Legislative Update | This Week in South Carolina

Legislative update with Jeffrey Collins and Joe Bustos.


Gavin Jackson: Welcome to This Week in South Carolina. I'm Gavin Jackson. With only a few weeks left of this year's legislative session, the House And Senate are in a final push to pass key legislation, including finalizing the state budget, dealing with the abortion issue, And how to replace a key constitutional officer. The associated presses Jeffrey Collins, And the state's Joe Bustos. Join us to break it all down. Jeffrey And Joe, thanks for joining me for a legislative update. And, Jeff, I want to start with you. You know, we're at this time of the year right now in the session where it's crossover Week is coming up the merry go round here in Columbia spinning a little bit faster. The first year, the two year sessions kind of winding down here. But I want to ask you about the budget, because that's the biggest thing that lawmakers do up here. The House passed their $14 billion budget a few weeks ago than they took off a week, I want to ask you just what you saw on that budget that came out of the house And over in the Senate, And some of the highlights that stood out to you. 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: Once again, South Carolina has a nice big pot of money to spend And they've spread it around. I mean, the big deal or salary increases for pretty much every state employee is going to get a salary increase. Teachers are they're raising the minimum pay by $2,500. Law enforcement, especially the lower paid people that do the the patrolling And things like that, they'll get a significant raise. all state employees are getting a raise, you know, if that's the big pot of money, but there's plenty of other things that go around there $100 million for bridge repair several 100 million dollars for other road projects. There's, you know, more than $100 million dollars to help build rural schools where the state takes money, And, you know, helps out school districts that don't have a big property tax base. I believe Saluda County was one of the beneficiaries last year. There's a lot of economic development going around. And I'm going to discuss that a little later in the show. The one thing that isn't in the budget, that's kind of interesting is there doesn't appear to be any rebate at this moment. I mean, we'll see what the Senate does they the Senate Finance Committee takes up the budget next week. And but there's been no discussion of any kind of tax rebate or anything. But the income tax cut that the graduated cut has been going on this started last year looks like that's on tap too. So there will be some tax cut, but it doesn't look like a rebates on the table at the moment. 

Gavin Jackson: And Joe, you follow the budget closely too, any additional items that jumped out to you, especially when we look at that debate that played on the House floor with the House Freedom Caucus really introducing a lot of amendments, some that weren't tangential to the budget that got rolled out of order, just what stood out to you.

Joseph Bustos, The State: So some other highlights of the budget. We've had the 20 million for Megasite development for the Department of Commerce 196 million for Medicaid And Medicare expenses, reimbursements. And something that college students are going to like there's, 69 million for the tuition rate freezes. I think that's all as popular. No money for I-73. We'll continue with this request? It's still not being funded. Elena Weaver got some money for for K through three literacy instruction training And some high intensity tutoring. So those are some of the some highlights that I saw. But yeah, the debate slowed down on that first night And even into the second day as we had lots of amendments from the Freedom Caucus, talking about diversity, equity And inclusion And how they're trying to get that out of colleges And universities. They are they want to spend some money which they said goes towards those projects, those those initiatives And put it towards like SLED And DSS And the office of Resiliency. But ultimately lawmakers decide not to go in that direction.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, we've been seen a lot from the House Freedom Caucus this year to in terms of, you know, it seems like every week there's a different fire to be put out or freedom to be fought. Have they made any headway? It didn't seem like anything really kind of came out of all that during that budget debate. What's the status of that? 

Joseph Bustos, The State: So all the amendments got killed or defeated. They they had some provisos trying to ban mandatory diversity training or making diversity part of the admissions hiring process. Those got killed, but there is a promise to actually are they there's a an understanding that they will actually create actual legislation, And it will go through the traditional lawmaking process through the committee process. And so we'll see how long that will eventually take. But they're going to go through the committee process so other stakeholders could come to the table And talk about D E I programs that the Freedom Caucus members seem to be targeting. 

