COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -South Carolina lawmakers will return to the State House Tuesday, Jan. 14 for day one of the legislative session in the new year, returning for the second year of this two-year session.
There are dozens of proposals up for discussion as the legislative session reconvenes for the first time in 2020.
This includes a number of new bills that will be introduced to lawmakers for the first time and a number of proposals lawmakers were not able to agree on in year one.
One of the more controversial debates could surround the fetal heartbeat bill, a conversation happening across the country. Last year, eight states passed new abortion restrictions: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas and Utah.
So far, none of these laws have gone into effect and many have been temporarily blocked by judges. The landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortions nationwide in 1973, setting a 24-week deadline for legal abortions.
In South Carolina, a proposed fetal heartbeat bill passed the House in April, and would ban women from getting an abortion if a heartbeat is detected.
This can happen as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, though there are exceptions provided for incidents of rape and incest or if the pregnancy poses fatal health risks to the mother. Just last week some lawmakers expressed that there are likely not enough votes to see this bill through.
Education reform is another big issue in the state. Right now, the Career Opportunity and Access for All Act – a massive 84-page education bill – is said to be one of the first things lawmakers will be debating this year. The bill passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate. The proposal suggests increasing teacher pay, expanding K-4 education standards and better preparing high school students for the workforce.
The group, SC for Ed, helped to organize the All Out May 1st teacher rally outside the State House, which drew an estimated 10,000 supporters. Organizers say so far they’re concerned lawmakers have not heard their concerns and recently set a March 17 deadline for lawmakers to move forward on education reform supported by SC for ED, or members will be forced to act accordingly.
There’s also a hands-free bill being discussed. It’s already illegal to text and drive in the Palmetto State. Currently, if a driver is pulled over for a separate driving offense and is also cited for using cell phone while driving, that driver could be fined $25. Should this hands-free bill become law, drivers could face up to a $100 fine and points on their driving record. This bill failed to pass the House but still has a chance in the Senate.
A group of lawmakers recently proposed enhancing penalties for hate crimes in our state. As of now, South Carolina is one of only four states across the country without a hate crime law. If passed, this means perpetrators could face additional prison time and fees – on top of their original sentence – if the offense is considered a hate crime.
Many South Carolinians are also wondering what’s next for Santee Cooper, which is considered one of the biggest financial woes in the state because of millions of dollars in debt. In November, officials with Santee Cooper approved a confidential plan to restructure the utility. This plan will be released once the Department of Administration sends lawmakers a report on bids to purchase and manage Santee Cooper.
Lawmakers are expected to receive the report no later than, Wednesday.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet at noon, Tuesday.