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READ ALONG: SC Gov. McMaster delivers 2024 State of the State

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster greets lawmakers as Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, right, pumps his fists after the State of the State address at the South Carolina Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Sean Rayford/AP
FR171415 AP
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster greets lawmakers as Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, right, pumps his fists after the State of the State address at the South Carolina Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster delivered his annual State of the State address on Jan. 24, 2024.

Editor's Note: Gov. Henry McMaster delivered his 2024 State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. Here are his remarks in full.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen of the General Assembly, my fellow South Carolinians:

We are here tonight to address successes, challenges and opportunities.

But first, as in prior years, I’d like to recognize those in uniform whom we lost in the line of duty in 2023.

Sgt. Ricky Lydell Green Jr. of the South Carolina Department of Corrections; Deputy Jacob Eric Salrin of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department; Officer Matthew Logan Hare of the Easley Police Department; Lt. Michael Charles Wood, Jr. of the Newberry Police Department; Specialist Jayson Reed Haven, South Carolina National Guard; firefighter James Michael Muller of the Irmo Fire District, and K-9 Agent Rico with the State Law Enforcement Division.

To the families and loved ones of these brave South Carolinians, we offer our condolences. We are eternally grateful for their service.

I am delighted to have with us once again tonight our first lady, my bride, Peggy; our son Henry Jr. and his wife, Virginia. Their 16-month-old daughter, Margot Gray, is at home. And our daughter Mary Rogers, her husband, Sam. Their 19-month-old son, James Dargan, is at home. Please stand and be recognized.

Also, our Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, and her husband, David, are here tonight and our state constitutional officeholders. Please stand and be recognized.

Finally, will the members of the best Cabinet in the nation please stand and be recognized. Thank you all.

I would also like to acknowledge the members of the Supreme Court in attendance tonight, including Chief Justice Beatty, who will retire this summer after more than seven years as chief justice of our Supreme Court and more than 30 years of service to our state. I look forward to working with our next Chief Justice, John Kittredge.

I believe there is no higher honor on Earth than being selected by the people who know you best to serve in a position like this. I thank you and I will not let you down.

We will continue to act boldly, think big and continue building on our successes. My question: What are our priorities now, and what will our magnificent state look like in 100 years?

The world knows that South Carolina has great people. Our quality of life and cultural heritage, abundant natural resources and prosperous economy make us unique and offer enormous opportunity.

Our booming economy in 2023 once again created a record budget surplus, over $1.64 billion, with over $9.21 billion in capital investment and 14,120 jobs. (The year) 2022 was equally grand with over $10 billion in capital investment.

Just since 2017, we have announced over $36.4 billion in new investments and 86,378 new jobs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, South Carolina led the nation in population growth last year.

Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, our personal income growth rate ranked second in the country at 4.9% through the third quarter of 2023.

We are firing on all cylinders.

South Carolina’s tourism industry continued to thrive in 2023, meeting or exceeding the record-breaking tourism growth of earlier years.

South Carolina was named as one of the top five golf destinations in the world and best in the country for 2023, according to the International Association of Golf Travel Operators. Ours is the only state in the United States to make this list, sharing recognition with Cyprus, Dubai, Los Cabos and Thailand. This reputation was evidenced in 2023 by the announcement of a new PGA TOUR tournament, the Myrtle Beach Classic, which will debut in May, joining the prestigious RBC Heritage tournament held the month before on Hilton Head Island.

Since 1950, Darlington Raceway, the track “Too Tough to Tame” has provided generations of NASCAR fans with spectacular memories, breathtaking finishes and a lifetime of stories to be told and retold. The Mother’s Day and Labor Day NASCAR CUP races are South Carolina’s largest professional sporting events, generating over $118 million in economic impact to the state. You have to see it to believe it.

Once again, Charleston was named the #1 City in the South by readers of Southern Living in 2023, and the #1 City in the United States by Travel + Leisure Readers for the 11th year in a row.

Hilton Head Island was again named the #1 Island in this year’s Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice rankings of the best islands in America.

