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SC STATE HOUSE UPDATE

SUMMARY OF SC LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS - 2021

On Thursday, May 13, the South Carolina Legislature adjourned “Sine Die” (meaning indefinitely) to complete the legislative year.   Although the policymakers have gone home for now, this was the end of the first half of a two-year Session, so Committee hearings will proceed through the rest of 2021.  In addition, the Sine Die Resolution provides for continuing votes on issues related to Budget and Redistricting.

 

This legislative year was dominated by a newly emboldened conservative Republican majority that was filibuster–proof after they gained three new seats in the 2020 elections.   They entered the 2021 legislative session vowing to ban abortion, allow gun ownership without permits, and adopting anti-LGBT statutes.  Despite that agenda prioritized by the Republican Caucus, some of the very damaging proposals were defeated (or kept from being voted on), and some very positive policies passed or came close to passage.  Since we are in the 1st year of a 2-year Session, the state legislature will start business in early January 2022 as a continuation of this year – providing an opportunity to pass those positive policies with a little extra effort, but also a need for continued advocacy to defeat the damaging bills.

 

Although the SC Legislature Session has ended for the year, it is not the time to relax advocacy efforts.   A lot of activity that goes on between sessions.  In mid-June, the policy makers returned to Columbia to work further on the state budget and will reconvene again on October 12 to further discuss budget issues.

 In addition, the 10-year redistricting process will begin where there will most certainly there will be attempts to create more Republican friendly districts as well as put some of our Democratic leaders’ reelection in jeopardy.  For more information on redistricting, see:

 

Even though they are not in session, Committee and Subcommittee hearings can be continued throughout the “recess” so that when the Legislature reconvenes in January that legislative proposals are ready to be voted on early in the session.   This process can be an asset for those positive proposals where we can be proactive with the Committees and Subcommittees to complete their work prior to the 2nd Session.   In addition to the SC Committee Hearings on Redistricting, the legislators have held hearings on election fraud (brought together by Rep. Wes Newton) and alternative treatments for COVID-19.

ABORTION

The Republican Senate led by Beaufort Senator Tom Davis (R) prioritized banning abortion as its first order of business in the new legislative session.  Sen. Davis convened his Medical Affairs Subcommittee to pass S. 1, The Fetal Heartbeat Bill, by the end of the first week and by February 18, 2021 the fast tracked legislation was signed into law by the Governor.  During debate, an amendment was passed for exceptions in the case of rape and incest, although some legislators debated whether the bill went far enough.  The detection of a "heartbeat" is assumed to be about at the 6th week of pregnancy, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant.  Upon the Governor's signature, Planned Parenthood immediately filed a motion for the courts to stay the implementation of the new law until the legal process addressed whether The Fetal Heartbeat Bill was constitutional, and the SC courts agreed.  Both those in support of the legislation and those opposed will now move to the litigative process where it is estimated the costs will exceed several hundred thousand dollars.

 

Subsequently, the state of Texas passed its own fetal heartbeat bill not only banning abortions, but also making it a crime to assist someone to obtain an abortion.   In the case of Texas, the TX court – and the Supreme Court – did not stop the implementation and abortion is now effectively illegal in the state of Texas.  South Carolina lawmakers have indicated their intent to prefile an abortion bill like that was enacted in Texas before the start of the next legislative session.  In addition, there are 11 additional abortion bill spending in next year’s legislative session including human life begans at conception bill.

