- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Good evening. I am Joel Lourie. I serve in the state Senate, and I am from right here in Columbia.

I am honored to give the response to the governor’s State of the State. From a very early age, I learned from my mother and my late father, Sen. Isadore Lourie, that politics can be a positive way to bring people together from different backgrounds and viewpoints, to find solutions to improve our community and state. I grew up in the shadows of great governors - like Bob McNair, Dick Riley and Carroll Campbell - and watched in awe how these leaders could sit down with members from both parties and move our state forward.

We have the opportunity and responsibility to do the same. To Gov. Haley, we are anxious to roll up our sleeves and work with you. We all want a better, healthier and more educated South Carolina. We may have different ideas of how to get there, but the time has come to find common ground and accomplish more for our people.

First of all, let’s talk about roads. I have heard from people all over the state, from key business leaders to just everyday folks driving to see friends and family. Bottom line, our roads and bridges are deplorable, embarrassing and unsafe.

This is an issue that affects every South Carolinian. We are talking about public safety, quality of life and future economic development. In short, we need in excess of $1 billion dollars a year to make a difference and address a problem that has gone neglected for decades. We shouldn’t have to wait for a bridge to collapse and suffer the loss of human life. The people of our state elect us to make tough decisions. These decisions must focus on two key areas, priority funding and a fair distribution of revenue. My friends, the money is not going to fall from the sky. If we want better roads, we are going to have to pay for them. Anyone that tells you we can do this without new revenue is not serious about addressing the problem. All options should be on the table. Let’s do this right and let’s do it this year.

Now, I would like to discuss health care. The key to a productive and successful workforce is a healthy workforce. It is illogical and senseless that our state refuses to expand Medicaid though the Affordable Care Act. Twenty-seven other states have accepted Medicaid expansion, states led by Democrats and Republicans, and millions of Americans now have access to preventive and regular health care, many for the first time ever.

But not here in South Carolina, we are letting our tax dollars flow into the expansion states. We would prefer to turn our backs on 200,000 working South Carolinians and as opposed to them going to a physician when they get sick, we send them to the emergency room, where the cost is 10 to 20 times more. And by the way, somebody is paying that bill. It’s the rest of us who are fortunate enough to have insurance. This is not rocket science, it’s common sense.

Let’s take a moment and talk about jobs. South Carolina is certainly seeing great benefit from a national recovery and, governor, we appreciate your continued focus on bringing industry to South Carolina. But we should also make sure that working families can pay rent, utilities and put food on the table. Perhaps now is the time for South Carolina to join 21 other states, again states led by Republican governors and Democratic governors, to raise the minimum wage. It is truly impossible to make ends meet at $7.25 an hour. Maybe we can come together and help small businesses with a tax cut and at the same time require that the minimum wage be increased to help working families across our state.

In the area of education, let’s work together and find a plan that addresses the needs of the schools in our underfunded districts. Every child deserves a chance for a sound, quality public education. Every day and dollar we spend trying to avoid the inevitable, trying to avoid our responsibility, is a day and a dollar wasted. The Supreme Court has spoken and we have a legal and moral responsibility to address this crisis. It’s just about simple as right and wrong, and it’s wrong to delay action on this issue. Also, we have made great strides in 4-year-old kindergarten. Let’s make sure every 4 year old in South Carolina has the right start as these first few years of a child’s life and education are statistically proven predictors for the future.

And last but certainly not least in education is the support for our teachers. Our teachers hold the key to the future of our children, and many of them work 60-plus hours a week preparing our students for the challenges that lie ahead. Let’s make sure they are paid at a level that allows them to stay in the profession they love and take care of their own families as well.

Switching gears - if you are like me, you are tired of seeing our state lead the nation in the tragic area of domestic violence. Legislation has been filed in the Senate, with bi-partisan leadership, including myself, that will take guns out of the hand of domestic violence offenders. Talk about a no-brainer. We can do more to prevent this horrific crime, and we must pledge to get this bill to the governor this year. Anything short of that is unacceptable.

On ethics, I believe we can get a bill passed where all sides can agree on 75 percent of the points. The time has come to pass a tough ethics bill and make some real progress in ethics and transparency. No further stall is necessary. Let’s pass what we can agree on and get it done early this session.

And, finally, I want to mention the Department of Social Services. I have worked alongside my two friends and colleagues, Sens. Katrina Shealy and Tom Young, for the better part of the last 14 months. What we have seen and uncovered is atrocious. Rapid turnover of caseworkers, workloads way beyond reason, and failed leadership at the top. I am pleased that the governor has included more funding for caseworkers in her budget, and I hope the General Assembly and the governor will come together to fund, reform and improve the Department of Social Services so that the horror stories we have heard this year will never, ever happen again because of government dysfunction and inefficiency.

To the people of South Carolina, we have great challenges and opportunities ahead of us this year. As leaders, the time has come to put down the partisan shields that have prevented progress. Our focus should not be on what it takes to keep a job as an elected official, but what it takes to do it. Just this week, we celebrated another birthday of a great and inspirational man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

My friends, the answers are not overly complicated, and they should not be about what is best for either Democrats or Republicans, but what is best for South Carolina. My hope and my prayer is that this will be the year that common sense prevails.

Thank you and good evening.

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