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ISSUE 13.31
Aug. 01, 2014

RECENT ISSUES:
7/25 | 7/18 | 7/11 | 7/03

Index

News :
A step ahead for the working poor?
Photo :
Old joint, Clarendon County, S.C.
Legislative Agenda :
Few meetings ahead
Palmetto Politics :
Deerin slams Hammond’s new database
Commentary :
Where's the passion against same-sex marriage?
Spotlight :
Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina
My Turn :
Standards are standards
Feedback :
Rant. Rave. Drop us a line.
Scorecard :
From hot stuff to stone cold
Megaphone :
Mea culpa
Tally Sheet :
Research past bills, proposals
Encyclopedia :
Literacy in S.C.

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UNDERWRITERS

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

18

That’s the percentage that the state’s prison recidivism rate has dropped over the last four years, according to a national report. About one in four ex-offenders returned to prison in 2013. State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said the drop was due to a change in the law in 2010. The reduced rate has been dropping so quickly, he told a Pee Dee TV station, that the state saves $5 million in 2013 and will be able to close a state prison. More.

MEGAPHONE

Mea culpa

"It seems nearly pointless to kick Education Superintendent Mick Zais on his way out the door ... but the fact is that his parting mission to purge the state education standards of any vestiges of Common Core will waste yet more money and time, and so something needs to be said. Which is this: I’m sorry.   I’m sorry I endorsed Mick Zais in the 2010 general election. I was clearly wrong."

-- Cindi Ross Scoppe, associate editor of The State newspaper. More.

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Literacy in S.C.

Illiteracy is a problem that has bedeviled South Carolina for generations. While literacy rates among free white males during the colonial era are estimated to have been quite high, the situation did not persist into the nineteenth century. Historically, dismal support for public education in the state helped spawn a legacy of appalling rates of illiteracy.

By 1880, more than three-quarters of the black population and almost one-quarter of the white population were completely illiterate. These rates enabled Ben Tillman and his followers to use literacy qualifications in the 1890s to effectively disenfranchise African American voters. During that same decade, forty-five percent of the state’s population over the age of ten could neither read nor write. Illiteracy levels declined somewhat in the early twentieth century, but rates were still high enough at the start of World War II to render thousands of eligible black and white males unfit for military service. In 1948, the state superintendent of education estimated that in South Carolina 62 percent of blacks and eighteen percent of whites remained totally or functionally illiterate. Great improvements were made in the ensuing decades, however, and at the start of the 21st century South Carolinians were better educated and more literate than at any other time in their history. Nevertheless, factors persisted that placed the state’s literacy rates near the bottom in the United States.

Literacy development is both cultural and individual, and it involves a complex set of interrelated variables, including individual experiences, acquisition of skills, and social and economic conditions. Like learning in general, literacy is not acquired by studying or following a sequence of rules. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) measures literacy by looking at three scales: prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy. Each scale reflects real-life literacy tasks—for example, finding information in texts, such as newspapers articles; completing forms, such as a Social Security card application; and interpreting charts and graphs, such as a table of employee benefits.

The NALS reported in 1998 that 25 percent of South Carolina’s population was at level 1 on the NALS literacy continuum (level 1 being the lowest of levels 1 through 5). Furthermore 15 counties in South Carolina had 75 percent of the respective populations rated above level 1 literacy, while 12 counties had populations with 37 percent or more rated at level 1 literacy. Level 1 skills include performances such as signing one’s name, identifying a country in a short article, locating the expiration date on a driver’s license, and totaling a bank deposit entry. It is important to emphasize that level 1 ratings do not equate with illiteracy; rather, they indicate adults who “do not have the full range of economic, social, and personal options open to Americans with higher levels of literacy skills.”

A complex issue such as illiteracy has required a broad range of solutions. South Carolina has enacted a variety of legislation to improve reading, early reading experiences and family literacy instruction. The 1984 Education Improvement Act (EIA) introduced programs to foster superior performance, improve poor performance, and enhance student achievement. Since 1984 other reform legislation has included the Target 2000 School Reform for the Next Decade Act (1989), the Early Childhood Development and Academic Assistance Act (1993), the School-to-Work Transition Act (1994), and the Education Accountability Act (1998).