And, Greenville’s Unity Park was recognized by Reader’s Digest Magazine as one of the “Nicest Places in America.”

I would like to recognize several of the businesses which announced their confidence in our people by their substantial capital investment in 2023. If the leaders will stand as I name your company, we will respond when all are standing.

In Richland County, Scout Motors will revitalize an iconic American brand as an all-electric, next-generation truck and rugged SUV with a $2 billion investment and 4,000 jobs. President and CEO Mr. Scott Keogh.

In Chester County, Albemarle Corporation will invest $1.3 billion, with more than 300 jobs, for a lithium hydroxide processing facility. CEO Mr. Kent Masters.

In Sumter County, e-VAC Magnetics’ investment of more than a half a billion-dollars and creation of 300 jobs will produce rare earth permanent magnets and will help secure the United States’ domestic pipeline for these rare earth magnets, the only such facility in the Western Hemisphere. CEO Mr. Erik Eschen.

In Laurens County, ZF Transmissions Grey Court is expanding its operation for the growing and evolving mobility industry with a $500 million investment and 400 jobs. Vice President and Plant Manager Mr. Tobias Brugger.

In York County, Pallidus is relocating its corporate headquarters and semiconductor manufacturing operations to South Carolina with a $443 million investment and 405 new jobs. Vice President of Global Facilities Mr. Gerald Knowles.

In Richland County, Cirba Solutions will build a state-of-the-art flagship operation to produce lithium-ion battery materials with more than 300 new jobs and over $300 million investment. CEO Mr. David Klanecky.

In Spartanburg County, Milo’s Tea Company, a family-owned beverage company, will establish operations with a $130 million investment and 103 new jobs. CEO Mrs. Tricia Wallwork.

And also, our Secretary of Commerce, Harry Lightsey, and his remarkable team which worked around the clock to produce these successes. Please stand. We thank all of you. You all made the right decisions. We boomed in 2023 and will boom again in 2024.

South Carolina is a national leader in advanced manufacturing. And now we are leading the way in the new and innovative electric vehicle and battery manufacturing industry.

We are home to four major electric vehicle manufacturers, major international EV battery manufacturers, the nation’s largest EV battery recycling facility, and many other industries in the electric vehicle manufacturing supply chain.

Our leadership is displayed in the SC Nexus for Advanced Resilient Energy consortium developed by our Department of Commerce.

This consortium was developed in collaboration with our research universities, technical colleges, state agencies, the Savannah River National Laboratory, economic development non-profits, and private businesses.

It is the culmination of groundwork laid in prior years through collaborative public-private initiatives.

This cooperative spirit produced our EV Working Group, a “one-stop shop” to recruit and assist with electric vehicle investment and manufacturing in the state.

It also produced the PowerSC Energy Resources and Economic Development Interagency Working Group. This group leads the effort to coordinate the state's energy stakeholders to ensure that we have the energy necessary to meet the needs of our future.

We know that we will need more. The questions are: how much power will South Carolina need? And how will it be produced and transmitted?

Recently SC Nexus won the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s designation as one of the Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs, which allows SC Nexus to apply for federal funding. Out of over 400 applications, South Carolina was one of 31 finalists selected.

As a federal Tech Hub, SC Nexus will compete for federal grant funding valued between $40-$70 million annually. My Executive Budget includes $15 million to support SC Nexus and serve as the state “match” required for this competition. We are going to win.

Also, the demand for a trained EV workforce is outpacing the number of qualified applicants.

Manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Volvo Cars, and Scout Motors will need a highly specialized and trained workforce of almost twenty thousand South Carolinians, and they will need them soon.

To meet this demand, my Executive Budget recommends $50 million to create specialized “EV training institutes” at our technical college campuses.

One thing we do not need is more labor unions. We have gotten where we are without them, and we do not need them now. We are a right to work state. We have the lowest union membership in the country.

We have worked hard and carefully – through education, training and business recruitment – to earn our record prosperity, and we will continue to preserve and enhance it.

