It has been a busy year at the S.C. Statehouse. Here is what has been happening in Columbia, as well as what I have been working on.
Religion is essential
The S.C. House passed a bill that I cosponsored called the Religious Freedom Act. This bill simply deems religious institutions essential in the case of future states of emergencies. We ask our religious institutions to do so much to help our state in times of crisis and specifically emergencies that it is only right to deem them essential.
This bill mirrors a recent Supreme Court decision, which stated religious facilities cannot be treated differently than other organizations. I was proud to support this bill.
Easier access to birth control
As you may know I am proud to be pro-life. I have always supported pro-life legislation. I believe that to be truly pro-life we should support people and try to prevent unwanted pregnancies, so an abortion is never even considered. I voted for a bill passed this year, which would allow a woman to receive hormonal birth control from a pharmacy without going to a doctor to get a prescription. Making it easier for women to access birth control should be as central to the pro-life movement as outlawing abortions and I am proud to support this great step in that direction.
Save women’s sports
A new law was passed with bipartisan support in Columbia that will require those competing in sports to compete in either male or female sports, based on their birth gender. With all of the hard work that has gone into supporting Title IX and the creation of women’s sports in our school systems, it is simply wrong to allow biological males to compete in sports with biological females. I supported this legislation.
Supporting our veterans
Giving back to those who sacrificed it all to protect us is one of my top priorities. I was proud to support a bill (S.968) establishing the Veterans Service Organization Burial Honor Guard Support Fund. This fund offsets the costs of S.C. veterans service organizations that help provide honor guard details at veteran burials. I was glad to see this bill pass the House without opposition.
Protecting our most vulnerable
I was proud to support a bill to help some of our most vulnerable and help them make the same wages that all of us are entitled to when we work. South Carolina has 3,513 citizens with disabilities in sheltered workshops, where they could earn less than minimum wage. This law dates back to the 1930s. A bill passed this year would require the minimum wage to apply to these South Carolinians just like it does to the rest of us.
Giving teachers a break
Often, teachers are so much more than educators: they are role models, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and they truly shape the lives of our children. My colleagues and I voted unanimously to pass a bill (S.946) that entitles elementary school teachers to “unencumbered” time. Essentially, this is duty-free time to eat lunch and have some downtime to regroup before returning to educate our children.
Supporting law enforcement
As the General Assembly finished its regular session, we were able to get police reform across the finish line. This law will require minimum standards for all agencies and centralizes reporting of officer misconduct. Law enforcement is a profession, and those who wear the badge should be confident that their honor won’t be tarnished by those who can’t meet the standard. It also set standards for the use of force and vehicle pursuits for the state’s law enforcement officers. This legislation was supported by the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association, S.C. Police Chiefs’ Association, S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy and many more.
Convention of states resolution
Last year, I wrote an editorial in The Lancaster News, where I spelled out my support for this resolution. Under Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers gave the states a way to amend the Constitution without the input of Congress to give states a means to restrain the federal government.
Under Article 5, a convention must be held if at least 34 states call for a convention to propose amendments. Once the convention proposes amendments, they then have to be ratified by 38 state legislatures to be added to the Constitution.
While this has never been done before, a nationwide movement of grassroots supporters is trying to call one to propose two amendments to states on fiscal restraint and congressional term limits.
Almost every state, including South Carolina, must balance its budget, as I am sure you do. This isn’t a Republican versus Democrat issue. If anything, it’s a “Washington versus us” issue. This passed this year and South Carolina became the 18th state to call for a convention
Military retirement income tax eliminated
The Workforce Enhancement and Military Recognition Act is a piece of legislation that I proudly cosponsored. This bill eliminates state income taxes on retirement income for military personnel in South Carolina. We all should all be thankful for their sacrifice for our nation. They deserve to keep every dime they earned from their retirement.
I co-sponsored a bill that will gradually raise our state’s reserves from 5% to 7% and increase capital reserve funds from 2% to 3%. This bill is now in a conference committee to address its differences with the Senate. Part of being a fiscal conservative is not only controlling spending, but preparing for an economic downturn, to avoid cutting essential priorities like public safety, corrections and education. Saving money today will be important tomorrow.
S.C. Opioid Recovery Act
The S.C. Opioid Recovery Act has been ratified. It helps to combat the major opioid crisis facing the United States by establishing the S.C. Opioid Recovery Fund (and other related entities) which qualify South Carolina to receive resources to combat the opioid crisis. As our county’s coroner, Karla Deese, has been very outspoken on this issue, I was glad I could do my part to help support this legislation.
Patriotism in schools
This allows the state Board of Education to require the display of patriotic emblems (such as flags or mottos) of the United States of America and the state of South Carolina in our schools. It is important for young people to be exposed to our nation’s and state’s history and to be proud of our history.
Volunteer firefighter grants
Keeping our firefighters prepped and ready with the resources and gear they need is crucial to upholding public safely. I was proud to support legislation that simplifies the authority of the state fire marshal and enhances the Volunteer Strategic Assistance and Fire Equipment (V-SAFE) Program, which awards grants to volunteer fire departments. As District 45 is almost solely serviced by volunteer fire departments, I am always glad to help support them.
Republican Brandon Newton represents District 45 in the S.C. House of Representatives.