendors.

At issue is the school’s accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has placed the Orangeburg college on probation for the past two years due to financial issues. SC State interim president W. Franklin Evans said two years is the limit, so SACS will either revoke the school’s accreditation or end probation when the time comes this summer.

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