South Carolina Lawmakers Return Tuesday For COVID-19 Matters
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Legislature returns again Tuesday to assure the state can keep running during the coronavirus and with a long list of requests for laws to deal with the fallout of the pandemic.
Next week was supposed to be the final week of the 2020 session except for possibly a few special session days to tidy up things. Instead, it's likely lawmakers will arrange to push all but the most urgent matters to a special session in September that could last a few weeks.
“While the pandemic did not permit us to continue to meet as normal, the job of this legislature will not be left unfinished,” Senate President Harvey Peeler and House Speaker Jay Lucas wrote in a letter calling lawmakers back Tuesday.
How many days legislators will meet is unclear. Democratic Sen. Gerald Malloy of Hartsville said he expects the General Assembly can get its work done in a day.
House members were told in an email they could meet up to two weeks after the Thursday deadline to end the regular session because of a section of state law that allows the extension of a session if state prediction revenues are lowered.
“I’m not sure the one day is accurate,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope, a Republican from York. “Members of the House have been told to be available for three days for the next three weeks.”
The House adjourned immediately after passing a resolution last month to keep the government running without a budget. The Senate changed the proposal because of differences on how to handle Santee Cooper.
Lucas called the move a “shameless abdication of leadership.”
Both the House and Senate know they need to finalize a resolution allowing the state to continue to spend money if a budget is not passed before the fiscal year ends June 30.
The House passed a budget before the pandemic began that included tax breaks and rebates, raises for teachers, extra money for roads and prison security with nearly $2 billion in additional revenue. That budget will have to be rewritten, and legislative leaders plan to wait until late summer to get a better grasp on what COVID-19 does to the economy.
The General Assembly also plans to pass a resolution saying what they can take up in that September special session. It will likely be full of coronavirus problems along with the fate of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
And lawmakers likely will have to deal with a few matters that can't wait until September. County and local governments are asking for a law allowing them budget flexibility, saying they can't finish a responsible spending plan before June 30 with so much uncertainty around the virus.
A handful of school boards across the state want a law allowing them to change how candidates get on the ballot, at least temporarily changing the requirement of physically collecting signatures.
The most conservative members of the House may also try to take up a bill taking on Gov. Henry McMaster's emergency powers. Under state law, the governor cannot declare a state of emergency for longer than 15 days without the General Assembly's permission.
But the governor said lack of action by the Legislature, which didn't meet during much of the pandemic, is a way of giving him permission to act.
Leaders in both the House and Senate promise a deep cleaning of the chambers before members arrive. Reporters will be allowed on the second floor of the Statehouse where the General Assembly meets, but the public and lobbyists will be kept away and asked to watch a livestream of the sessions on the South Carolina Statehouse website.
There have been more than 7,600 cases of the coronavirus confirmed in South Carolina, and 331 deaths, according to Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Sunday update.
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