Though this year’s regular legislative session officially ends on May 13th – 6 legislative days from now – the work of the General Assembly is far from complete. We are scheduled to be back in session in June to finalize the State budget, review conference committee reports, and assess any vetoes to the budget by the Governor. We will also return to session in early Fall to complete our once-a-decade task of reapportionment.
Topping this week legislative news is guns and money.
Senate to Debate Gun Bill
Protecting the 2nd Amendment is always a top priority in the Republican controlled General Assembly. Rather than restricting gun rights as proposed by Washington liberals, a majority of South Carolinians want their right of self-protection secured or expanded. The House recently passed two pro-2nd Amendment bills. Now, Senators have one of those bills moving at warp speed toward the finish line.
The ‘Open Carry with Training’ legislation (H.3094) received two hearings in the Senate this past week, received a vote to advance it. Republican Senators successfully pulled it out of full committee and placed it on the Senate priority list, meaning it will likely be debated this week. That’s lightning-fast for our Senate, renowned for often moving at a snail’s pace. The Legislature only has six days left on its regular work calendar, and Republicans have called for the measure to be a priority before this year’s legislative session ends.
The legislation allows anyone who passes a criminal background check and the concealed weapons training course to carry their pistol in the open if they choose. SC is one of only five states without some type of open carry law for handguns.
Senate Spending Plan Approved
After a week of debate, the Senate adopted its version of the state’s $10.6 billion spending plan and returned it to the House. It calls for pay raises for teachers and state employees. The projected revenues for the coming fiscal year are much improved. Spending levels were kept the same for this current fiscal year to counter the COVID economic downturn. Senate budget highlights:
- $1,000 raise for all public school teachers, including raising the minimum teacher salary to $36,000 from $35,000. The raise for teachers is in addition to annual pay bumps teachers receive based on experience and education.
- 2% raises for state employees. They haven’t received a salary increase in recent years, only a one-time bonus of $600 about two years ago.
- $90 million to the Department of Corrections to make security upgrades to its facilities following a deadly riot at the Lee Correctional Facility. Money also has been included for raises to help retain state law enforcement officers and correctional officers.
- $200 million for the state Ports Authority to expand operations at the Port of Charleston.
- The Senate plan also sets aside $254 million into a rainy day fund if the state sees an economic downturn. The rainy day fund would be used to prevent midyear budget cuts.
The budget process is far from over. The House will review and revise the Senate plan over the coming weeks, and we will return in June to finalize the spending plan that takes effect July 1.
PUSHBACK – Convention of States
The Article V Convention of States legislation (H.3205) is ready for debate by the House this week. This historic vote has been more than seven years in the making since I first filed the legislation in late 2013. This approach for states to put limits on the federal government (i.e., term limits, balancing the budget, nixing the packing of the Supreme Court, etc.) was given to states by our nation’s founders who gave us Article V. 15 states have passed the Resolution; 34 states are needed to call for a convention.
PUSHBACK – Grassroots Momentum
There is a groundswell of citizens banding together to put the brakes on our out-of-control federal government while keeping a watchful eye on the PUSHBACK AGENDA that sees success in moving forward at the Statehouse. Friday evening, I spoke to the newly-formed PUSHBACK ALLIANCE, a growing group of Aiken County residents. Their first meeting drew 30 people, their second garnered 50, and this third meeting brought more than 120 concerned citizens to learn how we are standing up to the outrageous, expanding programs and spending by Washington.
PUSHBACK – Failure!
For the second time in a month, the House Judiciary Committee rejected efforts to bar transgender women from competing on high school girls’ sports teams, dashing a top priority of the PUSHBACK AGENDA. The vote was 13-11 in a Committee dominated by Republicans. The legislation, known as the “Save Women’s Sports Act”, would restrict female middle and high school sports teams to an athlete’s sex at birth. Critics claim the bill somehow punishes transgender people; proponents say the bill is simply about equity, fairness, and safety. The bill, sponsored by more than 50 Republican Representatives, has been passed in other Conservative states. Polling shows 85% of SC Republican voters favored the bill.
End Government-Mandated Masks
McMaster spoke out forcefully Wednesday, calling on government-mandated mask-wearing and other COVID-19 restrictions to end in SC. His statement came with an implied threat – saying he’s willing to do “whatever’s necessary” to put a stop to them if local officials don’t do so themselves. McMaster called the local restriction unreasonable, said, “It’s time to start getting back to normal. I’d ask the cities and counties if they have restrictions out there to wrap it up.” The Aiken City Council will meet Wednesday to vote on removing their local mask mandate that is being ignored by a vast number of citizens.
President Joe Biden went maskless just hours after appearing on the TODAY Show, proclaiming it was a “patriot responsibility for God’s sake” to wear your mask even when you’re fully vaccinated. Later that day, Biden was photographed maskless, talking close with someone.
