Legislative Update: Week 7
This week was another busy week in Columbia. Progress was made on the comprehensive education reform bill and this year’s budget was successfully passed out of the Ways and Means Committee. The 2019-2020 budget is built on the foundation of protecting taxpayers, a renewed commitment to being resourceful and efficient, funding only core functions of state government, and providing value for every dollar we vote to spend. Because of our fiscally conservative budgeting, South Carolina is currently one of only fourteen states with a AAA credit rating according to Moody’s. Our debt level is .39% of state revenues which is significantly lower than our constitutionally set 5% limit. In addition to efficiently funding the normal core functions of government, this year we are making substantive investments in education and workforce development. We have prioritized public and higher education not only because we owe it to our students, but also to ensure our students are prepared for the workforce.
Highlights from the House Ways and Means Committee Budget Proposal
· Almost $160 million to provide teachers a pay raise, helping to ensure that we recruit and retain the very best teachers.
· $44 million in recurring funds to colleges in exchange for an agreement to freeze the cost of tuition for in-state undergrad students.
· Almost $78 million for improvements to workforce partnership programs in technical colleges, including funding for training new workers, purchasing new workforce equipment and more.
· $40 million for new, paper-backup voting machines to ensure our election process is secure and fair.
· $20 million to exempt from income taxes the retirement income of military veterans and first responders, saving the average first responder and military veteran $350 each year.
Amendments to the Education Bill
On Wednesday, Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, and State Sen. Greg Hembree held a press conference in support of the comprehensive education reform bill. After hearing input and concerns from teachers, parents, students and the business community, the original legislation was amended, and the bill is now stronger with the foundations of bold reform still intact. The Education K-12 Subcommittee began hearing debate and amendments following the press conference and passed the amended bill out of the subcommittee on Thursday morning. The bill currently has 84 co-sponsors and is scheduled to be taken up in the full House Education Committee next week.
The House passed H.3449 to remove the cap on the number of permitted hemp farms. Farmers will still need to apply for a permit with the S.C. Department of Agriculture, but there will no longer be a cap for the number of permits available or limits on the number of acres that can be planted with hemp.
SC Energy Freedom Act
On Thursday, I proudly voted for the “SC Energy Freedom Act,” that will expand Solar Energy options in SC. The bill passed the House unanimously and will extend current rooftop solar customer “net metering” until 2021 and provide for the long-term net-metering rate to be set by the Public Service Commission. The bill requires utility companies to create programs for individuals to participate in community-based solar projects and establishes requirements to ensure access for low and moderate-income individuals.
Palmetto Scholarship Protection
H. 3936 was introduced in the House this week to protect high-performing students from paying a penalty for starting at a two-year or technical college. This bill closes a loophole in the law and will now ensure that a student who uses a Palmetto Fellows Scholarship to attend an eligible two-year or technical school can receive a maximum of four continuous semesters that can also be used to attend an eligible four-year college.
Move Over Month
The House voted approval of a bill H. 3388 designating March as “Move Over Awareness Month” in S.C. DOT and Public Safety are charged with conducting programs during the month of March every year that emphasize the importance of motor vehicle drivers
moving over into an adjacent lane whenever possible when approaching or passing through a highway work zone, an emergency scene, or any other traffic incident.
Get Well Soon…
I ask that you keep our colleague Rep. Jimmy Bales in your thoughts and prayers. He is doing much better after he collapsed on the House floor last Wednesday. We look forward to his quick recovery and joining us back in the House soon.
Quote of the Week
“This Ways and Means budget is a big win for South Carolina – prioritizing teachers, students in rural school districts, classroom safety, tuition payers, and workforce training. Our collaboration and communication on these items with Speaker Lucas, Chairman Smith, and committee members in recent months was unprecedented and is reflected in this budget. This cooperation bodes well for future efforts on education reform, tax reform, and ratepayer relief.” – Governor Henry McMaster
It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia. If you need help navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me.