Public safety is the #1 responsibility of government, whether at the national, state, or local level. If we aren’t safe, then our lives will be dramatically altered. This week, House Republicans put the people’s priority at the top of the legislative agenda for the new session.
China has found a conduit through the Mexican criminal cartels who use our open southern border to flood America and South Carolina with fentanyl. Mixing fentanyl powder into illicit pills is a deadly combination. It’s estimated that 1,100 South Carolinians died last year because of fentanyl. Fentanyl in the size of an individual sugar packet would kill 100 people.
Taking an important step toward stopping the flow of the lethal drug into the Palmetto State, on Wednesday, House Republicans were joined by some Democrats and passed legislation to criminalize fentanyl trafficking.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Doug Gilliam “We know fentanyl is deadly, and we know how deadly it is. This is a start to help save people’s lives.”
The bill includes mandatory prison sentences of 7 to 14 years for the possession of between 4 and 14 grams of a mixture containing fentanyl, 25 years for between 14 and 28 grams or a second offense for 4 to 14 grams, and as many as 40 years for more than 28 grams.
Some Democrats called for eliminating mandatory minimums to give judges discretion in sentencing. Republicans pushed back, saying a hard line is necessary due to the severity of the crisis. They argued that police and the people in the communities are tired of ‘catch and release’ and want traffickers locked up.
The bill passed 96-21, with 10 Democrats joining Republicans. The bill heads to the Senate, which has been considering similar legislation.
Senate Approves School Choice
A historic vote concluded several weeks of debate in the Senate to win the approval of Educational Scholarship Accounts (E.S.A.). After overcoming a Democrat-led filibuster, the vote was 28-15.
School choice is popular in S.C. A recent statewide poll shows 60% of voters approve of the school choice program while only 30% disapprove. By a 2-1 margin, more voters strongly approved of it (32%) than strongly disapproved (16%). National polling shows 77% of school parents support E.S.A.’s.
This legislation (S.39) offers education choices similar to successful programs in many other states. It would provide $6,000 to parents to cover tuition, fees, course materials, transportation, or other qualified expenses to use alternatives to educate their children.
During the Senate debate, the bill was amended to expand the modest program for public school students beyond families who meet low family income eligibility. Over the first three years, E.S.A.’s would be extended to middle-income families whose income does not exceed 400% of the federal poverty guidelines.
The legislation has been sent to the House, where similar bills were passed twice last spring but died in the Senate.
K-12 School Innovation
Three weeks after being sworn into office, S.C.’s Superintendent of Education, Ellen Weaver, appeared before House budget writers seeking a $100 million “innovation fund” to turbo-charge student achievement. $25 million would be used to launch a program that rewards teachers who raise student achievement in the state’s “highest need” schools. The proposal would initially involve up to 125 schools getting about $200,000 each to boost teachers’ base salaries.
Weaver told the committee, “Teacher quality is the most important in-school factor for a student’s success, and yet, strategically compensating the best educators in the highest-need schools is not something often done. Highly effective educators willing to teach in the highest-need schools and districts would receive bonus compensation and incentives for moving the needle for students.”
Weaver said she fully backs Gov. McMaster’s call for bringing teacher’s base salary to at least $50,000 by 2026.
Higher Ed Budgets
After serving for a decade on the House Education Committee and six years as Chairman of the Higher Education (policy) Subcommittee, I can now use that knowledge and experience in my new role. I have been appointed to the Ways & Means Higher Education Subcommittee, where our primary focus is to scope the budgets of S.C.’s 32 public colleges and universities.
In numerous hearings during January, we heard testimony from the presidents of the higher education institutions as we continue crafting the 2023-2024 state budget. A primary mission for our committee is to ensure that higher ed is affordable for students and that there is no tuition increase.
It helps to see colleges and universities up close (i.e., “kick the tires”) to better understand their budgetary requests. I have pledged to tour those campuses where I have not previously spent time. I spent the day at the Citadel with my wife, Donna. College President, General Glenn Walters, was our host. We toured the campus, eyeing needed building improvements, and concluded with the cadet parade honoring members of the first African-American graduates from the early’70s.
Reconsider Abortion Ruling
This week, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson asked the State Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling striking down the state’s Heartbeat Bill, the six-week abortion ban. In a 3-2 decision in January, the court ruled that the 2021 law violated the state constitution’s right to privacy.
Wilson contends the framers of S.C.’s privacy provision did not conceive this provision as creating a right to abortion. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has vowed to press forward with efforts to restrict abortion in the state further.
Aiken High Champions Celebrated
Congratulations, Lady Hornets! The S.C. General Assembly celebrated the Aiken High School State Volleyball AAAA Champions. These Fighting Green Hornets ended the season with a 40-2 record, defeating North Myrtle Beach in a nail-biting championship game.
Work is underway to repave about 90 miles of interstate highway around the state. SCDOT says the repaving projects will focus on the region’s primary freight and transit arteries, including interstate highways 20, 26, 95, 385, and 526. With the addition of these projects, SCDOT has had approximately 200 miles of interstate resurfacing projects since 2020.
The portion of I-20 which runs through Aiken and Lexington Counties will have repaving completed by September:
- I-20 Westbound Direction only (Between Mile Markers 37-50) – Completion August 2023
- I-20 Eastbound Direction only (Between Mile Markers 23-37) – Completion September 2023
Want to Know More?
Do you want to learn more about my positions, bill sponsorships, voting record, and past writings? Here are some handy links:
- About Me: https://taylorschouse.com/about-2/
- My Positions: https://taylorschouse.com/issues/
- Sponsored Bill & Voting Record: http://tiny.cc/b1pouz
- Recent Newsletters: https://taylorschouse.com/category/newsletter/
I’m Available & AT YOUR SERVICE
It is my honor to be of service. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating state government or have any thoughts or concerns about the legislature.
In Your Service,
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