The first year of the 2023-2024 Legislative Session concluded Thursday at 5pm by the House adjourning Sine Die. As the Latin phrase “without a day” suggests, this marked the adjournment of the session without any set date to reconvene. This final week was a flurry of activity, with my fellow legislators and I working tirelessly on the floor over the last three days to get important legislation passed.
At the beginning of this year, we set an ambitious agenda that included improving statewide economic development, reforming our education system, implementing fiscal discipline, increasing personal freedom, and prioritizing public safety. Despite challenges and bumps along the road, we remained committed to advancing these important tenets and making meaningful progress towards achieving them.
Preparing our workforce
H.3726, the SC Education and Workforce Development Act, aims to prepare 60% of South Carolinians with post-secondary degrees or industry credentials by 2030 by mandating measures such as preparing high school students for college-level math and reading, developing articulation agreements, and utilizing technical colleges for workforce training. The Senate amended the bill, the House concurred with the Senate amendments, and the bill has been enrolled for ratification. The next stop will be the governor’s desk.
Modernizing government agencies and making them more efficient has been a major priority and we were able to take a huge step in doing that. S.399 will split the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to create the departments of Health and of Environmental Services. Under this restructuring:
• Both the S.C. Department of Public Health and the S.C. Department of Environmental Services would become cabinet agencies with their directors being appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate;
• Certain veterans nursing homes would be transferred to the S.C. Department of Veterans’ Affairs;
• The food safety program would be transferred to the S.C. Department of Agriculture;
• The flood mitigation program currently housed with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources would be transferred to the Office of Resiliency; and
• Water Resources would be transferred from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to the Division of Water within the S.C. Department of Environmental Services.
Protecting children through Gavin’s Law
In 2022, Gavin Guffey was a 17-year-old victim of sextortion that resulted in him taking his own life. The scammers tricked Gavin into sharing compromising photos and then threatened to publicly share these photos. He ended his life out of fear and shame. Gavin had just graduated from high school and was planning to study education in college to become an art teacher.
Rep. Bradon Guffey, Gavin’s father and one of my colleagues, has turned a tragedy into action to prevent other families from suffering a similar fate. His bill, H.3583, would make sextortion a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison and an additional 20 years if the crime results in the death of the victim. The bill would also require school districts to inform students and faculty about the dangers of sextortion. The bill would separate the offenses of a minor from those of an adult perpetrator.
The Senate honored Rep. Guffey’s late son by adopting an amendment naming the bill Gavin’s Law. The bill was then given second reading by a 43-0 vote and automatic third reading Friday, and will be returned to the House for concurrence before being ratified and sent to the governor for signature.
This bill which was passed by the House in February was debated on the Senate floor this week and passed along with a few amendments that encourage parental involvement. H.3728 intends to keep bias out of the classroom and schools should foster a positive learning environment where they have a positive learning experience, free from discrimination. The bill will now come back to the House so we can vote on the revised bill.
Coming up in special session
The House will this week to finish working on the State budget and bond reform which were sent to conference committees in order to work out the differences between the House version and the Senate version of the budget. We will also be taking up S.474, the Fetal Heartbeat bill with amendments from the House committee. Here is some more information on these bills:
• Budget, fiscal conservatism for economic prosperity — One of the most important responsibilities of the legislature is passing a balanced state budget. Last week, the House and Senate made their last rounds of changes to the 2023-2024 state budget, and it will now head to a conference committee to be finalized. I am proud to have supported this budget, which focused on lowering tax burdens for working families, budgeting for people and not programs, increasing our savings and reserves, investing in our infrastructure and economy, and taking care of the hard working individuals who serve the people of South Carolina. This budget positions our great state for continued economic growth and will ensure our people have opportunities to prosper.
• Urgent need to stop abortion — With the State Senate’s recent rejection of legislation that would have brought South Carolina a near-total abortion ban with limited exceptions, another attempt has been initiated to pass pro-life legislation. House and Senate leadership, seeking a path forward, held a House panel hearing on Tuesday to consider S.474, the Senate’s revised version of the “Fetal Heartbeat bill 2.0.” This bill, which the Senate passed earlier in this session, generally limits abortions after six weeks and includes necessary exceptions. The issue of abortion in South Carolina has become increasingly urgent in recent months due to the actions of neighboring states. With North Carolina recently approving a ban on nearly all abortions after just 12 weeks of pregnancy, down from their current 20 weeks, South Carolina could soon become the only state in the Southeast where abortions are still widely available. This, coupled with the fact that women from neighboring states are already coming to South Carolina to end their pregnancies, highlights the importance of addressing the issue of abortion here. With nearly half of the almost 3,000 women provided abortions in the state during the first three months of this year coming from out of state, the need for clarity and resolution on this issue is paramount. Although the session officially wrapped up on Thursday, the governor has the ability to call legislators back to Columbia for a special session, and we received orders late Thursday evening to return this week to finish our work on this important issue.
• Stopping the revolving door for repeat criminals — H.3532, the Bond Reform bill, will help make South Carolina a safer place for us all to raise our families by stopping the revolving door for repeat criminals. This bill creates sentence and bond enhancements for a person convicted of a violent crime while out on bond for a previous violent crime. The Senate non-concurred with House amendments to the bill, and the House insisted on those amendments, putting the bill in conference committee where legislators will work together to come to a compromise and get the bill sent to the Governor.
• Protecting our state from fentanyl — H.3503, the Trafficking in Fentanyl bill, declares fentanyl a Schedule I drug and increases the penalties on dealers who sell it. This bi-partisan bill provides a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and sends a strong message to drug dealers and those trafficking fentanyl that South Carolina will no longer tolerate their dangerous activity in our state. The Senate gave the bill a second reading, as amended, and the bill is pending third reading on the Senate calendar. I am hopeful this bill will get pushed through in special session and signed by the governor this month.
Cody Mitchell represents S.C. House District 35, which includes a portion of Kershaw County, and is a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.