Thursday marked the end of the second year of regular session of the 124th General Assembly.
Lawmakers voted to grant state employees a new paid leave benefit, created a way for sex offenders to apply to come off of the sex offender registry, and kept transgender women from participating in women’s sports.
The session ended with some unresolved issues. These included whether to legalize marijuana and provide funds to build an interstate that connects to Myrtle Beach. They also discussed whether to increase penalties in hate crimes.
Here are some highlights of what lawmakers passed, didn’t approve and will come back to later this year.
They did it!
Transgender women would not be able to participate in women’s sports under the Save Women’s Sports Act adopted by the General Assembly. The ban would apply to college, middle school, and high school athletics.
Critics of legislation questioned the necessity of the bill.
According to the South Carolina High School League there have been five transgender athletes who applied for waivers to be allowed to participate in high-school sports since 2016. Only one transgender high school student has been approved by the league, and three transgender high school students have been approved by the league.
Gov. Henry McMaster indicated he would sign this bill.
“I think common sense dictates that boys should play against boys in boys’ sports, men’s sports and the same thing with girls. Otherwise it introduces an element of unfairness into it and I think most of the athletes would prefer to do it the way we’ve been doing it for many, many years,”McMaster stated.
Jeffrey Collins AP
School vouchers are likely coming to South Carolina in some form or fashion, but it remains to be seen exactly how they’ll be rolled out.
The House and Senate have differing visions of a future voucher program. They will meet in the coming months to try to reach a compromise on their competing school voucher legislation.
Both bills are designed to offer opportunities for children whose educational needs cannot be met by public schools but whose parents are unable to afford private education.
Paid parental leave
State employees are eligible for time off when a child is born or adopted.
To allow for bonding and recovery, lawmakers agreed to give six weeks of paid time off to state employees who give birth. Co-parents who don’t give birth but have a child would be able to take two weeks off.
State employees who adopt or foster a child would be eligible to receive two weeks paid off work.
The legislation was proposed by state Sen. Darrell Jackson (Democrat from Richland County), which includes potentially thousands of state employees. It originally called for 12 weeks of paid time off. To get it passed in Senate before the end, the benefit was reduced.
The bill still requires the governor’s signature.
Early voting and election administration
South Carolina is getting early voting without any excuses
Wednesday’s election bills approved by the House as well as the Senate. They provide two weeks of early in-person voter registration, establish a certain number of early voting locations in each county, and give election officials authority to examine and tabulate absentee ballots before Election Day.
The popular legislation had appeared dead just a few weeks ago due to the Senate’s insistence on including a provision giving the body say-so over the governor’s appointments to the state elections board, but the upper chamber ultimately compromised to get buy in from the House and governor.
The Senate settled on the confirmation of the state election chief and a process to remove the elections board or its executive directors if they fail enforce, defend or publicly discredit state election laws.
Friday’s bill was signed into law by the governor.
Register of sex offenders
Lawmakers reached an agreement on a framework that would allow registered sex offender to be removed from the registry, provided they meet certain criteria.
According to the state Supreme Court, lawmakers had to create a system that allows offenders to apply for removal from the registry. Being on the list for the rest is not constitutional.
Those with lower level offenses will be able to apply to the State Law Enforcement Division to come off the list if they have completed all required treatment programs, properly registered with the county sheriff twice a year, and haven’t committed any other sex-related offenses. The severity of the crime would determine whether the offender can apply to be removed from the registry.
Those on the registry for more serious offenses would still need a court to rule if they could off of the registry, and wouldn’t be able to apply until 30 years after their release from prison.
Federal COVID relief
The House and Senate have reached an agreement on how to spend $1.9 Billion of the $2.5 Billion American Rescue Plan Act money. South Carolina will have to allocate the remaining amount by December 2024.
$453 million will be spent by lawmakers to accelerate the widening Interstate 26 between Columbia, Charleston, and the first 33 miles Interstate 95 north of Georgia’s border.
The Office of Regulatory Staff will be awarded $400 million to expand high speed broadband internet, while the Rural Infrastructure Authority will receive $900 million to fund water and sewer projects.
$104 million will be given to the Department of Health and Environmental Control to construct a new public-health laboratory. The Office of Resilience will receive an additional $100 million.
What they didn’t do
South Carolina will need to wait at least until next year to have a hate crimes law in place after the Senate declined the proposal.
The House passed legislation last spring to increase penalties for violent crime against someone based upon their age, political opinions, race, color or religion.
But the legislation sat on the Senate calendar with several senators’ objections keeping the bill from moving forward.
“That’s a big lift in the Senate. There’s a lot of attention given to the senators who put their name out there as objectors, but there was a lot more opposition than just those people who put their names out there, so there are a number of concerns,”Shane Massey from R-Edgefield, Senate Majority leader
Wyoming and South Carolina are the best. only two states without a hate crimes statute.
South Carolina Rep. Marvin Pendarvis left, D- Charleston, promises Jamal Sutherland’s parents he will pass bills after his son was killed by jail officers. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins Jeffrey Collins AP
USC board overhaul
A bill that would have been restructured University of South Carolina trustee boardAfter failing to vote in the Senate, the senator declared his death for the year.
Senators took up the bill about 80 minutes before the end of this year’s legislative session, but couldn’t get it across the finish line due to a protracted showdown between Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland.
Hutto won the race by running out the clock.
Harpootlian promised to refile the bill in December, so that it could be taken up in the early part of next year.
Following a series of financial and high-profile hiring scandals in recent times, lawmakers are seeking to restructure the board.