Gavin Jackson: And Jeffrey, you've covered a lot of budgets as well. And you've seen this process has been a bit more sedate over the years, especially in the House And in the Senate as well. So I'm wondering if we're gonna see anything similar play on in the Senate or do you think it's gonna be kind of business as usual? Do you expect any big changes to the budget in the Senate as they go through it this month? 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: I think What you see is gonna be more or less what you get in the Senate. I mean, there could be a couple of surprises, of course, they have a different priority system than the house does. And I mean, it's like, you know, like, when you turn a story in your editor, something's gonna have to be changed, because there's a Senate And that's what they do. So I do think, you know, there's one thing that wasn't in the House Budget or any earmarks, those programs that lawmakers get in maybe to fix their local park or something like that. Those will get added in here on the Senate side. And like I said, there'll be some changes around the edges, but the general framework of it is probably going to stay the same when the Senate Finance Committee goes through it next week. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, And that's provisos too, that's where a chance where we were seeing with the House Freedom Caucus, really trying to push some agenda items, because those providers can, can lend themselves to that we've been seeing that process played over the years, too. So any, any different provisos, maybe you see come out of the Senate that we haven't seen before? 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: There are some conservative senators that will probably try to do some similar things to what the Freedom Caucus did. You know, there will be some of you know, probably some of the provisos that deal with transgender issues And providers that may, there's always usually some kind of debate on abortion that ends up coming into budget. So I expect those kinds of things, although probably not the intensity that you saw in the house.

Gavin Jackson: Joe, another big thing tangential to the budget was at $1.3 billion Scout Motors incentive package, that's a huge package for that $2 billion investment for Scout Motors, that's gonna be relocating, creating a new factory here in the Midlands, bring in some 4000 jobs in the coming years. Your paper did a deep dive on that deal. Tell us about this transformational investment with folks are saying up there at the statehouse, And just what's in this incentive package? 

Joseph Bustos, The State: I think one of the things that's interesting is they talked about how BMW transformed the Upstate went into Spartanburg County, And it has helped grown that area. Same as expected with a Scout Motors deal. Here in the Midlands, $1.3 billion is a lot of money, or 400 million of that is a straight grant to to the company to help them with construction costs, the states can help build an interchange off of I-77. Put in a railroad bridge, as well. Those are gonna help with soil stabilization through a lone, because it's gonna be a heavy plant that's going to be there. So it's going to, it's supposed to bring 4000 jobs to the area by 2026. With a huge economic impact, for years to come, if it had come to fruition. There are some claw backs in here. If Scout doesn't bring the jobs, they promise the the company would be responsible for up to $790 million back to the state of South Carolina. But Harry Lightsey, the Commerce Secretary is confident that we won't have to go down that path. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, because there was a little, a little worry from some lawmakers or some, you know, a couple little bumps, but nothing that really derailed this incentive package from passing. But a lot of folks were still a little worried about what they saw happen with the Carolina Panthers deal falling through too so I'm guessing that's kind of been smoothed over for the most part. 

Joseph Bustos, The State: You have to put the you have lessons learned from previous deals. So you have to put these types of claw backs in there from time to time. 

Gavin Jackson: Jeff, I want to pivot really quick to the latest on abortion legislation. Obviously, when we spoke at the beginning of the session, that was something that was dominating the headlines, because we just saw that Supreme Court decision, State Supreme Court decision that overruled the six week ban in the state. I want to ask you just what we were seeing going through the legislature at this point, because it seems like things are kind of just at a stalemate right now, what do you see what are the bills going on right now, some have actually even been pretty extreme that have garnered some pretty big headlines too, from lawmakers in the house. 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: Well, the current situation is both the House And the Senate passed different versions of abortion bans. I mean, the house is is a total ban with exceptions for rape, incest in the life of the Mother, the Senate is a ban at the detection of cardiac activity typically called the heartbeat bill at roughly six weeks. So you have a total ban, you have a six week ban. And neither side at the moment at least publicly appears to be willing to budge. I mean, so I mean, at some point, there should be a conference committee that comes together And they'll see if they can figure out a solution. It's kind of a game of chicken. I mean, there's almost no Republicans that are happy with the current situation where, you know, abortions are allowed up to 20 weeks. I don't think there's any clinics that are very, very few abortions are done that late in South Carolina, but nobody's happy with that situation, but they've got to figure out some kind of compromise on it. There have been some more extreme, you know, bills filed anyone in South any lawmaker could file a bill, there's no bar to it, you just basically put it to paper And turn it in. So the one that garnered a lot of national attention would have treated And, you know, would have treated a fetus at any stage of development. Like, like a regular person as far as homicide laws go, which if you follow it all the way down this pathway could lead to a woman being charged with murder. And you know, then, you know, in South Carolina, if you kill a child under the age of I believe it's 11, you can be prosecuted in a death penalty case. But again, all the Republican leadership on both the Senate And the House like that Bill has absolutely no chance. And even the even some of the more conservative Republicans in the House that typically support a total ban are like, No, we don't support this. So there's on abortion. I think there's got to be some movement somewhere, but it says the game of chicken right now the Senate says they can't support anything close to a total ban that says they won't support anything but a total ban. So they'll just have to come together And figure something out. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, definitely. We're pretty much where we were during the off session. Right. I mean, like nothing's nothing's changed, you know, was blasted that early on the session that we haven't really, they did all that work in the off season that we're kind of back where we started from.