In an effort to improve literacy in South Carolina, the State Department of Education in partnership with Gov. Jim Hodges created the Governor’s Institute of Reading. In June 1999, Hodges signed into law the “First Steps to School Readiness” initiative, which listed early-childhood and family literacy as primary goals. In December 1999, the first South Carolina Reading Summit brought literacy educators from all levels—elementary, college, and state department—together to explore how best to meet the literacy needs of children and teachers in South Carolina. In June 2002, the South Carolina Reads initiative set a three-dimensional approach to combat illiteracy: work with teachers to develop a knowledge base in literacy; work with the Early Childhood Office at the State Department of Education to implement an early literacy intervention program; and develop a model to facilitate family literacy. Initiatives such as these held the promise of “creating a culture of literacy in South Carolina.”

-- Excerpted from the entry by Amy Donnelly. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)

PALMETTO PRIORITIES

Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.

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News

A step ahead for the working poor?

Leading House Republican to consider state earned income tax credit

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

AUG. 1, 2014 -- A key Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee says he is willing to take a look at a tax credit that helps to lift poor people out of poverty.

State Rep. Kenny Bingham, a Cayce Republican who chairs the House Ethics Committee and the K-12 Ways and Means subcommittee, says he will consider co-sponsoring a refundable state earned income tax credit (EITC) if the numbers make fiscal sense to the state.

Currently, more than 500,000 South Carolina federal tax returns were filed for a federal EITC worth more than $1 billion. The credit, approved several times over four decades by a bipartisan congressional coalition, counts prominent backers as former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

“It appears that the one program that seems to have worked the best is the EITC in achieving the ultimate goal of trying to move people up the ladder to be self-sustaining when their income isn’t getting them there,” said Bingham, a former House majority leader.

The beauty about an EITC, many say, is it only goes to working people, which gives them an incentive to stay in work so they can receive the federal benefit, which averages just over $2,306 per return in South Carolina. For many low-income families, the tax credit is enough to lift them out of poverty, analysts say.

A new start of a conversation

The possibility of considering a state-based refundable EITC to be a companion to the federal credit came out in a July forum at the Riley Institute at Furman University when Bingham and State. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, were discussing the option.

Cobb-Hunter, who has pushed for the poverty-fighting measure for years, said this week that she was happily surprised at Bingham’s openness to consider the measure. It’s a big deal, she said, because of the respect Bingham has in the legislature.

“I was shocked, but very pleased to hear him say that because I’ve been introducing this bill for years and it’s gone nowhere,” she said. “It means there is a chance for a bipartisan approach, which is always better than a solo approach.”

How EITCs work

At the federal level, an EITC is a refundable tax credit available for low- to moderate-income working individuals and families. Not only do those who want to get it have to work, but they have to file with the IRS to receive it. 

The benefit depends on income and the size of a family. In 2013, for example, a couple with no children could earn no more than $19,680 for a maximum benefit of $487. A couple with one child could earn no more than $43,210 for a maximum benefit of $3,250. Learn more here.

“It also encourages work and increases incentives to be in the work force, particularly where minimum wage jobs or near minimum wage jobs don’t provide enough to live on,” said policy analyst John Ruoff of Columbia.

Currently, 25 states offer an earned income tax credit. Of those, 21 are refundable, which means that recipients get a check from the state to lower their tax burden and offset other tax payments. Nonrefundable credits reduce an income tax liability to zero, but don’t provide a check for further tax relief. (In South Carolina, most people in poverty pay no income tax.)

In December 2012, Cobb-Hunter introduced a bill that called for a state EITC that would start at 10 percent of the federal EITC and phase up to 20 percent over five years.

According to a 2013 revenue impact study by the S.C. Board of Economic Advisers, a 10 percent refundable EITC from the state would cost $139.4 million -- meaning the state would write checks to those seeking a state EITC. If 500,000 returns sought such a credit, the average check would be $279.

Taking a deeper look

WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND

Here’s a look at where South Carolina’s gubernatorial candidates stand on the state Earned Income Tax Credit:

Tom Ervin (I) -- “Part of my economic plan for the state includes a repeal of the personal income tax. If the legislature fails to pass my plan to eliminate the state personal income tax, I would then support an earned income tax credit to help the working people in our state who need tax relief.”

Nikki Haley (R) -- Did not provide an answer after four requests this week.  The governor's office did say at publication time that it would have a statement by the close of business.  Look here for an update after 5 p.m. Aug. 1.

  • UPDATE, 5 p.m.:  No policy position provided. 