BUDGET

Earmarked Spending Creates Division Between Governor and Legislators

The policy makers in Columbia returned in late June to their legislative work for one final mission – to override the Governor’s budget vetoes.   McMaster had vetoed approximately $152 million of earmarked dollars for the many special projects identified by the legislators for their districts.  In their override vote, those same legislators restored virtually all the vetoed funding.  In addition to approving spending levels for the new fiscal year which began July 1, the legislators also included non-budget items as is common in budget legislation, that would grant even further power to the SC legislative branch in a state where the powers of the legislative branch already far exceed those of the executive branch of government.  For example, contained in the 2021-2022 SC budget is a provision that gives the legislators an “unconditional right” to intervene in election law challenges, specifically to intervene in court action on election policy or the way elections are conducted.  Another budget provision provides that the legislators would have additional seats on the state governing board that decides on grants for economic development projects across the state. One of the few provisos that failed passage was to continue to allow curbside alcohol pickup, a temporary measure approved during the COVID-19 emergency order in SC.

 

With veto overrides, the state approved a $10.8 billion spending plan.  Some of the highlights included in the plan are pay raises for teachers as well as school funds so each public school can hire a resource officer, a nurse, ensure access to a mental health counselor and guarantee needs based 4-year-old kindergarten to every school district in the state.  In addition, there are pay raises for state employees and significant infrastructure funding.

 

The controversial $155 million in earmarked funding was the most discussed part of the budget.   Legislators have traditionally been able to include their pet pork projects in the budget without disclosing many of the details.  Also, those projects that receive the funds do not have any public requirement to report how they spend the funding.  To provide more transparency, the SC Senate vowed to provide a list of the individual funding requests and identify which legislators made that request.  This list was released in late June, but only a few hours prior to the actual budget vote and there was no description included of each funding request.  In his veto, McMaster suggested that these funding requests should be subject to a competitive grant process administrated by state agencies to which local Senator Tom Davis responded that McMaster’s proposal was “anti-transparent” as it was the role of the legislators to appropriate funds, not the Executive Branch.

 

The General Assembly is reconvening in October to address legislative initiatives dealing with redistricting. They will also need to decide on how to spend $2.5 billion in American Rescue Plan funds and anticipated $525 million from the Savannah River Site settlement. The state has until December 2024 to spend the COVID relief money.

 

Following is a list of earmarked dollars requested by Beaufort County legislators:

 

Recipient:  Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department

Amount:  $500,000

Project:  Crime Lab

Sponsor:  Herbkersmann

 

Recipient:  14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office

Amount:  $1,000,000

Project:  Sexual Assault Victims Program

Sponsor:  Herbkersmann

 

Recipient:  Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services

Amount:  $375,000

Project:  Facility Renovations including drive-up pharmacy

Sponsor:  Herbkersmann

 

Recipient:  City of Beaufort

Amount:   $450,000

Project:  Cybersecurity Initiatives including student training program and funds to atrract tech firms to Beaufort

Sponsor:  Erickson

 

Recipient:  AmeriCorps SC

Amount:  $200,000

Project:  Not Specified

Sponsor:  Bradley

 

Recipient:  Green Pond Resource Center

Amount:  $25,000

Project:  Not Specified

Sponsor:  Rivers

 

Recipient:  Sheldon Township Project

Amount:  $25,000

Project:  Not Specified

Sponsor:  Rivers, S. Williams

 

Recipient:  City of Port Royal

Amount:  $500,000

Project:  Shrimp Dock Repairs

Sponsor:   Erickson

 

Recipient:  Eagles Field Baseball Complex

Amount:  $50,000

Project:  Bathroom Renovations

 

Sponsor:  Herbkersmann

Recipient:   USC Beaufort

Amount:  $1.5 million

Project:  Parity Funding

Sponsor:  Davis

 

Recipient:  New Morning Foundation

Amount:  $750,000

Project:   Distribution of birth control

Sponsor:  Davis

 

Recipient:  Regional Transmission Organization Study Committee

Amount:  $750,000

Project:  To further study competitive energy markets impact on SC citizens

Sponsor:  Davis

 

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

Or Convention of States (H. 3205) is a national wide effort to hold a Constitutional Convention.  The SC House passed by a vote of 66 – 42 a bill that would authorize South Carolina to ratify an amendment that would allow the convening of this Convention; the measure will be considered in the Senate in 2022.  Although in its passage of the amendment, policymakers said that the Constitutional Convention should be limited to the federal government’s jurisdiction and power as well as setting term limits for Members of Congress, multiple constitutional experts have testified that the US Constitution makes it clear when a convention is called, all issues are on the table (the last Constitutional Convention called in the US was when the current Constitution was drafted).  Opponents of the Constitutional Convention note that there is no way to protect amendments to free speech, the prohibition of slavery, guarantee of full citizens to anyone born in this county, etc. when rewriting the U.S. Constitution.  38 states are required to adopt the amendment for the Convention to be called.

