Friday, August 15, 2014
The Kiwanis Club of Summerville welcomed state Sen. Paul Thurmond during the club’s regular meeting August 13.
The District 41 senator represents parts of Charleston and Dorchester County.
“Now that the session is over, my goal is to get out and meet with as many people as I can and let them know what we’ve been doing,” Thurmond said. “I think the opportunity to serve is a blessing, and I do want to be accessible.”
Thurmond then gave the club a brief overview of some of the issues on which he’s worked throughout the year.
One success he is especially proud of is the legislature’s passage of Emma’s Law, named for 6-year-old Emma Longstreet, who was killed by a drunk driver as she and her family were headed to church on Jan. 1, 2012.
The law toughens penalties for driving under the influence offenses; it is especially geared toward serious repeat offenders and includes requirements for interlock ignition devices to be placed on vehicles of convicted offenders, Thurmond said.
The ban on texting and driving is also a success, Thurmond noted.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
Thurmond said the year was not without its challenges. One of the most challenging issues, he said, was opposition from fellow lawmakers who wanted to give themselves a raise.
“This was something I vehemently opposed,” he said. “Philosophically, I’m against it. I just don’t believe you can just come into office and raise your salary. I believe there’s a proper way to do that, and the way it was being done just wasn’t the right way.”
The raise was part of a bill that the governor vetoed. Thurmond worked hard, he said, to ensure that veto was sustained.
Thurmond got his share of flak from colleagues about this, he said. Once, he said, he was approached by several legislators who called him out on his opposition; he told them of his objections and his reasons.
“One of them said, ‘you know, we could remove that statue of your father,’” Thurmond said. “I thought, ‘Really? Is that where we are with this?’”
The veto was ultimately sustained.
Another area Thurmond is working in is education reform, he said. Specifically, he wants more teacher accountability and a shorter and less cumbersome appeals process for teachers whose contracts are not renewed because they are under-performing. Most of the time, he alleged,school boards simply re-assign the teacher to another school rather than firing them, simply because it can literally take years to remove an underperforming teacher.
“Teaching is the most protected profession in our state,” he said. “I find this troubling.”
These efforts have met opposition, he said. He also points out, however, that his objections stem in large part just from being a parent of children attending public schools.
“I realize that there will have to be compromise, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for teachers to be better and to have a mechanism in place to remove them when they are clearly underperforming,” he said. “I would even be comfortable in paying them more – if we had a system in place that could quickly and efficiently remove the under-performers.”
Thurmond said he also introduced legislation that would allow family members of people in assisted living homes to install “granny cameras” in their family members’ rooms without interference from the facility.
This, too, was met with opposition from lobbyists who apparently placed pressure on legislators, he said.
“A camera, hopefully, can deter abuse and neglect,” he said. “We got it through subcommittee, but it did not make it out of the committee.”
That is an issue he will also be revisiting as well, he said.