State Advocacy Team Update
By Chris deVries
April 7, 2022, was Crossover Day – a significant day for the SC legislature as any bill that has not passed at least one of the Houses of the legislature is ineligible to pass this year and must start the process from the beginning of the 2023 legislative session. There is good news and bad news. Some of the most damaging bills that were considered this year have been halted; and some of those proposals that would benefit our population did make it through the hurdle of passing at least one House.
Every legislative strategy was utilized in the week prior to Crossover including special orders to rush legislation to the House or Senate floor, invoking cloture to limit debate, loading down proposals with hundreds of amendments, and polls to remove bills from Committee consideration with each side of the various proposals doing everything within their abilities to pass or defeat legislation.
After the smoke has cleared, our direction for the rest of the session is clear – focus on the passage or defeat of the remaining bills that are still viable in the 2021-2022 legislative session which is scheduled to end on May 12 (sine die). The other large remaining item that must be addressed in the remaining days is the S.C. budget.
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION (H. 3205/S. 33)
South Carolina is in the process of joining 17 other states in calling for a Federal Constitutional Convention. The resolution passed both House of Congress and on April 12 the House concurred with the Senate’s amendments meaning it is ready for the Governor’s signature.
Although multiple states have argued that they are only voting for the Convention to discuss limited issues (i.e., balanced budget), Constitutional experts have repeatedly explained that a Constitutional Convention is free to make any changes to the Constitution they decide including the Bill of Rights.
STATUS: Passed Both Houses and has been enrolled for ratification.
Encouraged by a local group, Moms for Liberty, the SC legislature focused their educational efforts on two areas this year: diverting public school monies to private schools using education savings accounts (ESAs - formerly called vouchers) and trying to dictate that teachers can teach about civics and history as it relates to the diversity of our country. On the positive side, the legislative budget discussions have focused on raising teachers’ starting salaries.
Education Scholarship Accounts (S. 935.H. 4879)
By a vote of 25-15, the Senate passed this legislation which would provide funding for ESAS to families who are eligible for Medicaid or have disabled students. Led by local legislators Reps. Erickson and Newton, the various House bills addressing ESAs have been combined into one bill (H. 4879) and have passed the House Ways and Means Committee. This bill would also open the ESAs to military families. There will be a major effort in the remaining weeks of the legislative session to pass this proposal into law. In addition to diverting public funds to private schools, the ESAs would only cover a portion of the tuition for the families, making them generally unaffordable. Further, there are no accountability measures included in ensuring that the education would meet the needs of these children nor is there any provision to prohibit the private schools from adopting discriminatory admission processes.
STATUS: Passed the Senate; passed the House Committee
Curriculum Restrictions (H. 5183)
The multiple proposals that would censure teachers from discussing issues such as race in the SC public school system were lumped under one new bill H.5183 (The South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act). The new bill is a pared-down version of the 5 previous bills and is opposed by both the progressive and the more conservative Members of the House. If the measure should resurface, the House passed by a vote of 72-41, along partisan as well as race lines, a measure that limited debate to the current amendments and prohibits adding any additional amendments.
STATUS: Halted for the year unless extraordinary action is taken
Early Voting (H. 4919)
The House passed H. 4919, which would allow 2 weeks of early voting in all elections without a reason. However, there were some issues with the proposal including setting up a formula that would require too many voters in urban areas into one polling location, not requiring public hearings on the procurement of new voting systems, and instituting an audit requirement that would be burdensome to smaller counties rather than the national standard of a RISK audit. Absentee voting would continue to be allowed under this bill; however, a vacation would not be allowable with the addition of the no-excuse early voting. The League of Women Voters has testified that the proposal should also include a “notice and cure” provision whereby absentee voters are alerted if their ballot is not accepted. The Senate has passed a similar bill, although some of the problem issues were addressed such as the polling location problem, limiting government ID verification to the last 4 digits of the SSN (as it is currently), and does not limit the number of absentee ballots that can be delivered to the election’s office by any one person (disproportionally impacting nursing home residents). The Senate is scheduled to consider this legislation this week.
STATUS: Significantly different versions have passed the House and Senate
Control over the County Elections Offices (H. 3444)
Both Houses have passed different versions of this proposal; the House version grants the State absolute authority over the county election offices and the Senate version would require that regulations be promulgated to ensure consistency among the county offices. Regulations would be subject to public comment. The bill has gone back and forth between the two Chambers as there is no concurrence or compromise to date.