Vincent Sheheen (D) -- “The state may want to consider a refundable earned income tax credit to give low-income South Carolinians an incentive — and a reward — for working. We should reward and encourage work in our state.”

Bingham said he was interested in looking deeper at a state EITC because it appeared to be a more effective way to lift people out of poverty. 

“I support programs that give people a leg up, not a hand out,” he said.  

If, for example, people are “trapped” into making a choice to stay at home to receive government benefits instead of working to receive a different government benefit, it makes sense to incentivize people to work and be productive, Bingham said.

“If the numbers do not work, then I’m not going to support the program,” he said. “But to refuse to take a look at a program borders on being ridiculous. The data should drive it. That’s how you make good decisions.”

Cobb-Hunter is confident that data will show state EITCs work.

“In states where there is an EITC, there have been reductions in the number of people who have received assistance in social service programs,” she said. 

But there are other benefits. For example, much of the EITC benefit will be recycled directly into local economies by spending. In turn, that will generate sales tax dollars, which could approach $10 million for a 10 percent refundable EITC. 

Studies also show that states with EITCs have more single mothers in the labor force, improved child test scores, fewer low birthweight babies and improved health indicators for mothers, according to the Furman forum.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says state EITCs have lasting effects.

“Low-income children in families that get additional income through programs like the EITC do better and go farther in school and, as a result, work more and earn more as adults. This is good for communities and the economy because it means more people and families on solid ground and fewer in need of help over the long haul.”

Cobb-Hunter added there was a big intangible for the working poor, too.

“When you talk about tax credits in a state like South Carolina, think about the affirmation that a working family gets -- ‘Wow, the state of South Carolina thinks enough of me to give me a tax break as well.’ It’s not just all about the corporate businesses and the wealthy.”

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  brack@statehousereport.com.
RECENT NEWS STORIES

Photo

Old joint, Clarendon County, S.C.


We’re not exactly sure what this old place is, but figure it probably most recently was a rural joint, preceded by being a country store of some sort.  Likely as not, there have been some very good times had here.  The run-down building, located along S.C. Highway 261 between Manning and Kingstree, S.C., is in agricultural Clarendon County.  More:  Center for a Better SouthPhoto by Andy Brack.
Legislative Agenda

Few meetings ahead

Yep, it's summertime.  There are few meetings around the Statehouse in August. Notable:

  • Bonds. The Joint Bond Review Committee will meet 2 p.m. Aug. 4 in 105 Gressette in Columbia. On the 32-page agenda are items about the purchase of a new helicopter for SLED and several proposed leases and other projects. More.

  • School safety. The first meeting of the new School Safety Task Force will be 2 p.m. Aug. 27 in 433 Blatt. More.

Series continues

The Riley Institute at Furman University will continue its series, “Can’t Win for Losing: The Crisis of the Working Poor,” with events on the first two Tuesdays of August:

  • Aug. 5: “Chasing the American Dream: What does it take to climb the income ladder?” with Sarah Sattelmeyer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Tammi Hart of Day and Zimmerman, and Dawn Dowden of Homes of Hope.

  • Aug. 12: “Revitalizing the American Dream” with former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet and Carol Naughton of Purpose Built Communities. There also will be a roundtable discussion with several people and hosted by Mark Quinn.
Palmetto Politics

Deerin slams Hammond’s new database

It didn’t take long for Secretary of State Mark Hammond’s shiny new database of state boards and commissions to become political fodder.

Following an exclusive item in last week’s issue of Statehouse Report, Democrat Ginny Deerin of Sullivan’s Island slammed the service as wasteful and inadequate. Deerin is running against Hammond in November.

She said the $200,000 database was 10 times too expensive, would have high maintenance costs and didn’t offer deep demographic information that should be available.

It’s like buying a very expensive car with only one wheel,” Deerin said. 

The searchable database, which is updated daily, replaces old PDF reports that were updated twice a year.

Commentary

Where's the passion against same-sex marriage?

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

AUG. 1, 2014 -- Gay marriage doesn’t seem to be a burning issue like it once was in South Carolina.

Just eight years ago, 78 percent of South Carolinians voted to amend the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. But as the issue has gotten more attention over the years, attitudes changed, just as they did with divisive issues like segregation and interracial marriage.

The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled 2-1 against a same-sex marriage ban in Virginia. That’s important to South Carolina, which falls under the jurisdiction of the appellate court, because it shows how the court likely would rule on the Palmetto State’s ban. 

