State House Week

 S.C. House Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday Feb.9, 2021

When state lawmakers return to Columbia next week the House of Representatives is expected to debate the Fetal Heartbeat Abortion bill.  The measure, which has already been approved by the Senate, would forbid doctors from performing abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.

The bill is expected to have little trouble passing in the Republican controlled House.  Similar bills have passed in previous years.

The bill could be signed into law by Governor McMaster as early as next week.

Dr. Edward Simmers testifying during his DHEC confirmation hearing before the Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Tuesday, February 2, 2021.
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

 The slow pace of COVID vaccinations across the state, and the need to vaccinate teachers in an effort to get more students in classrooms reached a boiling point at the Statehouse this week.

In the Senate there was harsh criticism of DHEC, the state’s public health agency for its’ handling of the vaccine distribution.

Gov. McMaster announced that beginning next week persons 65 years and older will be authorized to join healthcare workers in receiving vaccinations.

House Speaker Jay Lucas (L) and Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey discuss the Fetal Heartbeat Bill at the Statehouse on Wednesday, Jan. 26th.
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

It took 16 attempts over 30 years, but this week the State Senate passed a bill that bans most abortions in the state. Using its new commanding Republican majority the Senate approved the so-called "fetal heartbeat" bill which prohibits doctors from performing an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That usually occurs six to eight weeks into a pregnancy. The vote was along party lines. Charleston’s Sandy Senn … one of three Republican women members was the only Republican to join with Democrats in opposing the measure.

The South Carolina State House

Once again this legislative session, conservative members of the SC General Assembly are attempting to restrict abortion in the state. A bill that would ban almost all abortions is being fast tracked in the State Senate. In past years abortion bills have been derailed in the upper chamber. But this session, with a new, stronger Republican majority, supporters hope to finally be able to pass the bill and send it to the House where it has passed before.

Members of the South Carolina House of Representatives taking their oaths of office last month.
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

    This year’s session of the S.C. General Assembly got underway this week with one member describing it as "a session not like any other."  Most lawmakers wore masks as the lingering COVID pandemic altered many time-honored legislative traditions.  Adding to the unusual atmosphere at the Statehouse, were extra state police manning posts in and around the building following last week’s insurrection in Washington.  Neither the House or Senate will meet next week during the Presidential inauguration.

Members of the SC House of Representatives spill into the House balcony to insure proper "social distancing" during debate on Thursday, March 19, 2020
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

Like the state as a whole, the Sc General Assembly is being impacted by the coronavirus. The House and Senate held separate, one day sessions this week to approve an emergency appropriation for DHEC to help the public health agency deal with the growing pandemic.

A larger concern on the horizon for state lawmakers however is next year’s state operating budget, and how it might be impacted.

File photo: S.C. House of Representatives chamber
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

The state is on its way to having a record state budget.  The House of Representatives this week approved next year’s state spending package, and for the first time it totals over $10 Billion . 

The state’s soaring population coupled with an exceptionally strong economy is leading to larger than expected tax revenues allowing state lawmakers to approve significant spending increases for programs such as education, public safety, and infrastructure.

File photo of the S.C. Senate in session
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

The S.C. State Senate this week voted to limit debate on the massive public school improvement bill. Senators have been considering the bill for seven weeks. Senate leaders hope to move to a final vote on the bill next week.

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.

State House Week
SC Public Radio

This year’s session of the South Carolina General Assembly got underway this week with the Senate beginning debate on the Public School Improvement Bill. Despite some twenty sub-committee meetings where Senators heard from numerous educators and citizens, the massive bill is still drawing the ire of many teachers.

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.