 

The concept of the Constitutional Convention is being funded by such financiers a sthe Mercer Family and the Koch Brothers, who are advocating the elimination of all business regulation including income taxes as well as the Commerce Cause that regulates trade between states.  Note that South Carolina is in the top 10 states of receiving Federal funds.  This measure has been championed by Bluffton representative Wes Newton with support by Jeff Bradley (Hilton Head), Bill Herbkersman (Bluffton), and Shannon Erickson (Beaufort).

DEATH PENALTY

The pro-life majority in the state legislature had no issue with adding different modalities of killing inmates on death row (S. 200).   The death penalty is legal in South Carolina, but no inmate had been executed since 2011 due to the difficulty in the state obtaining the drugs necessary to execute.    To bypass this barrier, the SC legislature voted to restart executions in the state by adding firing squads and electrocution as additional options.  Governor McMaster noted he was proud to sign such a bill into law.  This law in effect reinstates the execution of the death penalty in S.C. Senator Davis voted in favor of the bill, along with Representative Weston Newton and Jeff Bradley.  Representative Bill Herbkersman and Shannon Ericksondid not vote on this bill.

 

DISCRIMINATION

The No Shaming in School Lunch Bill (H. 3319) would not allow a school to serve students who are eligible for a free or reduced lunch to get a different meal than the other students.  Under this bill, students that are eligible for free and reduced lunch must be offered the same meal as other students and these meals must be offered regardless of if the student owes money for previous meals. Districts cannot penalize students for failing to pay for school lunches and the State Department of Education will develop and provide a model policy and template for school meal debt collection to each school district.  The SC House passed this bill 113-0 and it is current pending in the Senate Education Committee.

 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

 

Ending Child Marriage (S. 591) - A minimum marriage age of 18, without exceptions, is the strongest, simplest and most effective way to stop child marriage and its harmful consequences. Legislation raising the legal age of marriage is an important way to reduce the likelihood that children will be exposed to violence or exploitation.  In 2019, the Assembly passed a bill ending legal child marriages for those ages 12 – 16.  The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Confidentiality Bill (S.340 & H.4009) - This bi-partisan bill provides that non-profit sexual assault and domestic violence provider organizations are not required to disclose certain confidences acquired by clients during the provision of services to those clients. Certain exceptions are necessarily provided.  This bill has been championed by the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

 

Child Abuse Response Protocol Act (S. 229) – In May, the Governor signed into law the Child Abase Response Protocol Act to require multidisciplinary teams involved in child abuse investigations and prosecutions to follow certain protocols and provide for an advisory committee to review and update the protocols.

 

ELECTION LAW

Over 61 bills pertaining to election law was introduced in the first session of the SC Legislature session in 2021, and it is anticipated that many more will be introduced in 2022.  Although the state legislature failed to pass any of these bills in 2021, one of them that came close was H. 3444 that would remove the independence of the County Commission and put them under the total control of the State Elections Commission.   Although some of the process and rules might be consistent across the counties, the Governor would also have greater authority of elections in the state of South Carolina.  This bill passed the House in March 2020, but the Senate Judiciary Chair believes that the bill goes too far and has introduced an alternative bill, S. 499.  Despite the Committee Chair’s objection, other Senators tried to bring up this bill under special order in the last minutes of the legislative session in 2021.  Beaufort Senator Campsen is the leader of this proposal.

