COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After being forced to finish their session early last year because of COVID-19, South Carolina state lawmakers returned to Columbia Tuesday with a full agenda already set.
The 124th session of the South Carolina General Assembly began with hundreds of prefiled bills in both chambers.
While prefiling a bill doesn’t guarantee its passage, it does typically denote a lawmaker’s priorities for the session and helps fast-track the legislation.
Senate Republicans first prefiled bill relates to abortion and preventing abortions from happening when “a fetal heartbeat is detected” according to the bill’s text.
On the other side, Minority Leader Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said he thinks Democrats have a chance to push through some of the policies Democratic constituents are asking for: hate crime legislation and legalizing medical marijuana.
However, leaders from both parties in the Senate said they will need to take quick action on the state budget and when it comes to redistricting, a mandatory redrawing of the state map that needs to be done after the U.S. Census is taken.
“We are going to have the budget conversation again. It’s going to be much more different than it would’ve been last year. It’s going to be more difficult than it would’ve been last year,” newly re-elected Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R-Aiken) said.
Because the session ended early last year, lawmakers will need to continue a budget fight.
“We got a fair amount of one-time money we are going to have to distribute. And we need to look at the priorities considering the pandemic and the realities of what’s happened to small businesses to people who became unemployed,” Hutto said.
Democrats will be debating these issues with fewer members in their caucus as compared to the last session.
In the November elections, Democrats lost three seats in the Senate giving them a total of 16 lawmakers on their side compared to the 30 Republicans.
“Got to work harder and be smarter...This is still the SC Senate it’s a very deliberative body. And while we don’t have as many, we think we will be as effective.
Massey said his larger majority in the Senate changes the dynamic for his side, too.
“The expectations are higher now, and I understand that. I understand how it’s played. It could make it easier for us to do some things. It could, frankly, make it more difficult for us to do some things,” he said.
Both parties say they want to also address the fight against COVID-19.
Massey and Hutto both expressed frustration with how the state has rolled out the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We have some real problems right now with vaccines and getting those into arms. We have vaccinations we just don’t have people getting vaccinated at a fast enough rate.”
Massey said other than education, he hears the most about COVID-19 from his constituents.
“The things we hear about the most, and I think no matter where you are, you’re hearing about the same things. It’s COVID. How are we going to manage this, and the vaccine rollout? There is a lot of frustration and anger even about the pace with which the vaccine has rolled out. Getting kids back to school and doing that in a safe manner. I hear about that daily.”
A lot of priorities with only about 50 days to get it all done.