Gun reform protest

A host of education issues that didn’t get resolved in 2020 because of the pandemic are on the table in 2021 as education advocates push for more teacher pay, better internet access in rural areas and more.

State Rep. Rita Allison, the Spartanburg Republican who chairs the House Education and Public Works Committee, said lawmakers will focus on improving and reforming the state’s education network.

Budget discussions will focus on recruiting and retaining teachers as well as helping students catch-up from work they missed during pandemic shutdowns and alterations.

“A lot of them have gotten behind during COVID,” she said. “[We have] to be able to fund situations so that we can catch them up and hopefully get them back in school in the coming year so that they are caught up.”

Also on tap for 2021:

Health care.  With one of every 17 South Carolinians contracting COVID-19 this year, inequities and shortcomings have become clearer in South Carolina’s health care system, lawmakers say, which means they’ll dive into possible changes to broaden accessibility.

“COVID-19 has underscored the importance of making quality health care affordable and accessible for all South Carolinians,” said Rep. Roger Kirby, D-Florence.  “We must protect the capacity of our state’s hospital system, support free COVID testing and ensure that distribution of the vaccine goes smoothly until we beat this virus once and for all. Ultimately, we believe that the state must expand health care coverage to more South Carolinians by finally expanding Medicaid.”

DHEC.  Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, also has pre-filed a bill that would split DHEC and change how it operates.  Peeler believes the state agency should focus on health while other agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources, look after the environment.  “This has been a concern of mine for years,” he said. “DHEC is just too large.”

Gun reform.  Lawmakers again will try to close the “Charleston loophole” to require more time for federal officials to do background checks on people who want guns.  Brawley said she also is sponsoring legislation to prohibit the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Santee Cooper. Since a $9 billion failure to build nuclear plants in Fairfield County, SCANA was sold to Dominion Energy and state lawmakers have been under a lot of pressure to reform or sell Santee Cooper.  After a summer of intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying fueled apparently by a company that wants to buy the state-backed utility, there likely will be intensive debate on Santee Cooper’s future. 

Hate crimes.  Some lawmakers see momentum in South Carolina passing a law against hate crimes, particularly since the S.C. Chamber of Commerce supported the legislation recently.  “This is an important piece of legislation for South Carolina to enhance our standing nationally as a forward moving state,” Kirby said.

Lawmakers may also juggle lots of more issues with more than 1,000 bills already prefiled.  Also getting attention will be potential changes to election laws, clarifying gubernatorial powers during crises, improving diversity in professional schools, raising the minimum wage, approving use of medical marijuana, increasing access to broadband and more.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report and publisher of the Charleston City Paper.  Rodney Welch is a freelance writer from Elgin.