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: Yeah, I mean, basically, yes, exactly. We ended up in the same place. We ended up going after all those special sessions And everything in 2022. One thing the Senate bill does do that I think does need to get out there is it would eliminate in 1974. The General Assembly passed a proviso or a portion of a bill that criminalizes women, if they get abortion isn't it does allow for criminal charges. The Senate bill that passed actually removes that clause, which a lot of people have said, if anything comes out of that that's a very important part of this bill, that you can't charge a woman with an abortion in the criminal court. 

Gavin Jackson: Joe kind of picking up on that when we're talking about the state Supreme Court like Jeff was talking about right now, our current law for abortion, the state is 20 weeks. Of course, they don't really happen past around 15 In our state, but still that state supreme court decision really ruffled a lot of feathers in the State House, to talk about changing how the judicial selection process goes forward in the state. What's the latest on that we heard from the governor And several speeches earlier this year about his desire to see that process change. We're one of the few states that actually have lawmakers pick judges on our courts. Was that change, but what's the latest on that movement? 

Joseph Bustos, The State: So we haven't seen much introduced on that. And that might be something that we'll have to wait till next year, there's been a couple bills that I've noticed, that have been filed one by Harvey Peeler to change how to make a slight tweak, I would call it to the judicial election process. Right now. It's a majority of the 170 lawmakers Harvey Peeler has a bill that would make it a majority of both chambers is a slight tweak, but it gives us a little bit more power. Senator Massey has another bill out there, that would require that anyone who's deemed qualified for an additional position that's be screened out of the judicial merit selection commission, as opposed to just three or up to three. This would give more candidates a chance at a race And give more. More of an opportunity more of a selection to see who who's out there. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, it also be pretty difficult to change how it's done right now with the entire General Assembly voting on that, because right now, a lot of proposals focus on just the Senate, confirming those nominees. So you'd have to get rid of 124 House members who I don't think would go quietly. 

Joseph Bustos, The State: Yeah, definitely. Because with with McMaster's proposal for for having executive appointment with Senate advice And consent, House members may not want to give up their power over this. 

Gavin Jackson: Jeffrey, let's stick with criminal justice reforms And look at the House Republican agenda item A big one, both in the House And the Senate, I should say is bond reform, especially H-35 32. That would close this revolving door that they keep saying is happening. When it comes to catch And release of some of these criminals out there who recommit while they're out on bond. both chambers are on board with this legislation. Do you see that happening? Getting to the governor's desk of by the end of May? 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: I think that's if anything around here is a slam dunk. I think that's probably a slam dunk. I mean, both everybody wants it to happen. You know, it's it's been a big deal to Republicans in both this house Senate And the Governor. So that seems pretty, you know, pretty sure. The question is kind of in the details. I don't think the Senate And the Governor aren't exactly pleased with the houses idea, because it needs a little tweaking that, you know, if they had something where you could get up to five years additional in prison on top of your regular sentence if you committed a crime while out on bond. But then there's some question about well, if you're not found guilty of the first crime, is that you know, constitutionally allowed or even or fair or anything like that. So there's some details like that, that need to be worked out between the two chambers. But yeah, I think bond reform, if you told me to put money on one thing that would get to the governor's desk before the end of this session, that's the one I put the money on.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, pretty bipartisan. He also saw a lot of press conferences with some prosecutors And other folks out there really talking about how big of a promise is not no real stats behind it is like Chief Mark Hill. They're stats behind these. But a lot of us prosecutors are saying look at the backlogs look at folks trying to get bond revoked through a judge And it's just not working. 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: Well And if you're if you're looking ahead And wondering what could be the unforeseen problems for what's being worked on here. Part of it probably is that, you know, part of the reason is COVID stopped, you know, a lot of court hearings also, you know, people didn't want people in jail during COVID. And South Carolina has, you know, several counties already have full jails. So if you keep people can't afford bond or bond is revoked, jails are going to fill up. So, you know, I think there's some people looking at all aspects of the problem. But ultimately, you know, there is more than just we want to keep these people behind bars. If they're violent And repeat criminals, you're gonna have to find a place to keep them too. 