However, our prosperity – and that of generations of South Carolinians to come – face a clear and present danger from the big labor unions. They have crippled and distorted the progress and prosperity of industries and cities in other states. It has taken years, but they have done it. And now, their membership is at an all-time low and falling. So now they are looking at us – and other booming southeastern states – none of which want or need labor unions.

In 2021, the International Longshoremen’s Association sued maritime shipping carriers for calling on the Port of Charleston’s state-of-the-art Leatherman Terminal. Over the past two-and-a-half years, what started as a “secondary boycott” to force the state Ports Authority to cede long-held state jobs to union labor has devolved into a broader threat to our current and future prosperity. Secondary boycotts are illegal.

The ILA’s secondary boycott was initially rejected but later resurrected by President Biden’s appointees on the National Labor Relations Board. We have taken the fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which I believe will understand the dire implications of this conduct, uphold the law and rule in our favor.

Our aerospace, vehicle and tire manufacturers are no longer the sole targets for labor organizers. Our thriving hospitality and tourism industry along our coast now finds itself a target. It seems that no business or employee in South Carolina is safe from the disingenuous campaigns and destructive impacts of union infiltration.

No one should bargain their prosperity under threats of union boycotts or coercive pressure campaigns. We will not let our state’s economy suffer or become collateral damage as labor unions seek to consume new jobs and conscript new dues-paying members. And we will not allow the Biden administration’s pro-union policies to chip away at South Carolina’s sovereign interests.

We will fight. All the way to the gates of hell. And we will win.

State government is in superior fiscal shape. We have the largest rainy day reserve fund balance and the lowest amount of general obligation debt – than at any other time in recent memory.

Once again, I am recommending the General Assembly put additional funds into the state’s rainy day fund – $54.3 million – so that the fund maintains a balance of $1.16 billion which is equal to 10% of this year’s General Appropriations Act.

Until a few years ago, South Carolina had the highest personal income tax rate in the southeast and the 12th highest in the nation – at 7%. No more. Two years ago, I signed into law the largest income tax cut in state history, which will cut the rate to 6% in the next few years. Accordingly, my Executive Budget recognizes this year’s $99 million scheduled cut to the income tax rate, dropping it from 6.4% to 6.3%.

The state Board of Economic Advisors will soon issue an updated revenue forecast. If future revenues allow, I ask the General Assembly to speed up the income tax cut schedule, and let taxpayers keep even more of their own money.

As we seek prosperity through our expanding economy, we must constantly be alert to detect, avoid and remove obstacles to its health and vitality.

Our laws and regulations provide guidelines to that prosperity, and our civil justice system provides enforcement of these guidelines and redress for injury. Yet, our rules on joint and several liability have introduced an element of uncertainty into our business arena and uncertainty is the enemy of sound business.

We must find a common-sense formula which will provide accountability and just compensation without damaging our economy.

We must also ensure that the public has confidence in our state’s judges. Circumstances and events continue to raise questions.

It is past time to provide full transparency and accountability to the magisterial selection process, which provides the bulk of our judges, over 300 in number.

Our constitution provides that the governor appoints magistrates, subject to the Senate’s advice and consent. I have instituted a new procedure requiring magisterial candidates to complete more detailed applications and to waive confidentiality protections for – and to authorize the release of records related to – any attorney or judicial disciplinary proceedings.

This application and screening process closely aligns with the processes used by Senate committees when scrutinizing statewide appointments submitted by the governor, and also by those of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission when evaluating judicial candidates for election by the General Assembly.

As for our circuit and appellate courts, South Carolina is one of two states where the legislature chooses the judges by election. Being unique in itself signifies neither good nor bad: it is the confidence in the process that counts.

