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TWISC: The Final Days of the 2019 Legislative Session

April 26, 2019 - Posted in This Week in South Carolina by Tara Shepherd

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, sat down with host Gavin Jackson about the remaining days of the legislative session, education reform and the future of Santee Cooper.

Highlights:

  • The education bill is, “a stronger bill and a more focused bill,” Setzler said. But the bill remains in the Senate Education Committee and won’t pass this year.
  • Senate changes to the bill included increasing work force readiness, adding two students on the State Board of Education, strengthening Read to Succeed and reducing state testing.
  • To move forward with Santee Cooper, the legislature needs more information in order to have a valid debate. They are looking at asking the Department of Administration to hire experts to solicit bids to buy or manage Santee Cooper.

Education reform has been the top priority in the Senate, but its version of the bill is not expected to pass this year, though education changes and pay raises are in the proposed state budget. Instead, Senators are debating what the future of state-owned utility Santee Cooper could look like days before the legislative session ends on May 9.

“It’s a stronger bill and a more focused bill,” Setzler said. “It’s laser-focused,compared to being a shotgun approach. ”Both Setzler and Massey agree teacher shortage needs to be addressed and say increasing starting teachers' salaries and pay raises for current teachers will help.

The education reform bill affects all members of the public. It addresses excessive certification requirements for the Read to Succeed program, unnecessary testing, time for teachers to have better lunch breaks and more. “We don’t need to rush something just to say we have done something,” Massey said about the bill’s slow movement. “We need to make sure we get this right because we don’t have these opportunities very often.”

With six working days left in the session, Santee Copper looks to be a bottleneck for the rest of the session. Santee Cooper has $3.2 billion  worth of debt from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear reactor project with partner SCANA that was terminated in 2017. The senators agree they need to put it on the floor to have a valid, open debate about what to do and what is in the best interest of the people. This issue affects all of South Carolina, not just Santee Cooper - two million direct and indirect customers.

Some Senators don’t think they have enough information to make a final decision on Santee Cooper. They believe they need more information from experts to be able to make a final decision.

“There is no scenario where people will not have to pay some part of that debt,” Massey said. “There are going to be bad things that happen whether we do something or nothing,” Minimizing any negatives is the goal.

Gov. Henry McMaster recently spoke about plans to attract the Carolina Panthers football team’s practice facilities and headquarters to the Rock Hill area, but changes to current state law are needed to offer tax incentives. The House has approved a bill with the changes, but the bill is stuck in the Senate where lawmakers want more details on the cost benefits of such a deal. The bill, and others, is stuck behind the Santee Cooper bill, which has priority status on the Senate floor.

 

Looking forward:

There will be plenty to deal with next session (which resumes in January) regardless of what happens during the next six legislative working days. A fetal heart beat abortion bill, which the House just sent to the Senate, will likely be debated; debate over education funding is expected and the education reform bill is likely to make it to McMaster’s desk. The future of how to handle the Santee Cooper bill could possibly be settled in a special session later this year.

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