U.S. Circuit Judge Henry Floyd of South Carolina wrote for the majority: “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”

This ruling, like similar ones in other federal courts, clearly is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court where many analysts expect the high court to agree with the appellate courts.

What’s most interesting in South Carolina is how relatively muted the response has been from social conservatives, who ranted and raved to get an amendment passed eight years ago.   Since then, more people are open to gay marriage with just over 50 percent opposing it, according to a 2013 Winthrop Poll. A Charleston focus group this week involving a half dozen mostly 20-somethings revealed none disagreed with the appellate court. They noted it seemed silly for government to get involved with private relationships between two people.

There were some predicable public dissenters. A day after the ruling, the Palmetto Family Council said: “Our culture is crying out for stability, and with the rise of divorce and cohabitation, marriage as it has been defined from the beginning of time is weak. While we struggle in the courts to defend marriage, we must engage now in our communities and churches to strengthen it.”

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson didn’t have a statement on his office Web site but told media outlets he would pursue the state’s appeal of the same-sex marriage ban. 

Gov. Nikki Haley this week put out press releases on business development and sent emails for money for her re-election campaign. But she didn’t use the gay marriage verdict to rally conservatives.   

From spokesman Doug Mayer: “Despite this ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, South Carolina’s constitution has not changed and Governor Haley and this administration will continue to uphold the will of the people. ... (and) South Carolina will continue to be governed by the laws of our state.”

Democratic gubernatorial challenger Vincent Sheheen believes marriage is between a man and a woman. But he said now the state should pause legal battles over the issue until the Supreme Court decides.

“When that decision is given, we must come together and abide by the law of the land, and regardless of the outcome, churches must always maintain their ability to determine what ceremonies they conduct and recognize,” Sheheen said in an end-of-the-week statement. “Every South Carolinian should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender, and I will continue working to end discrimination in the workplace and to ensure schools are safe from bullying.”

Earlier in the week, Sheheen told the media he would monitor the situation, which ban opponents viewed as a cop-out.    With a close election ahead, Sheheen may have missed an opportunity to appeal for support from the state’s gay community, which votes and which has been disappointed with him.

Not quiet was independent Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Ervin and U.S. Senate petition candidate Thomas Ravenel, both of whom said continuing to fight the court’s appellate ruling was a waste of taxpayer money.

 “Government should not be in the bedroom, but it should also not be in the church,” Ervin said. “Individual churches should be allowed to decide which marriage ceremonies they want to perform.”

As a state, it’s time to accept that discrimination at the altar is, at its essence, discrimination. And as Americans, we shouldn’t tolerate it.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse ReportHe can be reached at:  brack@statehousereport.com.

Spotlight

Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. More South Carolinians use power from electric cooperatives than from any other power source. South Carolina’s 20 independent, consumer-owned cooperatives deliver electricity in all 46 counties to more than 1.5 million citizens. As member-owned organizations, cooperatives recognize their responsibility to provide power that is affordable, reliably delivered and responsibly produced.
My Turn

Standards are standards

The costly semantics lesson of Common Core


By Bernadette R. Hampton

The S.C. Education Association
Special to Statehouse Report

 

AUG. 1, 2014 -- Education Superintendent Mick Zais fueled the Legislature’s irresponsible repeal of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and he now wants to micromanage the drafting of our “new” state standards. Zais apparently wants to leave one last mark before vacating his office in January.

 

In his most recent edict, Zais ordered those responsible for drafting the new standards to disregard the current ones. The arrogant Zais has issued questionable orders before, but this one is unreasonable and frankly impossible. New standards must be drafted by December so they may be considered by the new Legislature in January. Zais’s demand that drafters start from scratch and deliver a completely new product -- without any review in less than six months -- represents a prescription for failure. But he knows this.

 

To be clear, South Carolina’s educators indisputably support high academic standards. The process led by states to develop Common Core standards delivered just that. We adopted those standards in 2010 and school districts have invested four years and an estimated $100 million to gradually implement them. Zais’s latest folly will cost South Carolina about $66 million, not to mention the loss of time and effort. This sort of despotism goes well beyond irresponsible stewardship of precious state dollars.

Zais insists he won’t tolerate a “rebranding” of Common Core. But the standards he led the charge to abandon were rigorous. If drafters produce another set of equally rigorous standards, their new product will inevitably look like the Common Core standards. That’s what “standards” mean.

