Senator Sandy Senn: Issues in the Lowcountry

August 1, 2017:  Whether you agree or disagree with State Senator Sandy Senn, there was little question of her passion for supporting Charleston and her constituents as well as her refreshing straightforwardness.  Sen. Senn was an energetic and articulate guest speaker at the August 1, Rotary meeting who wasted no time in directly addressing the issues most pressing—and in some cases, most controversial—to Lowcountry residents.

Gun Legislation

Senator Senn went to great lengths to express her support for Second Amendment gun ownership rights, recalling her own childhood of hunting and her NRA membership. She recently voted, however, against an Open Carry bill that did not include either mandatory training on how to handle a firearm safely and effectively or any semblance of a background check when purchasing a gun.  Senator Senn’s rationale is that the urban nature of the Charleston area suggests that having some skill in using a gun is safety issue for all of the population and that we routinely require some degree of training for the exercise of many of our rights and privileges.  She appeared to believe that a simple background check prior to turning over a weapon is just common sense.

Sen. Senn noted that because of the emotionally charged nature of “gun control” laws throughout the state as well as nationally, the recent South Carolina Open Carry vote resulted in the use of “dark money” by those opposing her position.  These secret and unidentified groups are funding the use of “robo-calls” and other social media and mass marketing techniques to completely misrepresent the position and philosophies of elected official voting against their agenda.  She has experienced so many of these robo-calls that they have overwhelmed the technology as well as the time and attention that is necessary to run the busy law practice she maintains. Sen Senn warned her audience to be alert for a robo-call technique called “spoofing” in which inaccurate statements and positions are made by dark money groups that appear to be from an elected official and so are falsely attributed to him or her.  She has drafted a state law opposing these practices.

Gas Tax Legislation

Senator Senn voted for the Gas Tax Legislation that raises tax on gasoline $.10 per gallon.  The revenue is to be used for maintaining and improving our deteriorating and sometimes failing roads and bridges.   When first introduced, she said, the bill included “freebies” in its revenue distribution.  “Freebies” are specifically directed use of funds collected through the gas tax for non-transportation related projects, programs and efforts.  Sen. Senn opposed the diversion of these gas tax monies to any use other than the road and transportation related improvements so badly needed in the Charleston area. Once these “give-aways” were removed from the bill, Sen. Senn enthusiastically supported it (while pointing out that “it is not a perfect bill”) in order to get more money for local and regional road improvement and repairs.  This is because while discussing the bill, Sen. Senn was able to get support for a revenue distribution ratio change that nets out $12-14 million for the Charleston area that was not expected.  These additional funds can be used to help with such needed projects as drainage repair and bike path construction in Charleston and sound barriers in Dorchester County. Our Senator also noted that a resident can off-set the higher gas tax by taking deductions for two vehicles every year on their individual state tax returns. Further, to help offset higher gas costs to SC residents a provision in the bill assesses vehicles brought into the state a fee of $250 per vehicle.

I-526 Completion

One of the most hotly debated topics in Charleston’s transportation history is the completion of Interstate 526 and Senator Senn is a strong supporter of its “as-quickly-as-possible” construction.   She is hopeful that the change of leadership in the Infrastructure Bank will result in the fulfillment of the years-old commitment by the Bank to provide a large share of the funding to the Charleston area and the finishing of this long overdue project.  She is opposed to a recent proposal to bifurcate the project into separate segments with Phase One running from Highway 17 to John’s Island, followed by the Phase II connection from Folly Road on James Island to John’s Island. The argument for this two phase approach is that just getting the long-delayed project started will help ensure that it will ultimately be built, even if in two separate phases.  Sen. Senn, however, firmly disagrees with this thinking, asserting strongly that the majority of people on John’s Island as well as citizens of James Island believe that traffic relief is critical, that Charleston’s needs are being ignored by the more-rural composition of the SC state legislature and that “the time for I-526 is NOW!”

It was clear that Sen. Senn could have talked much longer on many topics facing our state and its legislature, but Rotarians got a flavor of the fervor and dedication she brings to her work.  As a freshman Senator, she has accomplished a great deal, is thoroughly familiar with, and conversant on, the issues and is establishing a reputation for candid and open discussion with a consensual and common sense approach.  Sen. Senn is a representative who cares about Charleston—and her political accomplishments and trajectory are likely to be very interesting to watch.

Cheryl Kaynard, Keyway Committee