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Legislature heads to Columbia for a special session

I hope this month’s column finds you enjoying summer in our beautiful state!

Bill Sandifer represents Oconee County’s District 2 in the South Carolina House. Sandifer can be reached at (864) 885-2240 or [email protected] You also can connect with him on Facebook.

I am preparing to head to the Statehouse this week for a special legislative session. We will vote on the new budget, which takes effect on July 1 and directs tax dollars to South Carolina’s top priorities.

Earlier in the year, the House and Senate each passed our own versions of the state budget. At the beginning of June, three lawmakers from each chamber were appointed to a conference committee to hammer out the differences in the two versions. Now, the committee’s recommendations are complete. The next step will be the full House and Senate voting on the “compromise” version.

The budget, as it stands if the House and Senate adopt the committee’s version, would give every K-12 teacher in South Carolina at least a $1,000 pay raise, along with normal step increases based on years of experience. It also would give state employees a 2.5 percent raise and grant state law enforcement offers a pay raise as well, which is critical as many agencies struggle to fill positions or keep officers.

Along with these increases, the budget would allocate $100 million for K-12 school construction in rural and poorer areas of our state where local property taxes do not provide adequate revenue. Also, it would provide funding to expand full-day kindergarten for 4-year-olds from poor families statewide, to open new public charter schools, and to obtain new instructional materials, so we can be sure books and other materials align with the curriculum.

I am incredibly pleased the budget focuses on important workers and functions like teachers and education, infrastructure, workforce training and law enforcement. Once the House and Senate agree on a budget, it then will go to Gov. Henry McMaster for his signature. He can sign it or make line-item vetoes. I will update you in my next column.

Aside from the budget, the governor has signed several bills into law since I last reported. One of them focuses on reforming state-owned utility Santee Cooper. You might remember that Santee Cooper, which provides electricity directly and indirectly to 2 million South Carolinians, has struggled since 2017, when it stopped construction on a nuclear facility, leaving it with a $6.8 billion debt.

Among the Santee Cooper reforms are increased scrutiny on debt, a plan to replace board members and reevaluate CEO compensation, new project approval requirements with the S.C. Public Service Commission and a change in the process for increasing rates, to name a few. The reform plan also calls for steps to meet a zero-carbon emission goal by 2050.

Another newly signed law paves the way for South Carolina’s student-athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses from third-party entities not affiliated with their universities. The law helps keep South Carolina competitive in recruiting the nation’s top athletes, as other states enact similar measures. It goes into effect July 1, 2022.

Beyond this summer’s special session, the legislature already has plans to return to the Statehouse in the fall as well. At that time, we will redraw U.S. House districts as required by the Constitution. Redistricting is later than usual this year because COVID-19 delayed U.S. Census data. We will look at the reapportionment of S.C. House and S.C. Senate districts, too.

Also in the fall, we will debate how to spend $2.1 billion in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act and $525 million from a Savannah River Site settlement.

If you have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine yet, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. As new variants emerge, now is an important time. I encourage you to protect yourself, your family and our community. Sadly, in terms of those eligible to receive vaccines, South Carolina continues to lag behind the national average. Health experts say about 1.8 million South Carolinians have no protection. Let’s change that!

Thank you for the great honor of representing you. My door is always open!

Bill Sandifer represents Oconee County’s District 2 in the South Carolina House. He can be reached at (864) 885-2240 or [email protected]