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Vote Update January 2021

May God Bless our new President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

By David Higham

Editor’s Note:  After pausing for the holiday months (November and December), and with the beginning of the new year, I have retired the monthly “Legislative and Issue Update” and replaced it with a monthly piece called “Vote Update”.  As the name implies, Vote Update will highlight the most important votes that have been cast, and votes that are anticipated before our Horry County Council, SC Legislature, and US Congress. 

The intent is to track important legislation as it receives attention early in the process. This will become evident as the legislative sessions move forward. For example, coverage of an issue will be initiated as a major bill or ordinance is debated before a county council committee, a state legislative committee or a congressional committee.  Sometimes our legislatures move fast, so the monthly Vote Update may fail to give early notice of important bills.  But that is the intent.  Significant Executive Orders, regulatory actions and court decisions will continue to be covered. The content of Vote Update will differ from what I was doing before as, generally, I will not be reporting on the underlying issues that affect our politics unless it is tied specifically to a legislative vote.  Thank you for your continued readership. As always, I welcome questions or comments at  dhigham32@gmail.com

Horry County Government

Ordinance Votes Anticipated

County Council begins Budget ReviewCounty leaders, both administrators and members of County Council, began the task of debating the July 2021 to June 2022 budget at a budget retreat held January 15.  Revealed was County revenues took a hit of $22.3 million because of the pandemic, mostly because of the slowdown in tourism.   Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said he was proud of what the County has accomplished in the past year.  “We kept the county running.  We kept people working.  And we did not fall down on any services,” he said.  Votes on a new budget will occur before June 30.  (The Sun News 1/20/21; WMBF News.com 12/30/20)

Medical Center’s Rezoning application delayedConway Medical Center’s plans for a Carolina Forest hospital will again be put on hold while county leaders and CMS staff try to address environmental concerns over the proposed location for the facility.  Horry County Council voted January 19 to defer any votes on CMS’s rezoning request until the council’s February 2 meeting.  (MyHorryNews 1/21/21)

South Carolina Government

Republicans in South Carolina flipped seats in the Legislature on November 3 gaining more control.  In the Senate, Republicans control 30 seats and Democrats control 16 seats. Reportedly that is the most Republicans in modern times.  In the House, Republicans control 81 seats and Democrats control 43 seats.  The legislature convened on Tuesday, January 12 and will be in session through at least May 11.  They plan to meet in person.  The Senate President says that all senators will wear masks, while the House speaker is strongly encouraging his members to wear face coverings.  (WISTV.com, 1/11/21)

Legislative Session Preview:  The pandemic is expected to dominate the legislative session, including how to speed up vaccinations, get students back in school full time, and help businesses struggling to survive.  Hot-Button non-COVID issues expected to arise during the session include abortion, teacher pay, redistricting, Santee Cooper and hate crimes. (Post and Courier newspaper 1/12/21)

S.C. Legislative Votes Taken

Abortion Ban:  The Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted 9-8 on January 21, along party lines to ban most abortions in the state.   Next Step: Full Senate debate. The legislation S.1, known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, would make an abortion illegal if an ultrasound detects a heartbeat, which can be heard as early as six weeks.  The bill provides fines or imprisonment for providers who violate its provisions. Under the bill, an abortion would be allowed only to prevent death or serious injury to the woman.  (Post and Courier, 1/15/21)

Santee CooperH 3194 Passed by the House Ways and Means Committee on January 13.  Next Step: Full House debate. The bill would create a new legislative committee to revisit the proposed sale of Santee Cooper and would do away with Next Era as the preferred buyer and open it up to other suitors. The bill also includes a “back-up plan” for reforming Santee Cooper if a suitable buyer does not come forward. (Statehouse Report 1/15/21; Post and Courier 1/24/21)

S.C. Legislative Votes Anticipated

Governor’s 2021-22 state budget proposalNext Step:  Committee hearings.    Governor Henry McMaster’s proposed spending plan for the budget year that starts July 1 projects an additional $1.2 billion will be available to spend, even after more than $800 million evaporated amid COVID-19.  McMaster credits the decision to freeze government spending last year. Proposed budget highlights:

