State House Week

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.

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.

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