It’s crunch time at the S.C. Statehouse. Although lawmakers plan to be back several times through the spring, summer and even fall, they have just three weeks — that’s nine days — remaining in the regular session. That means the rush is on to get high-priority bills passed before they adjourn on May 13. And all that focus on high-priority legislation makes it easier to sneak through nasty little back-burner measures that haven’t gotten much attention.
The good news is that the Legislature has been making real progress on the schools: The budget that the full Senate starts debating Tuesday includes $1,000 raises for all teachers and other provisions that should help combat our teacher shortage. House leaders say they plan to similarly sweeten the pot for teachers and other state employees now that state finances are recovering from the pandemic. And they should.
Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill into law on Friday that ensures that all students now have the option of attending in-person classes five days a week, and will next year. Along with a bill allowing school districts to operate more than one school of innovation like Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood.
And the House is one vote away from passing the Senate-passed S.201 to let the state education superintendent remove school boards in underperforming districts. It’s a good bill that lawmakers need to get across the finish line this year.
On Thursday, the Senate even passed a far-from-perfect but still fairly impressive bill to reform Santee Cooper, so there’s no reason we can’t expect to see some version of H.3194 become law in the next few weeks.
But oh, those rabbits. The House could pass legislation this week to make South Carolina the 16th state (34 are needed) to call for a convention of states. H.3205 authorizes a convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution “that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”
Even ignoring how broad that second item is, legal scholars and historians doubt that such a convention could be limited; they note, after all, the last such gathering, in 1787, broke every legal restraint designed by the Continental Congress to limit its power and agenda. Although that worked out well, the fact is that a convention today has the potential of going off the rails on either the right or the left — and it’s not something we need to be facilitating.
Meantime, the budget bill up for debate in the Senate includes a handful of culture-war-crazy provisos — for instance, prohibiting colleges from requiring their students to be vaccinated, and prohibiting state police from enforcing any gun restrictions that are passed by Congress or even that result from federal court rulings.
SLED and the Department of Public Safety don’t spend much time enforcing federal laws, but prohibiting them from doing so isn't far from nullification, which is unconstitutional. And while we hope there won’t be any good reason for colleges to require vaccinations for the fall semester, we’re not comfortable with the idea of the Legislature telling our largely self-supporting colleges they can’t.
We’re even less comfortable with the Legislature telling private employers they can’t require people to be vaccinated in order to work for them (a huge departure from the wide berth we normally, and wisely, give to employers), which the Senate voted to do earlier this month. But unlike bills, which have to pass both the House and the Senate before they go to the governor’s desk, these provisos are already in the budget bill, so they will become law unless the Senate or House votes specifically to remove them. Which needs to happen.
And the Senate could send the governor a fast-moving bill this week that prohibits local governments from regulating cigarette, vape or other tobacco flavors or ingredients, and block them from requiring local licenses to sell tobacco products. Supporters say H.3681 — which the House passed April 8 and the Senate polled out of committee on Thursday — is necessary to ensure that tobacco laws are uniform across the state.
What they mean is that they want to ensure that nothing is done in South Carolina to reduce sales of tobacco products — even products that are deliberately manipulated to entice children to use them. Vaping has powered an uptick in youth tobacco use, and the CDC says nearly all high school students who use tobacco products use flavored products. Little wonder that the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the South Carolina Cancer Alliance and the S.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics are all urging legislators to kill the bill.
Which they should do. We have enough public health problems in South Carolina that the last thing we need to do is get in the way of local governments that want to try to combat them.