Lawmakers lay out priorities as they return to Columbia for legislative session

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Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 8:04 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - State lawmakers are back to work in Columbia, beginning their 2022 legislative session Tuesday afternoon.

As they return to the State House, they have a busy agenda before them and said there could be movement on major bills as soon as this week.

“I think January’s already full, and we’re already starting to think about February,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, said.

That full calendar includes finalizing South Carolina’s new Congressional map to wrap up the state’s months-long redistricting process. The Senate and House of Representatives have already passed their own new Senate and House maps, but they will need to agree on new boundaries for the state’s seven Congressional districts.

The Senate schedule for this month also includes a bill and debate coming up Wednesday and likely stretching multiple days on changing the Certificate of Need process by which new hospitals and medical facilities are approved to open, along with debate over a bill that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think all of us expect that to happen as well,” Massey said. “That may start next week. It may be a little bit later.”

Arguably the biggest item on lawmakers’ to-do list is figuring out how to spend an unprecedented amount of money in their control, coming through last year’s nearly $3 billion surplus revenue, almost $2.5 billion from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act, and more than $500 million from the Savannah River Site settlement.

“It’s transformational money. It’s money that we cannot misuse or squander, so we need to take a measured amount of time to make sure that we’re spending that money properly and on behalf of all the citizens,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D – Orangeburg, said.

Hutto said the Senate would not start discussion on allocating this money until February.

“We need to have that conversation about what areas do we need to transform and what’s the best way to approach that,” Massey added. “The only way that can happen the right way is for us to have a conversation where everybody is at the table, so I’m hopeful that we’re going to spend more time talking about that.”

In the House, Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D – Richland, said his caucus wants to see this money go toward education and economic development.

“We’ve got to make sure that even though we have billions coming in this year, that we continue to have money coming in and we spend it wisely,” he said.

Rutherford said education is also one of their main priorities for the session.

“We want to make sure our children are going to get educated, that we are funding teachers so that we don’t have shortages in classrooms, and that we have the books and the buildings necessary to form a foundation that every child in South Carolina can rely on to move forward,” he said.

Hutto said he expects similar conversations over the next few months in the Senate on education, including funding, keeping students in the classroom, and tackling the state’s worsening teacher shortage.

“You ask me what needs to be done, that’s got to be done,” Hutto said.

In the coming months, lawmakers expect more COVID-related legislation to be proposed, with nearly 20 of these bills filed ahead of their return to Columbia.

The direction they head on this matter will largely depend on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the legality of two federal vaccine mandates, one affecting healthcare workers and the other a vaccination-or-testing requirement for people who work for companies with 100 or more employees.

Justices heard arguments in both those cases last week.

“We need to see what they say to determine what we do,” Massey said. “I’ll tell you very candidly, my preference would be that we not have to engage in this. But my preference would also be that businesses not make us engage in this.”

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