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Bill to restructure DHEC advances in SC State Senate

FILE - South Carolina Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, begins a debate on legalizing medical marijuana in the state on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
Jeffrey Collins/AP
FILE - South Carolina Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)

After two years of study and debate, a bill that restructures the giant Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has cleared the State Senate’s Medical Affairs committee and is headed for debate in the full Senate.

The bill, S. 915, Executive Office of Health Policy, was unanimously approved by the committee on Jan. 31.

If the bill becomes law, it would see the state departments of Mental Health, Disability and Special Needs, Health and Human Services, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, and the Office on Aging consolidate with DHEC’s Division of Public Health.

“We’ve had in place since the sixties a fractured delivery of public health services in South Carolina, and the problem is they’re often serving the same populations,” said Sen. Tom Davis, (R-Beaufort) who chairs the Medical Affairs sub-committee which developed the bill.

“They compete with each other in the budget process, they’re not cooperating with each other in terms of technology and data sharing, and as a consequence, we have poor delivery of health care services to South Carolinians,” Davis added.

The restructuring bill would also create a separate Department of Environmental Control which is currently a part of DHEC.

Under the proposed bill, a Director of Public Health would be appointed by the Governor with Senate confirmation.

The DHEC bill is a priority of Sen. Harvey Peeler, (R-Cherokee) chairman of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. Peeler’s support almost ensures passage by the Senate this session. A similar bill is pending in the state House of Representatives.

Russ McKinney has 30 years of experience in radio news and public affairs. He is a former broadcast news reporter in Spartanburg, Columbia and Atlanta. He served as Press Secretary to former S.C. Governor Dick Riley for two terms, and for 20 years was the chief public affairs officer for the University of South Carolina.