 

Other bills that have been introduced would expand voting access  (H. 3822, H.3275, H.3372, H. 3519, H.3533, H. 3822 ), and restrict voter access  (H.4150, H. 3372, S.113, S. 236, S. 365, S.0550 ).  Rep. Wes Newton (Bluffton) held a hearing in August questioning the Elections Commissioner about the number of deceased people on the voter rolls.

 

Other proposed bills would allow the General Assembly to intervene in elections, give the Assembly the power of appointment to the Elections Commission, require the SC Ethics Board access to campaign bank accounts, limit independent expenditures in elections, invalidate the Citizen United SC ruling re:  public disclosure; prohibit the hand delivery of ballots by anybody not a direct relative of the voter (AARP opposing); permanently prohibit ballot boxes, allow for municipal precinct polling, purging voter rolls, requiring people to re-register to vote, etc.

 

ENVIRONMENT

Drinking Water (PFAs) – S. 219/H.3514 – Force DHEC to set standards for drinking water.

 

Regulating Pyrolis or “advanced recycling” – S. 525H. 3753 - Chemistry Council is pushing for a bill to exempt a new type of technology -that involves burning plastics – to be exempt from any regulations as well as hold the local taxpayers responsible for any clean up should there be an accident.  The Conservation League was instrumental in educating the legislators on the potential dangers of this proposal - however – it has passed both Houses.  Due to the different versions reported out by each body, they will need to negotiate a compromise bill in 2022.  These bills would put the health and safety of communities at risk by removing the State’s authority to regular pollution from plastic trash facilities

 

Public Trails Tax Credit - H 3120 – An income tax credit for anyone that allows a public trail to go through their property.

 

Solar Panels and HOAs – H. 3979 – To forbid HOAs from limiting the installation of solar panels on private homes; bipartisan support, but strongly opposed by the Homebuilder’s Association

 

Tire Waste Regulations – H. 3222 – This bill, passed by both Houses and signed into law, would strengthen the regulations around burning tires.

 

FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE

H. 3560 would provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for State employees due to the birth or adoption of a children.  The bill passed the SC House by a vote of 104-4 with local Representatives Bill Herbkersman and Wes Newton co-sponsoring the original legislation.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee and will be considered in 2022.

 

GUNS

OPEN CARRY - (H. 3094) - Both the SC Senate and House passed H. 3094 making it legal to carry a loaded firearm in public.  During debate, an amendment was approved that prevents state and local authorities from implementing any Presidential Executive Order that restricts gun rights.  Bill Bradley and Weston Newton were co-sponsors of this legislation, Shannon Erickson and Senator Davis, in a roll call vote, voted in favor of this bill.  Bill Herbkersman was absent during the vote.  Governor McMaster has signed the bill and it is now the Open Carry with Training Act.

 

There are some in the legislature who do not believe that Open Carry went far enough and want to pass a constitutional carry bill.  Constitutional Carry legislation would not require any permitting nor training prior to a gun purchase.

 

​HATE CRIMES 

South Carolina is one of 3 states without a Hate Crimes law.  Such laws do not cfreate new crimes but include more severe penalties for those convicted of a crime that is identified by a motivation of hate due to a protected class.  The Hate Crimes Bill (H. 3620) passed the South Carolina House by a vote of 79-29 (and with no floor debate) on April 7th and retained the language that hate crimes due to gender and sex and sexual orientation were included, but that crimes that included destruction of property and verbal assaults were removed.  The Senate Judiciary Committee also reported out the Hate Crimes Bill (by a vote of 13-10), but it stalled under full Senate consideration after 9 conservative members of the Senate brought forth objections.   Their objections include their concern that pro-life protestors could be tried under a hate crimes law in addition to demanding that sexual orientation and gender be removed as a hate crime classification.

 

It is anticipated there will be renewed efforts for a vote on the Senate floor in early 2022.  Statewide coalition, Stamp Out Hate, and local effort – Low Country Coalition against Hate were instrumental in organizing support around this initiative.

