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Lawmakers set to discuss teacher salaries, hate crimes and LGBTQ rights

Teacher salaries, hate crimes and LGBTQ rights are on lawmakers' agenda this week.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — State lawmakers are discussing several important topics this week including teacher salaries, hate crimes and LGBTQ rights. Below are three bills to keep an eye on.

First, House Bill 3609 aims to unfreeze teacher salary step increases. Supporters are hoping this bill hits the Governor’s desk this week. 

It resumes teachers’ regular salary bumps that were put on hold last year due to the pandemic. Teachers have been pushing to reinstate the pay raises, saying it’s unfair to take away their promised money during this strenuous time.

"Our state is experiencing a teacher shortage crisis," said Patrick Kelly with the Palmetto State Teachers' Association. "Anything our General Assembly can do to demonstrate support and retain great teachers is not only great for educators but also our students."

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If the bill passes, teachers like Kelly would get their step increases for the current school year in June.

The second bill to look out for is House Bill 3620, which aims to enhance hate crime penalties in South Carolina. A House subcommittee is discussing the bill Tuesday morning. 

Activists have been calling on lawmakers to pass a hate crime bill, as South Carolina is one of only three states without one. “We don’t want to be in those numbers and hopefully we can get out of that and show the world we can move forward," said sponsor of the bill, Representative Wendell Gilliard.

The bill says if someone commits a violent crime based on a victim’s race, religion, sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability, they could face an additional fine of $10,000 and the maximum penalty of their offense would increase an additional five years.

The bill also details enhanced consequences of nonviolent hate crimes.

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The third bill to look out for this week is House Bill 3477. The Judiciary Committee will discuss the bill, which aims to ban transgender women from women’s sports. 

The so-called, “save women’s sports act” passed in a subcommittee on March 3, despite State Superintendent Molly Spearman voicing her opposition.

"My responsibility as state superintendent is to make sure that every child, every child, feels protected when they are in school and when they are on the athletic field. And I believe that this bill does damage to that," said Spearman on March 3.

If this bill becomes law, middle and high school sports would require athletes to play on the team that matches their biological sex listed on their birth certificate.

Sponsor of the bill, Representative Ashley Trantham, said she hasn’t heard of any complaints of transgender students playing on girls’ teams yet, but she hopes this bill will prevent that from happening.