The People are watching not only how the General Assembly screens and selects judges but also whom the General Assembly elects to these critical positions. The Rule of Law is a cornerstone of our society and our constitutional republic. We need judges who understand the proper judicial role, who appreciate our constitutional structure, and who interpret the law as it is written, rather than as they wish it were written. As the U.S. Supreme Court rightly begins to return issues and authority to the States that were never granted to the federal government to begin with, it is essential that the General Assembly elect qualified, intelligent jurists who can carefully analyze the important and challenging questions that will be raised with increasing frequency in our state courts.

To properly provide for a separate and independent Judiciary, the currently unrepresented Executive Branch should play a role in selecting judicial candidates before the General Assembly exercises its constitutional authority to elect judges.

I suggest that our Founding Fathers prescribed a method for judicial selection that has served our nation well and with which our people are quite familiar. Gubernatorial appointment of all judges, with the advice and consent of the state Senate, requires no “re-invention of the wheel,” will inspire the confidence of our people, and will encourage more excellent attorneys to seek public service.

Our state’s roads, bridges, highways, and interstates are the arteries of our prosperity. Our rapid growth is outpacing their capacities.

Continued big, bold, and transformative investments are imperative.

The 2023 SCDOT Annual Accountability Report highlights the need to repair, rehabilitate, and rebuild many of the nearly 9,000 bridges on our primary and secondary roads. Some are over eighty years old and showing it. Some are in such a state of disrepair that the required restrictions render them useless for commercial trucking, school buses, or fire trucks.

Accordingly, I recommend $500 million in surplus funds from the Homestead Exemption Fund be appropriated to the South Carolina Department of Transportation for emergency bridge replacement and repairs. That will keep us moving.

As you know, after nearly 30 years of service to the State of South Carolina, Christy A. Hall, the Secretary of the South Carolina Department of Transportation, has announced her retirement.

Secretary Hall will be remembered as one of the greatest transportation secretaries in state history. Her unparalleled expertise and relentless work ethic has allowed the department to flourish under her leadership. Whether responding to natural disasters or spearheading transformative infrastructure projects, she has consistently delivered for the people of South Carolina. She thinks ahead and leaves a legacy of excellence. She has placed the agency in a position to continue driving our state forward for years to come.

Highlights of her career with SCDOT include restoring the agency’s finances and financial reputation, developing and leading our strategic 10-year plan, and accelerating critical interstate widening projects. Secretary Hall has been recognized for her ability to work with industry partners to deliver results on major infrastructure projects. In addition, she has helped lead our state through a number of disasters including the floods of 2015, Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence. Under her leadership and in partnership with law enforcement, South Carolina executed its first fully successful interstate lane reversal during a coastal evacuation.

Madam Secretary, will you please stand and be recognized.

I ask again the question: What will South Carolina look like in 100 years?

South Carolina's mountains, beaches, sea islands, lakes, and marshes are among the most beautiful in the nation. This land, as noted by the explorers for kings and queens, is lush, fertile, and brimming with abundance, flora and fauna. Our incomparable cultural and environmental heritage distinguishes our state and people from others. And all possess a strength and beauty we must never lose.

Fortunately, economic growth and the preservation of our shared heritage are not opposing objectives which must be balanced as in a competition, one against the other. Instead, they are complementary, intertwined, and inseparable, each dependent on the other. To strengthen one is to strengthen the other.

We cannot allow our state’s culturally and environmentally significant structures, monuments, lands, islands, and waters to be overcome by development, mismanagement, flooding, erosion, or storm damage.

It is our duty to preserve and protect our history, our culture and our environment, and the public’s access to them, before they are lost forever. We have a veritable army of people, and public and private organizations dedicated to these goals.

You may well remember the cautionary lyrics of singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell. “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Accordingly, I am recommending that $33 million be appropriated to identify and preserve culturally or environmentally significant properties, disaster recovery and flooding mitigation efforts as well as beach renourishment projects along our coast.

Education is the universal key to a prosperous, happy future. Thus, working together, we must continue to invest in public education; the positive impact of these investments is growing.

Enrollment in our full-day, four-year-old kindergarten program for children in poverty continues to grow with 17,437 children now enrolled in a public school, private school, or childcare center. For the next school year, an additional 2,500 children are expected to enroll in the program. My Executive Budget includes $21.1 million to meet this increase in enrollment.

