The 123rd session of the South Carolina Legislature continued with the convening of the second regular session on January 14, 2020. With Sine Die set for mid-May, legislators will have just four months to settle several outstanding issues from the first year of the session. Some of those issues include the following:
Education reform will remain the focus of the 2020 legislative session in South Carolina after the Senate failed to push the House-passed reform package to the floor for debate in 2019. Teacher pay and testing reform have consistently been points of contention in previous years, a result of poor national performance and the long-running Abbeville lawsuit for school equity. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) promised education reform for the state’s failing system after his election as governor in 2018 and supports the House’s reform efforts.
The House approved the reform package, titled S.C. Career Opportunity and Access for All Act, early in 2019, but the Senate took a more measured approach, opting for many subcommittee hearings and comment periods across the state.
The House version of the bill includes salary increases for new teachers, the creation of a committee to monitor the state education and workforce pipeline and implements a career pathways pipeline in order to align K-12 and higher education with state and local workforce needs. The bill also creates a $100M fund to bring businesses to areas with struggling schools. The House version highlights workforce needs throughout their policy objectives, as they consider it an issue of the utmost importance to the state.
The House also gives the state superintendent more ability to take over school districts with low performance, a power that the superintendent has exercised recently to take over low-performing districts. Class size, teacher retention and recruitment, and funding models remain topics of discussion in both bodies.
Senate leaders expect to discuss the reforms on the floor in January.
The abandonment of the two unfinished reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in Fairfield County also continues to dominate legislators’ time, while they decide whether to sell the state-owned utility, Santee Cooper. Santee Cooper holds a 45 percent stake in the abandoned project, which cost taxpayers $9 billion dollars and forced 5,000 construction and nuclear layoffs.
During the 2019 session, legislators agreed to seek bids for the sale of the utility for review during the 2020 session, but they will also consider third-party management of the utility or keeping it public. Currently, the Department of Administration is administering the bidding process. Expect offers to be presented to legislators in January.
Other controversial issues such as gun control, abortion and women’s rights, and medical marijuana will also command time during the 2020 legislative session as some bills were given hearings or passed in committees in 2019 and will carry over to this year. Every House and Senate seat is up for reelection in November, and legislators will look to advance their bills on these issues as they gear up for election season.