Drug Offenders Get a Break
The House approved sentencing reform for those people convicted of drug use. Inmates in jail for no parole offenses would become eligible for early release, discharge, or community supervision after serving 65% of specific drug offense sentences. This proposal also reduces some criminal penalties and revises weight presumptions for the unlawful possession, manufacture, and trafficking of some controlled substances. It proposes to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, as well. However, H.3623 contains much more stringent penalties for possession, sale, distribution, or trafficking of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances. The bill was sent to the Senate.
Certificate of Greed?
I have long-sponsored legislation (H.3161) calling for the end of the Certificate of Need (CON) in SC. It has nicknames such as ‘Certificate of Greed’ and ‘Competitor’s Veto’ because CON laws protect existing medical providers by requiring state approval for any new healthcare facility or certain types of equipment. SC’s CON legislation kills competition and drives up costs for patients.
Hats off Sen. Wes Climer (R-York), who refused to back down this past week in getting his version of CON legislation (S.290) pulled from Committee to be debated by the Senate. Climer told his colleagues, “I did not come here to represent the interests of hospitals. I came here to represent the interest of patients. This is a system, a process, that injures patients and supports fat profit margins for hospitals and it has to go.”
Farewell to “Coach T’
We celebrated ‘Coach T’s’ illustrious career at the start of his final regular-season home game at USC-Aiken. After 33 years as a head baseball coach, Kenny Thomas is retiring, the last 21 with the Pacers with many winning seasons and championships. On behalf of the Aiken Legislative Delegation, I presented Coach T with a Resolution from the SC General Assembly honoring his lifelong commitment to student-athletes. The following evening there was a huge community outpouring for our beloved ‘Coach T’. Family, friends, and fans gathered to honor Coach T and his wife, Judy, a happy and healthy retirement.
LEGISLATIVE NEWS BRIEFS
Education Reform Bill Signed
Improving our schools is always a top priority, but the pandemic has highlighted the urgency of many educational issues. Gov. McMaster signed a bill that originated in the House that allows for more “Schools of Innovation” to arise around the state. These schools give students more opportunities to succeed.
Assistance for Police & Fire
To take care of our law enforcement and first responders, I joined my colleagues in passing a bill that allows law enforcement to receive worker’s compensation for PTSD and other stress-related mental illnesses caused by traumatic events while on duty. This week, we added firefighters to the bill.
Compensating College Athletes
The House passed and sent to the Governor legislation (S.685) allowing college athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image, or likeness. This would allow the compensation of intercollegiate athletes by a third party to use an athlete’s name, image, or likeness (NIL). The bill provides guidelines and safeguards to protect student-athletes in college athletics from misuse or abuse of contracts. States are scrambling to enact safeguards since the NCCA failed to do so.
School Lunch Debt Collection
The House sent the Governor (H.3006) a bill that would prohibit public schools or districts from using debt collection agencies to collect or attempt to collect outstanding debts on student school lunch or breakfast accounts, nor assess or collect any interest, fees.
Tuition Rates for Veterans
Currently, a veteran can enroll in a public institution of higher education within three years after the veteran’s discharge and receive educational assistance. Our veterans deserve better! I was proud to support S.241 this week, eliminating the time requirements for SC’s veterans to accept a reduced tuition rate for higher education. This bill unanimously passed the House.
Expanded Palmetto Fellow Scholarships
The House also received from the Senate a bill allowing Palmetto Fellow Scholarship recipients to use their scholarship at a Technical College (which is currently not allowed). The House sent the bill to the Governor’s desk, and it takes effect upon his signature.
Questions have arisen recently concerning the cost-effectiveness of some teacher education programs. By a nearly unanimous vote, the House passed H.3591 that requires every educator preparation program to publish a report card that details how the program prepares their student teachers for success in the classroom. The report card must include various data that provides a comprehensive picture of how well each educator preparation program prepares effective educators and meets state goals.
The Senate passed S. 628, a bill that would allow women to purchase birth control without a doctor’s prescription, and sent it to the House of Representatives.
Curbing Catalytic Converter Thefts
The Senate passed a House bill (H.3991) that would make it a crime to purchase, sell, or possess a detached catalytic converter unless the person has a permit. This bill is an effort to combat a rash of catalytic converter thefts. The House will consider Senate amendments.
FACTOID: Did you know? The Palmetto State is ranked 4th in the United States for the number of women-owned businesses, with 170,000 calling South Carolina their home!
FACTOID: New U.S. Census data shows lots of folks are moving to SC – almost a half million in the past decade, bringing our population to more than 5.1 million. SC is among the Top 10 fastest growing states.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Friday, I hosted a Statehouse visit for our granddaughter, Avery, and her 8th-grade classmates from Hartsville’s Thomas Hart Academy. They had a blast (and so did I) !!!
I’m Available and AT YOUR SERVICE
It is my honor to be of service. If you need assistance during these trying times, navigating though the flow of information on COVID-19, navigating state government or have any thoughts or concerns about what the legislature, please do not hesitate to contact me.
In Your Service,
South Carolina General Assembly
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