McMaster talks 2023 priorities, teacher raises, constitutional carry bill

WIS Exclusive: One-on-one with Governor Henry McMaster
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 8:21 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A month-and-a-half into its new legislative session, the General Assembly is in full swing at the South Carolina State House.

One floor below where lawmakers are debating and working three days a week, Gov. Henry McMaster is in the early weeks of his second full term in office.

Beginning his sixth year as governor, McMaster said in a sit-down interview that the collaboration between his office and the legislature has been among the highlights.

“One thing I think has been very productive is the relationship between this office, the whole staff here, and the House and the Senate members is a very good one,” he said.

McMaster will need to rely on that relationship with the legislature to accomplish his priorities for the year ahead.

In his executive budget, the governor asked lawmakers to raise the statewide starting salary for teachers from $40,000 up to $42,500, and he eventually wants it to be up to $50,000 by 2026, his last year in office.

“We need to have the best teachers to match the character and potential of our people,” McMaster said.

The spending plan proposed by the House’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, released this week, would increase starting pay to be in line with the governor’s request, up to $42,500, and base pay for every cell on the teacher salary schedule — based on how much experience and education teachers have — would also go up $2,500.

But many districts are already paying above those new proposed minimums, so not all teachers would be guaranteed a raise.

Last year, the legislature gave every district enough money to give every teacher a pay increase, regardless of if they were already making above the minimum, but it was up to the district to determine if they wanted to spend that money on additional raises or in other areas.

The next budget proposal would give districts more money than they got last year, and again, the flexibility to decide how to spend it.

McMaster said districts already paying above the minimum should use those dollars to pay teachers more.

“We want to have the best teachers in America teaching the best children in America, and that’s the children of South Carolina,” he said.

This week, the House of Representatives passed a bill to establish “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry” in South Carolina.

It would allow people 18 and older to carry concealed, loaded guns without needing a permit or any training, though people convicted of felonies that carried sentences of at least a year in prison, or misdemeanors that put them behind bars for at least five years, would still be prohibited from possessing firearms.

If the bill passes the Senate and gets to his desk, McMaster said he intends to sign it.

“I know there’s a concern about it, but I don’t share those concerns,” he said. “I don’t think everybody’s going to run out and buy a pistol to carry it around. I think the people who will are the law-abiding citizens who know how to handle firearms, and I think the Constitution, the Second Amendment, says you have a right, and I think the legislation is right on point.”

The governor also wants to see bond reform legislation on his desk, saying South Carolina has a “revolving door” of repeat violent offenders.

“I’m asking the legislature to shut that door. If somebody commits a crime while they’re out on bond for the first crime, then they go back to jail with no bond, and they get five years extra on their penalty,” McMaster said. “If we can keep the people, these great people in our state, safe, where they don’t have to worry about the children, don’t have to worry about the elderly parents, then we can have a lot more progress and be a lot happier.”

During his State of the State address in January, McMaster announced he wants to overhaul how South Carolina picks its judges, who are currently elected by the legislature.

He wants the governor to have the power to appoint them instead, with advice and consent from the Senate.

His is one of many judicial reform proposals that have been floated at the State House following the state Supreme Court’s overturn of South Carolina’s six-week ban on abortion in early January.

“I know that a lot of people, including myself, have wondered if it were time to change how we select judges for our state. The most important thing that the government can have is the public confidence,” McMaster said. “When people lose confidence in their government operations, in their government officials, we have a problem, so the way many of us have thought for some time to make that a better situation in South Carolina is to change the way we elect those judges.”

You may watch Gov. McMaster’s full interview here.

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