This program is increasing the number of children who enter kindergarten ready to learn. Approximately 41 percent of children who participate in a full-day, four-year-old kindergarten program are ready for kindergarten as compared to 27 percent of children in poverty who do not participate in the program.

In September of 2023 the South Carolina Department of Education released the results of the South Carolina College-and Career-Ready Assessments in reading and mathematics for school year 2022-23. For the first time in recent history, at least half of students in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded grade level standards in reading. This is good news, but it’s not nearly enough.

We must continue to invest in early literacy and professional development in the science of reading. This will ensure that all children can be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. We know that students who cannot read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

Unfortunately, the assessment results revealed that only 41% of students in grades 3 through 8 in school year 2022-23 met or exceeded grade level standards in mathematics. Therefore, my Executive Budget recommends an additional $10 million to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics.

In addition, this Executive Budget provides $30 million for the Education Scholarship Trust Fund. Starting this year, these funds will allow low-income parents to choose the type of education environment and instruction that best suits their child’s unique needs.

Regarding teachers, we must continue our remarkable progress to raise teacher pay.

In school year 2017-18, the minimum starting salary of a teacher in South Carolina was $30,113. Today, it is $42,500.

My Executive Budget increases the starting pay for teachers to $45,000 for the next school year.

My goal is that by 2026 the minimum starting salary of a teacher will be at least – at least - $50,000.

In school year 2017-18, the average teacher salary was $50,182, well below the southeastern average.

In school year 2022-23, the average teacher salary was $57,737, exceeding the southeastern average and a fifteen percent increase over five years. That is good news.

South Carolina is also making significant progress in providing school-based mental health services to school-aged children.

In January of 2022, I directed the Department of Health and Human Services to perform a comprehensive review and analysis of the school mental health services program at the Department of Mental Health. Within four months, HHS produced a review of the program and seven recommendations for removing barriers that existed to accessing quality mental health services in our schools. These recommendations were enacted on July 1, 2022, and produced a public-private partnership that offered schools more choice and control in accessing school-based mental health services for their students.

Health and Human Services also conducted a survey at the start of the current school year to determine the availability of school-based mental health services in South Carolina.

The survey showed that the number of school-based mental health counselors available for public schools has doubled from 600 in January of 2022 to 1,209 in September 2023. The ratio was one counselor for 1,300 students then, to one for 653 now.

The survey also showed that students at more than 200 additional schools now have access to mental health counseling and that all 73 of our traditional school districts now have access to mental health counseling.

We also know that access and affordability to higher education for every South Carolinian is essential to ensuring that we have the trained and skilled workforce to successfully compete for jobs and investment in the future and meet all economic challenges.

Therefore, this marks the fifth year in a row that I have asked the General Assembly to freeze college tuition for in-state students, with an appropriation to our institutions of higher education of $49.8 million. This represents a 4.5 percent increase as defined by the Higher Education Price Index.

I am also requesting $95 million in lottery funds to South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarships through the South Carolina Technical College System.

Despite the high demand for skills, training, and knowledge, many institutions across the nation are seeing declining enrollments. To address these challenges, I have proposed funding for the Education Oversight Committee – a nonpartisan committee composed of legislators, educators, and business representatives – to oversee a systemic review of our state’s 33 public institutions of higher education.

This study will provide a systemic review, including an assessment of any advantages that are offered in consolidating schools or programs, or re-evaluate the courses, degrees and certificates that are offered at our public colleges and universities. The goal is to make sure we are meeting our state’s future workforce needs.

Also, I propose providing $80 million so that every South Carolinian who qualifies for federal need-based financial aid as measured by federal Pell Grants – has sufficient state financial assistance to attend any in-state public college, university, or technical college.

Students at private, independent, and historically black colleges and universities will receive an additional $20 million for tuition grants and assistance.