Gavin Jackson: Joe. We're talking about additional penalties for folks who commit crimes or out on bond. But then when we talk about hate crimes legislation, which would enhance penalties for people who are convicted of a violent crime, with a penalty enhancement, if it's proven that it was done of hate for a certain Immutable class of characteristic of a person that has not gone anywhere, especially after the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel AME. Church in 2015, in which we saw nine black parishioners killed in a hate fueled attack. It's what's going on with that bill right now. It seems like there's been movement. There's a lot of it got out of the house. But I'm just wondering where it's going right now in the Senate, because there has been a lot of attention focused on that bill. 

Joseph Bustos, The State: So yeah, as you said, the bill is it passed the House again. But it's not back in the hands of the Senate. It was what it stalled last year, in the last session in the Senate. Now, the bill, it would have additional intelligence for violent crime against a person based on their race, color, religion, or sex or gender, or gender or national origin. South Carolina is one it's two states without a hate crimes law. But it did move out of a Senate Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, on Tuesday, at a 15 day vote now it's back in front of the full Senate. It didn't go anywhere. It stalled in the Senate last year, because some senators had concerns over it. And they were kept their name on it just didn't move. So we'll see if there's any more if they could get it over the over the last hurdle. This year? 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah. Especially when you look at other bills that are, you know, kind of over in the Senate. Right now. We're talking about anti CRT bills, we're talking about transgender affirming care bills, those are all going to probably eventually end up on  the Senate Calendar. And of course, we know that Senators can object to these bills And block them essentially. So I'm just wonder if we see that hate crimes legislation become another bargaining chip. When it comes to other bills moving forward. What do you think at this point? 

Joseph Bustos, The State: It might, we'll see. I mean, we live I know, we may talk about sleep. I mean, there's a lot of a lot of competing bills out there.  In the Senate And this is going to be one of those things are going to have to negotiate behind the scenes on.

Gavin Jackson: And Jeffrey was just talking about, like we said the Mother Emanuel shooting back in 2015. We've seen mass shootings in our state since then, And across the country, of course, And most recently, that tragic shooting in Nashville at a school this past week that left six dead. Are there any gun reform measures going through the Statehouse at this point? Or is that kind of a lost cause And Republican legislature? 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: Gun reform bills? No, unless you count there is the constitutional carry bill that passed the House that allows anyone who can legally own a firearm to carry it openly, they don't need any training or a permit or anything. Right now in South Carolina, if you have a concealed weapons permit from, you know, if you go through that kind of training you can openly carry that's the current open carry law. That bill passed the open carry anywhere, anytime that passed the House, it's in the Senate. Um, I haven't heard much about what might happen. But the Senate kind of blast when they when they passed the last bill. They didn't say much about it. And then all of a sudden, at the very end of the session, it popped up one day And got passed like that. So I mean, you know, sometimes, I'm not sure where that one is, but it wouldn't surprise me if that gets at least some debate in the Senate before the session is over. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah. Jeffrey, can you just talk to that really quickly, in terms of the process, you know, I mentioned crossover, which is the last day you want to see bills go over? Just give a quick rundown of what we can start expecting to see over the next couple of weeks as we wind down to signing day. 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: Yeah, we're getting to the point where if you don't have your bill already kind of up in a position where it's through committee, you're gonna have some trouble getting it on the floor. There's a deadline, April 10, which, you know, is a Monday. So essentially, it's that Thursday before because of the way the legislature meets, And each chamber has to pass a bill, or you need two thirds vote from the other chamber to be able to put it on the calendar. Typically, that was a big deal. But remember, the house has a super majority has a two thirds majority. So if the Senate passes something, it's not as hard as it used to be for the house to get that two thirds And put it on the calendar. But ultimately, at this point, if your bill isn't getting attention right now, you're probably going to have to wait till next year. Now. This is the first year of a two year session. So all bills stay in whatever place they're at, when the legislature adjourns in May, 

Gavin Jackson: I can't believe for almost to the end of the session already. But Joe, we have about less than 10 minutes left. I'm gonna talk about a couple other bills too. We're talking about the Constitution. We've seen several bills being proposed about changing our state's constitution which would need to be done by voters at the ballot box, including one most recently that would make the Comptroller General And appointed position kind of fill us in about that whole back story. They with Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, who is resigning And that that drama around that And then this renowned put this renewed pushes this should say, to get this position appointed. 

