Legislative Update February 2021
By David Higham
Horry County Government
HORRY COUNTY COUNCIL EXPANDS BUDGET: The Council voted 11-1 on February 2 to approve a planned spending increase, raising the overall budget by $22 million to a total of $481 million. A third reading of the ordinance will be required before the changes become official. With this expanded budget the Council approved a 3 percent merit-based raise for county employees. The Council also intends to use this funding for the hiring of 15 new employees, including seven new firefighters and four more stormwater department workers. (Post and Courier newspaper 2/11/2021; 2/2/2021)
ENTERTAINMNENT COMPLEX UNDER REVIEW: Proposed complex would sit at a 77-acre site near the intersection of S.C. 905 and S.C. 22. It would hold about 21,000 concert goers, county documents show. The county’s planning commission has recommended Horry County Council not approve necessary rezoning to accommodate the project, but that decision ultimately rests with the council. The Council deferred on the rezoning request at its meeting last month so it could first meet with area residents. A meeting between concerned area residents and County staff has been scheduled at 6 p.m. February 25 at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. (My Horry News 2/20/21)
South Carolina Government
Bills Enacted into law:
ABORTION: S.1 Fetal Heartbeat Bill: Less than 5 weeks into the session the bill was given final legislative approval in the House on February 18 by a vote of 74-39. As it advanced the bill enjoyed lop-sided support in both house of the Legislature, mainly along party-lines. Governor McMaster immediately signed the measure into law. Planned Parenthood immediately sued, and a federal judge issued a temporary 14-day restraining order. That judge said she would renew that order when it expires in advance of a March 9 hearing on a more extensive preliminary injunction. The new law bans abortions at the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and before many people know they are pregnant. It includes exceptions for instances of rape, incest, medical emergencies, and fetal anomalies. It also requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and display the image to the pregnant individual, and to “ask the woman if she would like to hear the heartbeat” if audible. The SC law is similar to laws passed by a several other states in recent years. All are tied up in courts. (CNN 2/19/21; AP 2/18/21; Post and Courier 2/19/21)
COVID-19 VACCINATIONS: H.3707 appropriating $208 million from the Contingency Reserve Fund to expand the statewide COVID-19 vaccination capacity, received final legislative approval and was signed into law by the Governor on February 19. Vaccine providers would use the money to run vaccine clinics, as well as to pay for continued COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and advertising campaigns, among other things. The money would be split between the Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Medical University of South Carolina, hospitals around the state and other approved vaccine providers. (The State newspaper 2/20/2021)
On the SC House and Senate Floors:
PUBLIC SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY: H.3610 received second reading support in the House by a vote of 73 – 2. It requires a third reading to advance. Bill would revise accountability measures available to the state Superintendent of Education for public schools and public-school districts. The bill creates a tiered system for assistance, professional development, and monitoring. Once a school and district are determined to be underperforming, the State Department of Education must immediately place the school and district into a tiered status and provide aid. Similar legislation (S.201) passed the Senate on February 11 by a vote of 42-1. Once the House approves its version the bills will need to be reconciled. (Post and Courier 2/12/21)
TEACHER PAY BUMP: H.3609 passed House 118-0 and is before the Senate Finance Committee. It provides a retroactive “step increase” which averages 2 percent of teachers’ salary. (Palmetto Politics 2/11/21)
TEACHER VACCINATIONS AND SCHOOL OPENINGS: S.516 was approved by the Senate making K-12 school employees eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, “without requiring they actually get a shot anytime soon, in hopes no older South Carolinians will be tossed from an existing appointment”, according to Post and Courier newspaper reporting.
The measure, which passed the Senate unanimously on February 9, also requires all school districts statewide to offer a full week of in-person learning following their scheduled spring break. On February 16, a House committee held its first hearing on the issue. The hearing “attracted testimony from 55 representatives from groups that included port dockworkers, poultry processors, city bus drivers, utility workers, manufacturing employees and people in adult day care and disability programs who testified that they also deserved priority” for vaccine shots. (Post and Courier 2/10/21; 2/16/21)
Bills Moving in the SC Legislative Committees
STATE ELECTION COMMISSION: H.3444 would give an expanded State Election Commission more power to standardize the election process and ensure all 46 counties have uniform practices. When reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee, changes were made to the bill that would tilt the partisan make up of the Commission to as much as a 6-3 partisan Republican advantage. The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee 14-7, sending it to the House floor. (Post and Courier 2/16/21)
CANDIDATE QUALIFICATIONS: H.3262 would require candidates for party nomination affirm that they have voted in at least three of the last four statewide party primaries or, in the alternative, if precluded from participation due to age, personal health, residency, or active military service; candidates pledge that they are bona fide member of the political party whose nomination they are seeking. Approved by the House Judiciary Committee on February 18 and sent to the House floor. (SC Legislature Online)
OPEN CARRY: H.3094, the open carry bill which requires training, was passed by a House Judiciary subcommittee on a 3-1 vote. It will be considered next by the full Judiciary Committee. The bill is sponsored by more than half of SC House members. (Statehouse Report 2/12/21)
HOME BOOZE DELIVERIES: H.3772 and H.3575, approved by the House Judiciary Committee, allows same-day delivery and curbside pickup of beer and wine. (Post and Courier 2/4/21)
Additional source for all SC legislative bills that are referenced: SC Legislature Online.