Recently we learned that the Commission on Higher Education had approximately $151.7 million in surplus lottery funds that had not been used for college scholarships.

My Executive Budget recommends allocating those excess funds for additional need-based grants or to pay for an extra semester of LIFE, HOPE or Palmetto Fellow scholarships. These one-time funds should incentivize students to complete their undergraduate degree and enter the workforce sooner.

My Executive Budget also provides $44 million for deferred maintenance and health and safety upgrades at our four-year comprehensive institutions, two-year branch campuses of the University of South Carolina, and our technical colleges.

In addition, I am proposing a $34 million appropriation for campus infrastructure resiliency at the Medical University of South Carolina, a second $70 million installment for the College of Veterinary Medicine at Clemson University, and a $35 million investment for the Health Sciences Campus at the University of South Carolina.

My Executive Budget also proposes $1 million for operations and security for the Anne Frank Center and $1 million for the Center for Civil Rights History and Research, both at USC.

And finally for education, I propose continued funding of $20 million for the Battelle Alliance, a collaborative nuclear sciences research partnership between the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, South Carolina State University, and the Savannah River National Laboratory.

Truly, we must have the strongest focus on education we can muster if we are going to succeed.

Our COVID-19 experience revealed that a mental health crisis existed in South Carolina. What wasn’t clear was just how bad it was.

That’s why two years ago, I directed Health and Human Services Director Robby Kerr to initiate an immediate review of our State’s behavioral health funding and delivery system.

It became clear from Director Kerr’s efforts that the time had come to modernize and restructure South Carolina’s siloed healthcare delivery agencies: the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, among others.

The restructuring of these agencies is and will continue to be a complicated legal and financial endeavor, involving billions of dollars in federal funding that flow through these agencies for a myriad of services and programs such as Medicaid.

Last year, my Executive Budget and the General Appropriations Act directed the Department of Administration to procure the professional expertise necessary to analyze and provide the General Assembly with a comprehensive plan to restructure these agencies, consolidating and privatizing services where possible.

The prestigious Boston Consulting Group was hired and has provided their initial report. Unfortunately, their analysis confirmed what many of us had feared – and much worse.

According to their report, South Carolina has the most fragmented health and human service delivery system in the nation. As a result, 77% of our state’s young people with major depressive episodes do not receive mental health treatment, according to Mental Health America. This ranks lowest in the country. Our citizens and families are suffering as a result of this dysfunction.

With little to no coordination between the relevant agencies, South Carolinians seeking assistance are forced to navigate through a confusing landscape of offices, agencies, and officials as they seek help for a loved one or dependent. Too often they fall through the cracks of a system that does not coordinate, communicate or collaborate.

The time has come for dramatic restructuring: for the consolidation and streamlining of these agencies into one single cabinet agency. One that will develop a strategic plan and operational approach to improve the quality, accountability and delivery of health and human services to the citizens of our state – as the Boston Consulting Group has recommended.

This will require us to reimagine how the state provides access to crisis mental health care, physical health care, substance abuse services, disability and special needs services and assistance to the elderly and at-risk.

I implore you: Let this legislative session be remembered for the creation of the most effective, efficient and professional health and human service delivery system in our history.

Our state law enforcement and criminal justice agencies have begun to stem the tide of personnel loss with recruitment and retention pay raises provided in the previous two General Appropriations Acts.

I propose that we build on this success, by providing an additional $17.8 million for recruitment and retention pay raises in FY 2024-2025. Invaluable experience should not be allowed to walk out the door.

I am also once again proposing a $2,000 state income tax credit for every active-duty law enforcement officer, firefighter, first responder, and emergency medical technician employed by a public entity.

Additionally, this budget maintains a proviso suspending the $10,000 retirement cap for anyone enrolled in the Police Officer Retirement System. This will allow retired officers to return to work and fill existing vacancies.

Placing an armed, certified school resource officer in every school, in every county, all day, every day, has been one of my top priorities.

