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South Carolina Legislative Recap 2021

The South Carolina Legislature adjourned the first year of its two-year session on May 13th, passing almost 70 bills. Lawmakers will return later this year to handle various issues, including allocating federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, redistricting, veto overriding, and finalizing the state budget. Any legislation the Legislature has not yet passed will need to wait until January 2022 for reconsideration.

COVID-19

This year, one of the Legislature’s first actions was to appropriate $208 million for vaccination funds across the Palmetto State. Lawmakers also passed measures to shield businesses from lawsuits if someone contracted COVID-19 at their location. Gov. Henry McMaster successfully got the Legislature to pass bills forcing public schools statewide to resume in-person learning by the end of April.

Budget

Lawmakers will have to agree to a state budget when they return to Columbia in the coming months. As it stands now, the state will have about $1.7 billion in one-time supplemental revenue due to federal emergency COVID relief. Lawmakers tentatively agreed to give South Carolina teachers a $1,000 pay raise and to increase their starting salaries to $36,000. In addition, all state employees are in line for a 2% pay raise. They also designated millions to extend rural broadband internet access and to make college more affordable. However, these and other provisions may change during continued negotiations.

Abortion

Lawmakers passed S. 1, a bill banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected (at about 6-8 weeks), except for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. However, a court blocked the law almost immediately after its enactment. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider a similar law adopted in Mississippi, so S.1 could become enforceable in the future if the nation’s highest court upholds Mississippi’s law as constitutional.

Police Reform/Hate Crimes Legislation

South Carolina remains one of only two states without hate crimes legislation, a distinction that members of both parties tried, but failed, to change this session. The Legislature was similarly unable to pass police reform measures, though much back-and-forth politicking took place on that topic. Many lawmakers, activists, and business leaders are hopeful the 2022 session will deliver change on hate crimes, chokeholds, body cameras, and officers’ use of lethal force.

Gun Reform

South Carolina joined the list of states allowing open carry of firearms. To prepare and educate law enforcement and the general population on the new law, legislators agreed to delay its effective date until August 16. The law will not allow guns on the State House grounds, schools, or other specified locations.

Capital Punishment

For years, South Carolina has been unable to execute Death Row inmates because pharmaceutical companies have withheld the drugs needed for lethal injection. In response, the Legislature passed a bill to allow electric chair or firing squad executions. Gov. McMaster signed the bill, allowing inmates to choose the method of their death – lethal injection, electrocution, or firing squad, with these last two considered the default options whenever drugs are unavailable for lethal injection. The state’s electric chair has been maintained and is ready for use while the Department of Corrections prepares guidelines for firing squads.

Transgender Rights

State lawmakers waded into the national debate over whether transgender persons should compete in women’s sports, debating a bill to prohibit the practice in middle and high schools. In the end, however, the bill was tabled after not getting enough Republican support. Lawmakers will likely reconsider it during next year’s legislative session.

Certificate of Need

While legislation to reform or repeal South Carolina’s Certificate of Need (CON) program did not pass this session, it remains a hot topic in the Senate and is expected to receive more attention when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Two pieces of legislation – S.290, seeking to repeal CON, and S.370, seeking to reform CON –  are both being carried over until next year.