January 25, 2019
Following his request to state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs to provide a report on the effects of a variety of education reform proposals, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) spent much of his State of the State speech on Wednesday addressing plans for education and tax reform. He promised to “change everything” to improve the state’s failing education system, and pushed the legislature to pass the bills aimed at improving education outcomes across the state so he could sign them. The governor also asked legislators for an income tax cut and to sell the Santee Cooper, state’s indebted electric utility.
Sen. John Scott (D-Richland) delivered the Democratic response to the State of the State, and signaled the party’s intent to work with Republicans to solve the state’s biggest problems: “I invite the governor and his party to join us, not next week or after the next election, but right now. Because it’s time for a change and if we won’t come together, then none of us deserves to be here.”
Speaker Introduces Education Reform Legislation
House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) introduced comprehensive proposals for education reform on Thursday after the governor’s State of the State address. The South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act’s foundation is built on a Student Bill of Rights that states that all students deserve highly qualified teachers, excellent school leadership, and an education system that puts student success first.
The proposals in the 84-page bill cover a variety of issues, including raising teacher salaries, developing pre-K education, and increasing access to technical education programs for students. The bill also addresses controversial school consolidation efforts as well as strengthening higher education programs for teachers. As currently proposed, the bill could allow for up to $270 million for teacher salary increases, but the House Ways and Means Committee must also approve the expense in the budget package.
Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, introduced the companion bill in the Senate. Sen. Hembree’s committee spent the last year hearing testimony regarding the K-12 education system and he noted the bipartisan effort that went into the drafting of the proposals. House Education and Public Works ChairwomanRita Allison (R-Spartanburg) noted her excitement that everyone is on the same page. Her committee will take up the bill next week.
Loftis Wins Primary for Upstate Senate Seat
Rep. Dwight Loftis (R-Greenville) won Tuesday’s special election primary for the state’s vacant Senate District 6, defeating Greenville City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle and Jeffrey Stringer with 55 percent of the vote. The vacancy resulted from the resignation of U.S. Rep. William Timmons upon his election to Congress last fall.
Rep. Loftis has served in the state House of Representatives for 22 years, and currently serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. He will face Democrat Tina Belge in the March 26 special election.
Attorney General Announces Opposition to Medical Marijuana Efforts
Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) called marijuana the nation’s “most dangerous drug” as he announced his opposition to proposals in the legislature to allow limited medicinal use of marijuana in the state. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel, a longtime opponent of the efforts, stated that any use of marijuana in the state will cause a number of issues for the state’s citizens, including addiction, more traffic incidents, and an increase in overdose deaths across the state. Doctors from the SC Medical Association also noted the lack of research as well as minimum medical and regulatory oversight of marijuana as additional causes for concern.
Medical marijuana advocates in the legislature quickly denounced the claims made by opposition. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) told reporters he felt as if he had “traveled in a time warp back to the 1950s” after hearing the statements from Wilson and Keel.
Sen. Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston), the lead sponsors, introduced the SC Compassionate Care Act (S. 366 and H. 3660) last week. The bills allow limited medicinal use of cannabis under certain circumstances, allowing qualifying patients to possess up to 2 ounces of vaporized oil, gel caps, patches, edibles, or topical creams and prohibits smoking of cannabis.
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