Certificate of need
A Senate bill that was passed this year would have repealed the process by which medical providers get approval to build new facilities and buy new equipment.
For a hospital to be built or to purchase large pieces of equipment, health care providers will need to apply for certificates of need from Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The Senate passed a complete repeal of the program to stop hospital systems using the system to hinder their competitors from building new facilities.
However, the bill was never passed by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Ban on critical race theory
This session, the South Carolina General Assembly failed to approve legislation that would have banned the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
The bill was approved by the South Carolina House in April. However, it contained many controversial restrictions on teaching that were removed.
The bill, which sought to create a mechanism to investigate complaints against teachers, and required schools post textbooks and descriptions about classes online, was too weak to make it to the Senate committee before the session ended on Thursday.
The House added the legislation Wednesday to another bill that had passed. But the Senate placed it on Thursday for consideration. “tomorrow,”Effectively, the bill was killed.
After the Senate approved the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, South Carolina is closer to allowing people to use marijuana for medical purposes.
The bill was being considered for the House to vote on, but Tommy Pope, the Speaker Pro Tempore, declared it unconstitutional because it contained a tax provision. Pope stated that the bill should be considered for consideration in the House and not in the Senate.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has worked on medical marijuana legislation for seven years, said he won’t be deterred by the setback.
Davis indicated that he will file the legislation again next fiscal year, probably without any fees or taxes.
South Carolina Senator Tom Davis waits for reporters to interview him after a procedural decision in the House voted down his medical marijuana bill on Wednesday, May 4, 2022 in Columbia, S.C. AP
The Senate and House budget proposals did not include the long-awaited money to build Interstate 73, which will connect Interstate 95 to Myrtle Beach.
That’s even after senators representing the Grand Strand tried to add several amendments to the budget to include $300 million to build the first phase of the highway. It’s a project supported by McMaster.
“We’ve got more money now than we’ve ever had at one time,”McMaster stated. “I-73 is important. We cannot wait until every other highway is widened and paved in the state before we put money into the Grand Strand.”
Governor Henry McMaster spoke to supporters and press about the state of the economy and the importance of I-73 at the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Advocacy Council meeting in Myrtle Beach on Monday. April 12, 2021. JASON LEE
After the House refused to vote on legislation to separate it during the last week of session, the Department of Health and Environmental Control is still one agency.
Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee State Senator, advocated for the separation of the agency’s health and environmental functions into separate entities. The Senate approved the legislation in March.
However, it was unable to move quickly enough to get to the House when it reached the end.
State Rep. Gilda Cohen-Hunter, D. Orangeburg, even tried to push for a compromise that would have required additional study over the next two years. However, late amendments to this bill ended up delaying discussion and preventing a vote.
Budget and abortion restrictions on the post-session agenda
South Carolina lawmakers won’t be away from Columbia for too long.
They’ve got to tackle the budget, work out disagreements over certain proposals and have given themselves the option to return to tackle redistricting, university board elections and abortion restrictions, should the U.S. Supreme Court release a ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.
Legislators will return to Columbia June 15 — one day after South Carolina’s statewide primary elections — to finalize the state budget that starts July 1.
There are some major spending differences between the two sides in their multi-billion dollar spending plan. Three House members and three senators will need to discuss these in the coming weeks.
It’s a difference of more than $1 billion.
The House’s budget spends nearly $14 billion, and the Senate’s spending plan is about $12.6 billion.
The Senate’s proposal for a $1Billion one-time rebate is the most contentious. It was proposed next to a $1Billion tax cut. The House budget included $600 million in tax cuts, but lawmakers didn’t include the rebate.
“I walk into this budget process with my mind wide open and know that I will work with the Senate and we’re going to reach a compromise. I don’t enter into any negotiations with anything off the table. That’s not my nature,”Speaker Murrell Smith “We’re gonna go in and we’re going to find a path forward and I’m confident that we will have some resolution on the budget and have it ready when we come back here in June.”
Rep. MurrellSmith, R-Sumter introduces a bill that would reorganize University of South Carolina’s board of trustees during session Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Tracy Glantz [email protected]
After June, and after the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, lawmakers will be able to come back to debate what to do next. Leaked draft opinions showed that five justices voted to repeal Roe v. Wade.
South Carolina’s fetal heartbeat law, which prevents abortions after a heartbeat is detected, is not being enforced because of a federal court injunction.
“The first process is to receive the decision and understand it and the second part of the process is to obviously address any issues that the Dobbs (v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) decision allows South Carolina to make or if there are issues that we have with a heartbeat bill, that may in and of itself, solve those issues,”Smith said. “So we’re gonna have to see what that decision is, but there’s no doubt we’re going to come back and address it if the opportunity arises for us to do that.”
Massey stated that any discussion about abortion restrictions will be through a committee process this summer, allowing interested parties the opportunity to testify before lawmakers. The chambers could return in the fall.
“It’s important that people have an opportunity to be heard,”Massey said. “We’ll go through the committee process and we’ll do all that before we have the debate on the floor and I expect that it’s going to be a spirited debate when that comes.”
Joseph Bustos works as a reporter at The State on state government and politics. He graduated from Northwestern University and has previously worked in Illinois on politics and government reporting. He has been awarded reporting awards in Missouri and Illinois. He moved to South Carolina in November 2019
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Zak Koeske, a reporter for The State on state government and politics, is Zak. Zak was previously a reporter for The State covering education, government, and policing in the Chicago area. He’s also written for publications in his native Pittsburgh and the New York/New Jersey area.