Here’s an illustration of the foolishness of Zais’s order and his expectation. His own department conducted a comparative review of the standards and concluded that “an overall alignment of 97 percent between the CCSS and the South Carolina standards was found.” (p. 15, Common Core State Standards Initiative Comparative Review Report Prepared for the State Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee, June 2010)

 

"If Zais had ever taught in a public school classroom, he might understand the folly of this act and so many others we’ve witnessed during his unsuccessful term in office.   If he had taught a single day in any one of South Carolina’s school districts, he might not have opposed so many measures to strengthen our public education system."
Furthermore, many anti-Common Core states, such as Indiana, ultimately ended up borrowing liberally from the Common Core in developing their own.

South Carolina has always been fiercely, sometimes foolishly, independent, even when it hurts us. Is this craving to demonstrate independence enough to justify the unnecessary spending on development and implementation of new standards? Is it worth it, to claim sole authorship?

 

Our standards have not been the problem. Since the late 1990s, even before federal implementation of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ South Carolina has developed and maintained consistently high standards. Implementation, however, has been inconsistent and piecemeal, in part because ordinary educators have been wrongly excluded from the process. Likewise, training for the transition to Common Core has been wholly insufficient. Regardless of what standards are adopted, educators will have to be allowed time for grade- and subject-specific training as well as collaboration regarding curriculum alignment.

 

If Zais had ever taught in a public school classroom, he might understand the folly of this act and so many others we’ve witnessed during his unsuccessful term in office.

 

If he had taught a single day in any one of South Carolina’s school districts, he might not have opposed so many measures to strengthen our public education system.

 

If he’d ever been responsible for teaching one classroom full of children, he might never have proposed evaluating professional educators with an insulting A-F scale. He might never have sought to gut state regulations, to increase teacher workloads and class sizes. But he never taught, never worked in any school district, never was responsible for student learning. As a result, the one state official charged with direct responsibility for South Carolina’s system of public education has been consistently, steadfastly, staunchly, and foolishly anti-public-education.

 

We had a set of rigorous, national academic standards, and there was no reason to abandon them. Their purpose was to help our students compete nationally and globally for jobs and opportunities. They would have allowed us to compare ourselves for the first time, apples-to-apples, with other states. Unfortunately, as in so many earlier examples, South Carolina is stuck with its decision.

 

Now, those of us who will continue to devote our lives and careers to improving and strengthening public schools in our state have to pick up the pieces and move forward. In reality, Mick Zais has never been a part of that effort, though he has occupied the superintendent’s office. As of January, even that thin pretense will be gone. If he would spend the remainder of his term helping us rather than further hurting us, the least he can do is to stand aside and not impede the important and challenging work being done by others.

 

Let’s hope that implementation of our fast-tracked new standards will be as smooth. Let’s hope, too, that our new superintendent of education will not let inflexible partisan politics cloud his or her judgment at the expense of South Carolina’s public schoolchildren.

Hampton, a Beaufort County math teacher, is president of The South Carolina Education Association.

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Scorecard

From hot stuff to stone cold

S.C. Court of Appeals. Hats off for calling for a quick plan by the state to deal with radioactive groundwater that may be flowing way from a Barnwell County nuclear waste site. More.

Boeing. It’s good news for the state that Boeing will exclusively build its biggest 787 solely in South Carolina.

Floyd. Congratulations to U.S. Circuit Judge Henry Floyd of South Carolina who showed courage this week in penning the majority opinion overturning a same-sex marriage ban in Virginia. More.

Gimmickry. The state’s three-day sales tax-free holiday that ends Sunday is nothing more than a political gimmick by leaders trying to make it look like they’re really doing something. Most folks will save a few bucks on school supplies. But if you’re in need of a big ticket item, such as a computer, now is the time to buy.

Pinewood landfill. On one hand, it sounds pretty good for the state to force a vendor out of monitoring and dealing with the Pinewood hazardous waste landfill. On the other, this is the state Department of Health and Environmental Control we’re talking about -- the place that has cut and cut. It might not have the oompf to deal with this.

Stone cold. So the state spent a long time in 2014 fiddling with beer laws to make it easier for craft breweries to have restaurants and to sell more beer to customers. Why? In part to give an incentive to Stone Brewing Company to build a craft brewery in South Carolina. Lawmakers passed the so-called “Stone bill.” But guess what. Now the company isn’t building its new $29 million location in the Palmetto State. More.
credits

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2014 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.