The court challenge to the state House redistricting map will be heard in May. The court challenge to the SC Congressional redistricting map will be held in August.
For the second year in a row, environmental issues have not been prioritized by the state legislature. Issues such as land conservation, landfill bans, disposal of hazardous waste, a green space tax, ex
Offshore Industry Bill (H. 4831)
This bill which would direct the SC Department of Commerce to grow the wind energy supply chain passed the House and was reported out by a Senate Committee. Although this legislation won’t put wind turbines off our coast, it would help grow SC’s clean energy economy through new investment and create high-quality jobs in the clean energy industry. It has received a first reading in the Senate which suggests the way is clear for the final passage.
STATUS: Pass the House; First reading in the Senate
Electronic Waste (H. 4775)
This bill would reauthorize policy that addresses the disposal of electronic waste was passed by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration.
STATUS: Passed the House; pending in the Senate
Abortion Ban (Trigger Ban with Personhood Language) (S.988 and S.1127)
Medication Abortion Misinformation (S.907 and H.4568)
Despite the passage of the 6-week abortion ban in 2021, the anti-choice folks were back with a vengeance this year as they tried to pass additional measures that would further limit women’s access to reproductive health services including abortion. A bill that deems personhood begins at the moment of conception and a bill to purposely provide false medical information to patients who opt for a medical abortion (a 2-step pill) were both primed for passage by the Senate, but due to some strategizing by the pro-choice legislators and advocates, none of these proposals were passed this year.
STATUS: Halted for the year unless extraordinary action is taken
LOCAL IMPACT: Several attempts to pass these bills in the Senate Medical Affairs Committee became challenging as it was clear that there were not enough Yes votes. One of the swing Senators on this bill was our own Senator Tom Davis, representing much of Beaufort County. Through various actions, hundreds of calls were generated in Sen. Davis’ office urging him to vote no on the anti-abortion legislation. Although he initially signed the petition to jettison these bills out of Committee, after receiving the many calls from Beaufort constituents, he removed his name.
Health Care Discrimination Bill (S. 811/S. 1130, H. 4776)
The “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” would allow healthcare professionals to discriminate against their patients and refuse to provide care. The bill includes a very broad definition of health care workers (including clerks and insurance processors) and allows the denial of care without medical jurisdiction and no requirement for a referral to another broader. The bill passed the House by a vote of 81-26 and send to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.
STATUS: Passed the House; pending in the Senate
Pharmacy Access Bill (S. 628)
This bill would authorize pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives thereby increasing access to birth control. The bill passed the Senate and was moved by unanimous consent to the House Committee on Medical, Military, and Municipal Affairs, which improves its chances for final passage this year.
STATUS: Passed the Senate; pending in the House
Medicaid Coverage for New Mothers
Although not a legislative issue, certainly a good news policy. The SC Department of Health and Human Services has extended Medicaid coverage for mothers who have just had a child from 60 days to 12 months. This extension would impact up to 5,000 women per year.
SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES
Bills Targeting Transgender Athletes (H.4153, S.531, and H.3477)
This dangerous bill would ostracize transgender students from their peers by banning their participation in interscholastic activities that align with their gender identity. Participation in gender-segregated activities would be determined by the student’s sex assigned at birth on their birth certificate. Every student should be able to access the opportunities and lessons of school athletics. This bill is cruel at its core and will harm children while overlooking the real issues with gender equality in sports like funding, resources, and pay equity. This bill was brought up five different times for a vote and the sponsors prevailed in their final attempt to get it passed. With 40 co-sponsors, the leadership was able to obtain a Special Order and it was passed by the House without Committee passage. The bill is now in the Senate.
STATUS: Passed the House; action needed to oppose in the Senate
ACTION NEEDED: Tell Your Senator to Oppose this Bill:
Click here to link to the Action Network to tell the SC Senate you oppose this bill.
Family and Medical Leave (S. 11/H.3560)
This bill would provide paid leave for state employees for parents of a newborn, newly adopted, or foster children. Different versions of these proposals have passed both Houses of the legislature and will now need to be resolved in Conference.
STATUS: Pass both Houses; need to resolve differences between the bills
Pay Equity (H. 3183/3188/S. 514)
Unfortunately, all of the proposals to address wage discrimination failed to gain any traction this year, despite some Republican support.
STATUS: Will not be considered this year