SC Legislature

Executives of NextEra Energy appearing before S.C. Senate Finance  Committee on Feb. 19, 2020
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

Next year’s state spending plan is now advancing through the legislature.  This week House budget writers approved a $10 Billion budget package that includes major spending increases in education, roads, public safety, and corrections.

The budget that’s now on the way to the full House of Representatives incorporates almost all of Governor McMaster’s proposals including for the second year in a row significant teacher pay raises.

For the past several years the issue that’s dominated the state legislature has been the future of Santee Cooper, the state-owned public power utility.  Santee Cooper in effect produces electricity for over two million customers in the state. State lawmakers have been pondering what to do with the utility since the failure of the giant VC Summer nuclear project in the summer of 2017.  Many have concerns about Santee Cooper’s Management, and the almost $7 Billion debt it's now carrying following VC Summer.

University of South Carolina sign
Real Tough, Real Stuff [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Four weeks into this year’s session of the state legislature there has been lots of debate, but little movement on several education bills.

The Senate is slowly working its way through the massive School Improvement Bill with no end of debate in sight.

Senators have turned in several late nights debating the bill and it seems the longer its debated, the more complicated some of the issues become.

SC Senate in session on January 30, 2020
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

Teacher Bill of Rights Defeated

When the State Senate re-convenes next week it will begin its’ third week of debate on an omnibus School Improvement Bill.  For the past two years it’s been the General Assembly’s first priority.  It aims to update an array of state policies to produce better educated students, and perhaps most importantly shore-up the teaching profession by keeping good teachers in the classroom and to entice new teachers to the profession.

File: Gov. Henry McMaster
Mark Adams/SCETV

For the second year in a row, state lawmakers have the luxury of putting together the state’s budget with millions of additional dollars.

The state’s economy is booming.  More people are working, and tax revenues are way ahead of projections.  For the first time the state’s annual operating budget for next year is expected to exceed $10 Billion.

In his annual State of the State address Wednesday night (Jan 22), Gov. Henry McMaster recommended an ambitious spending plan along with returning a quarter of every new dollar back to taxpayers.

File photo of construction at the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant, Jan 10, 2017
Dominion Energy

It was two years ago this week that the state saw the largest business failure in its' history, the collapse of the giant V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County.

Despite years of delays and cost overruns, news of the decision by SCE&G and its' partner state owned utility Santee-Cooper to pull the plug on the $9 Billion project left most people stunned.

The decision to abandon the project set in motion a series of events that are still playing out.

The S.C. State House
Ron Cogswell [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

In the final hours of this year’s session of the state legislature, Senate yesterday passed an economic incentives bill  aimed at persuading the NFL’s Carolina Panthers to move it's headquarters and practice facilities from Charlotte to Rock Hill.  A $250 Million investment for York County.  Rock Hill Senator Wes Climer told the Senate it’s a huge win for the state's economy.

Teachers and their supporters rally outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia on May 1, 2019.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

Some 10,000 teachers and supporters from across the state descended on the Statehouse this week sending a powerful message to lawmakers that they want more state support in funding and in education reforms, and they are not happy with the school improvement bill pending in the legislature.

The South Carolina State House
File

School Improvement Bill Pushed To Next Year

Leaders in the state legislature had hoped that the magnitude of deciding what to do with state-owned utility Santee-Cooper would not interfere with their efforts to pass a desperately needed school improvement bill this year. But with just two weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session Santee Cooper’s future is being debated on the Senate floor, and the education bill is being pushed to next year.

Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) flanked by Gov. Henry McMaster and a bi-partisan group of State Senators pushing to preempt off-shore drilling for oil and gas along the South Carolina coast.
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

Budget Also Contains Off-Shore Oil Prohibition

The S.C. General Assembly passes hundreds of bills and resolutions each year, but the most important measure enacted by the legislature is the annual State Appropriations Bill.  That’s the state’s operating budget for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1.  Not only does the budget provide the funding for state government to operate, it also identifies the priority needs of the state.

The South Carolina State House
File

State lawmakers are in the final month of this year’s legislative session with most of this year's priority bills still being debated.

This week, a Senate sub-committee opted to hold until next year's session a controversial portion of the massive school improvement bill in hopes of securing passage of the remainder of the bill this year.  The bill which has already passed in the House of Representatives is viewed as the most important matter for the legislature this session.

The South Carolina State House
File

This year’s attempt by pro-life members of the state legislature to pass restrictions on abortions is centered in the House of Representatives.  A bill that would ban almost all abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected in a woman passed the House Judiciary Committee this week on a mostly party line vote. Experts say a fetal heartbeat can typically be detected around the sixth week of pregnancy.

The South Carolina State House
File

S.C. lawmakers had hoped to keep the decks at the Statehouse clear this legislative session to be able to focus on improving the state’s public school system.  A major education bill has already been approved by the House.

But matters regarding the state’s energy future are generating a lot of attention. 

Aside from the enormous question of whether or not the state should sell Santee Cooper, the debt-plagued state owned utility, the future of solar energy in the state is being debated. 

Santee Cooper headquarters sign.
Santee Cooper

After months of discussion about Santee Cooper, the SC General Assembly this week took the first official actions that could lead to the eventual sale of the state-owned utility.

The State House of Representatives and Senate are considering Joint Resolutions that would begin a process to sell Santee Cooper which is burdened by an enormous debt incurred from the collapse of the giant V.C. Summer Nuclear Project in 2017. 

The S.C. House of Representatives approved the state's FY 2019-20 spending package on March 13, 2019
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

This year’s session of the state legislature is at the half-way mark.  And right on schedule this week the House of Representatives passed its’ version of next year’s $9 Billion state spending package.  It now goes to the Senate.

To pay for this year’s push to improve public education the budget contains millions of new education dollars. $160 Million dollars for teacher pay raises.

The House version also funds two percent pay raises for state workers, and $32 Million to help shore-up the state’s aging pension system. 

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