With only a few days left in 2020, South Carolina lawmakers are gearing up for the 2021 legislative session which is scheduled to convene on January 12. Much of this year’s legislative session was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so lawmakers and South Carolinians are eager for updates on a number of pressing issues taking place in our state.
The economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the state’s economy but not as dramatically as other states. Earlier this month, officials from the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors issued their revised budget forecast. The news was not as promising as their pre-pandemic forecast. According to The State, the projected budget surplus shrunk down to $36.3 million and the general fund is expected to be at $9.6 billion.
The State reported Frank Rainwater, director of South Carolina’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs office saying. “We feel relieved that it hasn’t been worse than what it is, but we know we’re not out of the woods yet. And until we see COVID in our rear view mirror, we don’t have a lot of confidence in returning to normal growth here some time soon.”
Passing a state budget is one of the few constitutionally mandated legislative action items lawmakers must pass each year and always takes priority.
Aside from the state budget, Santee Cooper is the largest topic for lawmakers to discuss this legislative session. What to do with the debt ridden state utility was slated to be settled in the 2020 legislative session, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been three years since the state-owned utility pulled the plug on its failed VC Summer nuclear project and lawmakers have yet to make a decision on whether to protect customers and sell it or allow the troubled utility to try to reform itself.
Governor McMaster has remained strong in his position to sell Santee Cooper, but the legislature hasn’t been as convinced. At the end of last session, the S.C House and Senate remained divided on whether to sell or reform Santee Cooper. The House Speaker Rep. Lucas and House Ways and Means Committee Chair, Murrell Smith remain determined to get the best deal for the state and continue negotiations for a sale. Since then a number of missteps by Santee Cooper has spurred Senate legislators to take action. Most recently, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leathman had formed the Santee Cooper Review and Policy subcommittee (SCRAP) despite announcing their intention to seek reform earlier that year.
Mistrust in the utility has grown and representatives in the House have come together to support a sale and continue talks with Florida-based NextEra Energy. In 2021, the pendulum may swing in McMaster’s favor.
State Representative Murrel Smith (R-Sumter), who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, has assembled a task force to push the issue to the forefront. This, combined with Leatherman’s aptly named SCRAP committee, means the legislature is sure to prioritize the future of Santee Cooper when they reconvene in January.
This election year saw more states voting to legalize cannabis for medical use. 36 states now permit the use of medical marijuana. Voters in Mississippi voted overwhelmingly for the medical marijuana measure on the state-wide ballot this year.
The Post & Courier editorial board just recently endorsed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act.
“We’ve long supported legalizing marijuana for medical use, which has been prescribed for those suffering from chronic pain, cancer-related wasting and nausea, glaucoma and dozens of other medical conditions. A clear majority of South Carolinians agree: The most recent poll of state residents showed 72% support legalizing medical marijuana.”
State Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) has been a passionate supporter of legalizing the use of medical marijuana and has sponsored legislation for the last five years. According to a Post & Courier editorial, Sen. Davis is optimistic for the legislation’s passage in 2021.
Sunday Liquor Sales
As one of only six states in the nation to still ban liquor sales on Sundays in stores, South Carolina lawmakers are sure to be debating the issue just as they have in recent years. During the 2020 legislative session it was proposed that the highly populated, tourist heavy counties be given an opportunity to vote on whether or not to legalize Sunday sales as many lawmakers were told that tourists who travel to South Carolina over the weekend are surprised to learn they can’t buy a bottle of liquor. Neighboring states like Georgia took a similar route, legalizing Sunday sales county by county and city by city, leaving it up to the constituents to decide if they wanted to lift the ban or not in their own communities.
Legalizing Sunday liquor sales in stores still faces strong opposition from many, as some lawmakers feel it will make the state less friendly and lead to 24-hour liquor sales.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) has already been prefiled in the South Carolina House for the 2021 legislative session and was referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
New Recycling Technologies
According to the Environmental Protection Agency only 9% of the plastics generated in the U.S. are recycled. The remaining amount often ends up in landfills.
New technology is allowing for more plastic waste to be recycled by turning plastic back into its raw material and used for products or fuel. The process means less plastic will make its way into landfills.
Nine other states have enacted legislation laying out regulations for the new advanced recycling technology since 2017 and South Carolina could be next. State Senator John Scott (D-Richland) has pre-filed legislation similar to what other states have passed.