Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

No-excuse early voting became law in South Carolina today at the stroke of a pen by Gov. Henry McMaster.

The new law means registered South Carolinians voters can cast ballots in-person two weeks before the June primary in county voter registration and election offices starting May 31. Voters do not need to have a qualified excuse to vote early, as in the past.

“In-person absentee voting has now been replaced with a two-week early voting period,,” the S.C. Election Commission announced today. “Any voter can visit an early-voting location in their county and vote like they would at their polling place on Election Day.” Registered voters also still have the option to vote absentee by mail.

Meanwhile Thursday, South Carolina lawmakers rushed to get final approval for bills to send to McMaster that would reform the state’s sex offender registry and update police force and pursuit standards.

The regular session ended at 5 p.m. Thursday, which also marked the end of Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, as speaker.  Lawmakers will be back June 15 to finish work with the state’s $12.6 billion budget, vouchers and other measures still in House-Senate compromise committees.  When they resume session, House members will be led by new Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.

Below is a look at what was done, still needs work and what wasn’t finished.

Passed this week

Sex offender registry.  Lawmakers approved a bill that updated the state’s sex offender registry.  In June, the state Supreme Court ordered the legislature to change rules of the registry to allow ex-convicts to be removed if they aren’t likely to be reoffenders.  The overhaul eliminated a requirement to register for life without a hearing.

S.C. Rep. Murrell Smith, seen smiling, talks with Sen. Dick Harpootlian during session in Columbia, S.C. on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. (Photo by Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA)

Force standards.  Lawmakers also set up minimum standards for the use of force and vehicle pursuits for the state’s law enforcement officers.  

Disabled workers.  Legislators passed a ban on paying disabled workers less than minimum wage.

Early voting.  Earlier in the week, the Legislature sent a bill to the governor to allow for no-excuse early voting, which may start two weeks before the June 14 primary if McMaster signs the bill soon.

  • UPDATE: McMaster signed the bill late Friday to usher in early voting, which will commence May 31, according to the S.C. Election Commission.

Birth control pills.  As the clock wound down Thursday, senators approved a House-passed measure to allow women over 18 to get birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives from a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription – a move to make it easier for women to thwart unwanted pregnancies.

Still up in the air

State budget. House and Senate conferees are continuing to hammer out details for the state budget.  A $12.6 billion Senate version calls for a $1 billion tax cut and $1 billion in rebates.  A $14 billion House version cuts income taxes, provides more road money and includes larger teacher pay hikes.  Lawmakers will return June 15 to pass the final version.

Vouchers.  Other conferees will be working on whether to approve a voucher measure that will let parents of poorer students use public money to pay for private school tuition.

Abortion.  Lawmakers also have reserved the right to come back in special session sometime this year if the U.S. Supreme Court changes the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

Failed to pass

USC board reform.  Opponents in the SC. Senate stalled a measure to reduce the number of trustees on the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees.  Supporters of the measure complained that not making changes would allow for more mismanagement to occur by the board, which has been under the gun in recent years for various decisions. 

Breaking up DHEC.  Lawmakers were not able to pass a proposal to split the state Department of Health and Environmental Control into separate agencies – essentially one for health and the other for the environment.  

Hate crimes.  South Carolina remains one of two states in the nation without a hate crimes law after lawmakers failed to act again this year.

Charleston loophole.  Lawmakers failed to close a loophole to keep some people from not getting guns.  The measure has been on the Statehouse agenda for several years and since nine people were massacred at Emanuel AME Church in 2015.  

Medical marijuana.  While the bill to approve compassionate use of medical marijuana passed the Senate for the first time in seven years, it was ruled out of order earlier in the month in the House.  It has to start over in 2023.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister publication, Statehouse Report.