  • Expands 4-year-old kindergarten program to cover all children living in poverty, not jut those in the highest-poverty school districts.
  • Provides teachers with a step pay increase of 2% (last year’s discussion of a $3000 pay bump is not part of this year’s plan).
  • No state worker pay raises other than that proposed for law enforcement agencies.
  • $120 million in tuition assistance for two and four-year college students, and for job training at technical colleges.
  • $14 million in surplus lottery profits to help parents pay tuition at private K-12 schools.
  • Small business relief of $123 million.
  • $176 million in onetime money for college building maintenance.
  • $30 million in broadband expansion in rural areas.
  • No taxpayer rebates are proposed.
  • Holds $500 million in reserve to guard against economic uncertainty. (Post and Courier 1/9/21)
  • Eliminate all state income taxes for military veterans. McMaster has pitched this same idea since 2017 without success (Post and Courier 1/24/21)

S.C. Executive Orders / Regulatory Matters/ Appointments

Vaccine DistributionGov. Henry McMaster threatened an executive order for hospitals that do not vaccinate people fast enough for COVID-19. Hospitals say they are not getting the doses they need. Horry and Georgetown County area legislators wrote to US Senators Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott, and Congressman Tom Rice to increase South Carolina’s allocation of vaccine doses. According to the letter, South Carolina’s allocation of vaccine doses is only 28 doses per 1,000, while the overall country’s average is 46 doses per 1,000.  The state ranks 50th in per capita vaccine distribution, according to the federal CDC.  (Myrtle Beach Online 1/19/21; The Post and Courier 1/19/21)

COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments: SC Department of Health and Environmental Control announced an online one-stop shop scheduling system for vaccine appointments.  The agency said it would be up and running in about a week’s time.  (Post and Courier 1/23/21)

Hospital Approvals Pending:  State health officials expect to decide about the future of three Horry County hospital projects by April. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) initially planned to issue a decision about Conway Medical Center’s Carolina Forest hospital plans last month, but the state agency is now evaluating the CMC project on the same schedule with the McLeod Health’s proposed Carolina Forest hospital and Tidelands Health’s proposed Socastee facility. According to DHEC, if the projects are determined to be competing that means the agency could reject some applications and approve others. A staff decision on all three projects is due by March 27. The three healthcare providers are seeking what is known as a certificate of need (CON). This designation indicates a provider has proven to DHEC that a project is needed in a community. In South Carolina, a certificate of need is required by the state to build new medical facilities.  (MyHorryNews 1/19/21)

Federal / US Congress

Legislative Session Preview: With the election of two Democratic senators from Georgia, for the next two years at least, Democrats will enjoy party control over both Houses of Congress as well as the White House.

The House of Representatives:  While Democrats lost House seats in the last election, they still maintain control with 221 members versus 211 Republican members.  Democrats will chair all standing committees, control the agenda and the scheduling of votes. However, with the slim margin, Democrat leaders will need to pay close attention to the priorities of each member, as the objections of just a few Democrats could doom the passage of any bill.

The Senate is split 50 – 50, with VP Harris available to break ties and giving the Democrats effective control. Democrats will chair the Senate committees (and control the agenda and scheduling), but the committee memberships will be split evenly between the two parties. On most legislation it will still take 60 votes to end debate on the Senate floor and move to final passage, so Republicans will retain extensive power over the legislative process.

Federal Executive Orders / Regulatory Matters/ Appointments

Raft of Executive Orders: In the first two days of the new Administration, President Biden issued more than 30 executive orders and other directives. Some reverse decisions made by former president Trump. Many make changes to the US response to COVID-19 and try to ease some of the financial strain on Americans resulting from the pandemic. Others directly target and undo Trump’s actions on the environment, immigration, the US census, and regulatory changes.  (CBS News 1/21/21)

Biden Appointments:  Biden took office on January 20 without key members of his Cabinet in place after the Senate moved more slowly to schedule confirmation hearings for his nominees that it had for previous presidents.  As of January 22, two of Biden’s 23 Cabinet-level nominees requiring Senate approval have been confirmed.  Trump’s and Obama’s first-term nominees took an average 20 days for confirmation.  (CNN 1/22/21)

Congressional Votes Taken

Secretary of Defense confirmed: The Senate voted 93 to 2 to confirm retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III.  Austin is the first African American to hold that position.       Senator Graham and Senator Scott voted YEA.  (Congress.gov 1/22/21).