S.C. Executive Orders / Regulatory Matters/ Appointments
DHEC GETS PERMENANT DIRECTOR: The Senate voted 40-1 on February 4 to approve Dr. Edward Simmer as the director of the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, giving the department its first permanent director in eight months. Simmer is the first doctor to lead the department in several decades. (Post and Courier 2/5/21)
DISABILITY CHIEF FIRED: The director of the agency that provides services for South Carolinians with disabilities was fired February 18 without explanation. The board of the Department of Disability and Special needs voted 5-1 to remove Director Mary Poole, effective immediately. (Post and Courier newspaper 2/19/21)
Federal / US Congress
On the US House and US Senate Floors:
PRESIDENT BIDEN CABINET NOMINATIONS:
The Senate confirmed Denis McDonough to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs by a vote of 87 Yeas to 7 Nays. Senators GRAHAM and SCOTT voted YES.
Senate confirmed Peter Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation, by a vote of 86 Yeas to 13 Nays. GRAHAM voted YES, SCOTT voted NO
Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security, by a vote of 56 Yeas to 43 Nays. Both GRAHAM and SCOTT voted NO
COVID RELIEF STIMULUS PACKAGE:
A new COVID-19 Stimulus package, S.Con.Res.5, is expected to reach the House floor during the week of February 22. The legislation has already been passed in pieces out of a dozen individual committees and the assembled bill is expected to be debated before the Budget Committee on February 23. Democrats’ goal is to have it through the Senate and on the President’s desk by March 14.
The legislation provides for $1.9 trillion in spending, including an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, $1400 direct checks for Americans making $75,000 or less a year, an extension of $400 federal unemployment benefits, and more money for small businesses struggling amid the pandemic. It would also provide families with an average of $3000 per child.
The legislation closely resembles the President’s rescue plan, and includes more money for schools, vaccine distribution and funding for state and local governments. If the legislation is approved in the House it would next go to the Senate where it is expected the bill would bypass committee review and brought to the Senate floor under a budget process called “reconciliation”. This would allow Senate Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority. Republican support would not be needed. The Senate has a partisan split of 50-50, with Vice President Harris able to step in and act as the tie-breaking vote. (CNN 2/19/21; 2/16/19, and 2.8/21)
However, Democrats have no votes to spare and some elements of the package may not survive. Two Senate Democrats have already expressed opposition to the $15 an hour minimum wage proposal. The Senate parliamentarian may also rule the minimum wage proposal is not qualified to be brought up under reconciliation.
Preliminary Votes: In order for Congress to consider the $1.9 trillion COVID Relief legislation, it first had to pass legislation so the proposed spending could be accommodated in the budget. The Senate approved this budget bill (S.Con.Res.5) by a party-line vote of 51 Yeas to 50 Noes (GRAHAM and SCOTT voted NO, VP Harris broke the tie); and the House approved by a party-line vote of 219 Yeas to 209 Nays (Rep. RICE votes NO).
CONGRESSWOMAN REMOVED FROM COMMITTEES: The House voted 230-199 to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga) from her committee assignments after it was revealed that she spread racist conspiracy theories on social media. Eleven Republicans joined all Democrats in removing her from her posts. RICE voted NO.
In the US House and Senate Committees:
BIDEN CABINET NOMINATIONS: Committees favorably advanced Biden’s nominees for EPA Administrator, the Secretary of Education, and the Secretary of Labor.
Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for attorney general, is currently answering questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee as they consider his nomination. So far Garland has received bipartisan support in the Senate.
Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget is in jeopardy as Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced his opposition to Tanden because of her past comments critical of Democratic and Republican senators. In the evenly divided Senate Tanden will need the support of at least one Republican to advance. (NBC News 2/19/21)
IMMIGRATION REFORM: President Biden and Congressional Democrats unveiled a broad immigration proposal that would provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship for 11 million people living in the country without legal status. Democrats expressed an openness to pursue a piece-meal approach to immigration issues, recognizing past failures to deliver on a large-scale immigration overhaul. (Post and Courier newspaper 2/19/21)
CAPITOL SEIGE ON JANUARY 6: Congress is reviewing the establishment of an independent outside panel to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Both Democrats and Republicans have pointed to the 9/11 Commission as a model to emulate. (ABC News 2/21/21)
Additional source for all US Congress bills that are referenced: Congress.gov.
Federal Executive Orders / Regulatory Matters/ Appointments
OBAMACARE: Health-Care.gov for subsidized health plans has re-opened for a special three-month sign-up window. (Post and Courier 2/15/21)
CENSUS DATA DELAYS: The US Census Bureau announced that the population data necessary for redistricting, which occurs after every decennial count, would be again delayed until September 30, citing issues related to the COVID19 pandemic. This will give states just less than half the time to tackle the complicated task than in other years, as the process must be completed before each state’s primary filing deadline so candidates know which voters they should be courting. (NBC 2/20/21)
BIDEN TO GET CHANCE TO MAKE MARK ON JUDICIARY: Many federal judges have announced plans to step down over the past several weeks. Already 39 judges on the federal circuit courts and trial courts have announced plans to vacate their seats either by retiring or taking “senior status”, a form of semi-retirement in which judges have a reduced caseload, according to data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In all, there are 62 current vacancies on the U.S. district and circuit courts, and another 26 sears that will open in the coming weeks and months. (CBS News 2/19/21)
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