 

HEALTH CARE

“Healthy Families” Bill (H. 3225). A bill to amend the SC Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act by adding language to require perinatal health care providers to implement an evidence-based implicit bias program to train health care staff, to establish requirements for the program, and for other purposes. This bill is concerned with maternal and child health outcomes, particularly for African American families.  More than three times as many Black women die in childbirth as compared to white women. When it became evident that the House would not support his measure, an amendment was offered to substitute for the entire bill a study committee dedicated to addressing the disparities in Black Maternal health. SC has the 8th highest maternal mortality in the country with Black women four times a likely to die from childbirth as white women.  South Carolina is 50 for the number of OBGYN’s per capita.

 

 This amended bill passed the House with Representatives with Weston Newton, and Jeff Bradley voting in favor of the bill and Shannon Erickson and Bill Herbkersman not voting.  The bill was sent to the Senate and referred to the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs.  No further action has been taken on this bill.

 

Pharmacy Access Bill (S. 628) – This bill would authorize pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives, which can make contraceptives more accessible and affordable by eliminating the need for a separate visit to a health care provide to obtain a prescription.  Expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice to include prescribing birth control helps alleviate many of the obstacles to preventing pregnancy.  Note 121 countries have over the counter birth control.  This bill is supported by the American College of Pediatric – and the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Passed the House and is pending in a Senate Committee.

 

Female Health and Wellness Act (H.3747 & S.574) would exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax. The removal of the tax on period products would alleviate the additional monthly expense of paying a luxury tax on a necessary medical product.

 

In addition to these bills, there have been over several bills introduced to expand Medicaid (with the Federal government paying 90 percent of the increased costs); multiple proposals addressing COVID issues; and Senator Tom Davis’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana in certain circumstances.

 

IMMIGRATION

Licensure bill (H3243) - A bill to provide people who are lawfully present in SC and are not precluded from establishing residency under Federal Immigration Law to be eligible for occupational certification or professional licensure, provided other licensure requirements are met.  No action has been taken on this bill and it will be carried over into 2022 session.  This bill is especially important for the “Dreamers”.  This bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

 

LGBTQ+ DISCRIMINATION

“Save Women’s Sports Act” (H. 3477/S. 531) is a misguided effort by anti-gay forces in the SC Assembly that students must participate in sports of their biological gender as opposed their identified gender.  The Republican Superintendent of Education has noted that there is a process for determining the sports participation of transgender youth – a process that has granted 4 waivers in 5 years.  This bill has been defeated numerous time during the session primarily due to 5 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who have voted against it.  It is opposed by the SC Hospital Association and the SC Academy of Pediatrics.  But the Family Caucus has identified these issues as important to the large donors to the Republican Party and so they keep bringing it up including holding 4 hearings in the House and Senate and offering it as amendments to the budget bills.  All the Beaufort County Republican House members are co-sponsoring the bill.

 

PAY EQUITY

Act to Establish Pay Equity (H. 3183 and S.514)

These sister bills would make pay discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender identity, age, national origin or disability illegal in South Carolina.

 

South Carolina Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (H.3188)

This bill prohibits on the basis of sex paying wages to employees of one sex at a lesser rate than the rate paid to employees of the opposite sex for comparable work in jobs which require the same, or essentially the same, knowledge, skill, effort, and responsibility.

 

Prohibit Paying Sub-Minimum Wages to People with Disabilities (S.533) – Advocated by ABLE SC, this bill has passed the SC Senate.  S.533 would assemble a taskforce to create a three-year transition plan to phase out subminimum wage by August 1, 2024. Currently, the United States still operates under a law in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which grants certain employers a 14(c) certificate to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage—sometimes pennies an hour.   Several states have already restricted the use of subminimum wage, and South Carolina looks to be the next state to eliminate this.