Earlier the House and Senate passed HR 335 to provide for a vote on the Austin nomination, waiving the prohibition against the appointment of persons as secretary of defense within seven years of leaving active duty.  Senators Graham and Scott; and Congressman Tom Rice voted in favor.  (Congress.gov 1/21/21)

Director of National Intelligence confirmed:  Senate voted 84-10 to confirm Avril Haines. Haines is the first woman to lead the U.S. intelligence community.  Graham YEA: Scott NOT VOTING.  (Congress.gov 1/20/21)

Objections to the Counting of Electoral Votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania.  In the Senate both objections were defeated by wide margins:  7-92 and 6-93.   Graham and Scott voted NO.   (Congress.gov 1/7/21)

In the House both challenges were also defeated (282 – 138; and 303 – 121).  But over one-half of Republican members voted in favor of not counting the election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. The Republican members who supported these challenges effectively voted to disenfranchise over 10 million voters. Rice voted YEA on both objections.   (Congress.gov 1/7/21)

Impeaching Donald Trump for High Crimes and Misdemeanors (Inciting the Capitol Insurrection):  Passed the House by 232 Yeas to 197 Nays (Rice votes YEA, one of 10 House Republicans to support impeachment) (Congresss.gov 1/13/21)

Congressional Votes Anticipated

Senate trial of Impeached Trump: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnel have agreed to begin the Senate impeachment trial the week of February 8. (Rollcall newspaper 1/22/21)

Secretary of Treasury Nominee:  The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury on Monday, January 25. Yellen’s nomination received unanimous support, 26-0, before the Senate Finance Committee.  (Congress.gov; Roll Call newspaper 1/22/21))

$1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Rescue Package proposed: Plans calls for a new round of stimulus checks, and an ambitious vaccine distribution plan with the goal of vaccinating 50 million Americans (that equates to 100 million shots), and reopening schools in the first 100 days of the Administration. Next Step: Committee hearings.

Biden’s goal is for the package to pass both houses of Congress by mid-March (that’s when the enhanced unemployment benefits are due to end). Biden is hoping to move forward with a bi-partisan bill but has not ruled out using a parliamentarian process called Reconciliation to get it through the evenly divided Senate. The Reconciliation process allows certain Senate legislation to pass with a simple majority, bypassing the 60-vote threshold to end debate that stymies many bills before they start. (Roll Call 1/20/21; 1/14/21))

Sweeping Immigration Bill proposed by Biden administration: The centerpiece of the plan is to pave a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. The citizenship process in Biden’s plan would take as little as three years for some people, eight years for others. It would make it easier for certain workers to stay in the U.S. temporarily or permanently, provide development aid to Central American nations in hopes of reducing immigration and move toward bolstering border screening technology. Next Step: Committee hearings.  (Post and Courier 1/19/21; 1/24/21))

 The Courts

Status of US Capitol Riot Arrests:  Law enforcement officials say they are “moving from the so-called low-hanging fruit arrests and charges to more complicated cases, focusing on the extremist groups that participated in the attack.” Prosecutors have said in detention hearings they are working on bringing seditious conspiracy charges.  Taking such a major step on a rarely used law would likely require sign-off from the new Biden administration officials at Justice headquarters. The department is currently led by acting officials, and “it is unclear if they would want to be the ones to sign off on sedition charges, with Senate confirmation likely still weeks away for Biden’s attorney general and assistant attorney general nominees”.  (CNN 1/22/21)

Court Reversal for NRA:  A New York judge denied the National Rifle Association’s bid to throw out a state lawsuit that seeks to put the powerful gun advocacy group out of business.  The ruling will allow New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit to move ahead in state court in Manhattan.  James’ lawsuit seeks the NRA’s dissolution under state nonprofit law over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for trips, no-show contracts, and other expenditures.  (Post and Courier 1/22/21)


Questions/Comments: contact David at dhigham32@gmail.com

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