Joseph Bustos, The State: So let me start off with my comments with this. No money is missing. Okay, that money is that this won't affect budget, the budget or state spending. I want to say that up front. So over the course of 10 years, the comptroller's office in an annual financial report, which very few people actually look at, in terms of when determining how much to spend or even when even putting the state spending plan, the comptroller inflated or double counted money that went towards colleges And universities over a 10 year period that number inflate that 3.5 billion. They discovered the error, the error And fixed it last year, but they also had to come up with a note And in this annual financial report. This angered lawmakers, the angered senators in the Senate held hearings on this they had an investigation into it. And it ultimately led to Eckstrom resigning. There was a move by the house or Eckstroms salary to $1 There was a move to impeach him in the House And the Senate was going to start a trial to remove him from office for willful neglect of duty. With all of this now is you have to fill this position. Purposefully filling a former state rep is out there as a name to possibly fill the position. It's he's got a lot of votes in the House, And even some in the Senate apparently. And some Senate members are trying to push for a longtime budget staffer by name of Mike Shealy. who's worked in the department of administration now, but he knows the state budget he knows government accounting. This is we have this is a right now it's an elected position every four years. Lawmakers want to make this an appointed position part of the governor's cabinet which could give the governor more control And more oversight over this particular office. McMaster Governor McMaster has said he would like to see someone who's a non political type in this position with finance or accounting experience. But right now, the General Assembly gets to pick who fills this position, who finishes Eckstroms term. But that will require a joint assembly between the Senate And the House. And we'll see if they agree, knowing where the votes are for Finley, we'll see if the Senate actually agrees to a joint assembly. Or if we may have to go another route to see how this job may be filled. 

Gavin Jackson: In the Jeffrey, I want to talk to you really quickly about another constitutional amendment. That would ask voters if they would support eliminating the prohibition against the state or its political subdivisions from providing direct aid to religious or other private educational institutions. This is a bill that's also intended with the House passed a bill that is a big step towards a voucher schools that was passed in the Senate. Can you kind of just fill us in there on the education front? What's happening in the statehouse this year? 

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press: There is I mean, you know, we came very, very close to having a voucher like bill pass last session, I mean, through both the House And Senate, you know, they had a conference committee trying to work out their differences, And it fell apart right at the very, very end of this of the session. And I mean, it's something that seems to have a broad amount of support among Republicans, And is even getting some Democrats on board at this point. The question is in the details, I mean, I think that we're going to end up in the same place we did before the House has passed its version, the Senate is going to have its own ideas, And then can they come together? I mean, some of the key places is, you know, the house tends to want to make this into a pilot program where the Senate wants to go ahead And pass it where they don't have to renew it again, in the future. There's some differences on how much money is given to the program And And also participation levels, you know, whether it's just kept to poor families And maybe some special needs students, or is it broader acceptance? In the end, I expect that probably the Senate's thoughts are gonna win the day, you know, it'll probably be a broader program, it'll probably provide a little more money probably won't have to be renewed. But again, they're, like said that they had it all together last year, And they didn't quite to get it together. 

Gavin Jackson: And Joe, with less than a minute left will ask about medical marijuana. It seems like it hit a snag this year. That's out of the people. Republican Senator Tom Davis's bill. Tell us what's going on with that And its future this session. 

Joseph Bustos, The State: So the Senate tried to put it instead of a special order, which would give it top priority to be considered that special order vote failed 20 to 20. Didn't get majority of the Senate to agree to at least a majority of those voting. This is even after the Senate passed it last year. So Senator Davis voiced his frustration on the Senate floor was very emotional. He said he had been working on building up capital with his fellow lawmakers And it just didn't go anywhere. And the idea that the bill has not been vetted, he said it's wrong. It's still has gone through eight years of vetting. Is Davis's position on that? But right now, it looks like the legislation may be stuck again for one more year. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, a lot going on there. We have a couple more weeks left in session. Like I said, that's gotta get over before crossover too. We'll be watching with you guys And State House reporters Jeffrey Collins with the Associated Press, And Joe Bustos says with the State Newspaper. Thanks, guys. 

Joseph Bustos, The State: Thanks, Gavin. 

Gavin Jackson: To stay up to date with the latest news throughout the week. Check out the South Carolina Lede. It's a podcast that I host on Tuesdays And Saturdays that you can find on Southcarolinapublicradio.org or wherever you find podcasts. For South Carolina ETV. I'm Gavin Jackson. Be well, South Carolina.