At my request, the General Assembly began providing funds to hire more resource officers for our state’s 1,284 public schools. The grant program has been very successful and has more than doubled the number of officers assigned to a school, going from 406 in 2018 to 1,109 in 2023.

I am recommending an additional $13.4 million to add officers in each of the remaining 175 schools currently without an assigned SRO.

Animal fighting, especially dog fighting, is one of the cruelest criminal activities in our society. Law officers estimate that most of the people participating in this barbaric activity have long criminal records.

In September 2022, a SLED agent was dedicated to combating animal fighting and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies. Shortly thereafter, the agent helped execute one of the “biggest takedowns of a dogfighting operation in South Carolina history,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

This Executive Budget expands upon this success by recommending $566,000 to hire three additional SLED agents dedicated to animal fighting.

In July 2023, the South Carolina Department of Corrections began utilizing a process that allows mobile phone providers to permanently disable contraband phones and devices. They are detected by a certified contraband interdiction system approved by the Federal Communications Commission. To date, over 875 phones and devices have been disabled at Lee Correctional Institution. My Executive Budget recommends $23 million to expand this valuable program to each prison in our state.

Our law enforcement officers know who the repeat criminals are. They commit over 80 percent of the crimes.

Unfortunately, this is happening every day. How long are we going to let this happen?

Law enforcement needs our help. They need stronger laws to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals and juveniles, and they need new laws to “close the revolving door” and keep career criminals behind bars and not out on bond.

Currently, there are no graduated criminal penalties for illegal gun possession in state law. That means the penalty is the same – small – no matter how many times the criminal gets caught. This provides no deterrent. Graduated felony penalties, with no bond, will help keep repeat criminals behind bars and not out on bail where they can – and will – commit more crimes.

During the last year, I have continually called on this General Assembly to act, to simply take a vote, and pass graduated criminal penalties for illegal gun possession so that I can sign it into law.

And during this last year, it has become an almost daily occurrence for an innocent South Carolinians to be shot or shot at by a career criminal who should be behind bars instead of roaming our streets with virtual impunity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this new law will require no appropriation – no money – except whatever it costs to feed these killers while they rest peacefully behind bars.

Joining us today is South Carolina Highway Patrol Lance Corporal B.A. Frazier.

Around 3:30 am on April 16, 2023, Trooper Frazier was on duty and initiated a traffic stop after witnessing a vehicle traveling at high speed on U.S. Highway 78 in Bamberg County. As a Bamberg County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived to assist, Trooper Frazier was shot by the suspect. Both officers returned fire as the suspect sped away. Following a long chase, the suspect crashed into a home in Branchville.

Video from the body and dash cameras of the incident is hard to watch. Trooper Frazier’s professionalism and composure while under fire and getting shot in the face – was remarkable. He embodies the best of the Highway Patrol, and South Carolina law enforcement.

The gun that was used to shoot Trooper Frazier? According to the State Law Enforcement Division, it was a stolen gun.

The assailant? Derrick Edwards Gathers, according to SLED, was a 22 year repeat offender who was out on bond on charges in the state of Georgia. Gathers long rap sheet includes numerous charges and convictions for trespass, robbery, assault and battery, dealing drugs, rape, criminal sexual conduct, and 7 charges for criminal possession of a firearm.

This career criminal should have been behind bars and not behind the wheel of a car in South Carolina.

Trooper Frazier is here with us this evening. Trooper Frazier please stand so that we may recognize you.

So, I ask you, again, send me a bill with graduated criminal penalties for illegal gun possession. I will sign it into law. Let’s get these career criminals behind bars and save the lives of our people. When our people are safe – they thrive.

In closing, to the members of the General Assembly, I say let us continue our successful partnership, one that has been based on communication, collaboration, and cooperation.

Let us embrace civility and comity through our thoughts, our deeds, and our words – and urge our people, especially the young people, to be proud of their state.

And let us set our State on a course that will provide the opportunity for prosperity, success, and happiness for generations of South Carolinians.

The best is yet to come.

May God continue to bless America, and our Great State of South Carolina.

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.