COLUMBIA, S.C. — The 2023 legislative session begins on Tuesday and lawmakers are preparing to start discussing more than 300 pre-filed bills.
Representatives from the House, Senate gathered at the State House to share key points of discussion as they gear up for the session.
Education, criminal justice reform, healthcare and road reconstruction are expected to be hot topics this year.
Abortion and redistricting could also play a dominant role this year.
Bills regarding education savings accounts, which would allow parents to send their child to private school with state money, and certificate of needs are coming up this week.
“It’s certainly a big concern among Senate Republicans, which is why we’re going to start with it, to ensure there is more parental choice out there than what we currently have,” Senate majority leader Sen. Shane Massey said.
In 2023, lawmakers will be flush will cash.
South Carolina has a $3.5 billion budget surplus and $580 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to spend.
Members of the Senate and House agree legislation to criminalize the distribution of fentanyl is high on the list of priorities as they say the synthetic drug continues to kill more South Carolinians every year.
Senator Thomas Alexander explains there are three parts of the discussion: defining the drug, criminalizing the distribution and establishing sentence length requirements.
"The key component right now is making sure that if somebody ends up dying through fentanyl laced drugs or fentanyl, then there’s the ability of having the homicide approach to that that would give up - under this legislation - up to 30 years," Alexander detailed.
Alexander says this issue is personal for him, as he’s met with family members who have had loved ones die from fentanyl-related overdoses.
Through conversations with stakeholders, Alexander says he's hoping legislation will pass this session to prevent the rise in fentanyl-related deaths.
Another key item that legislators will be looking at involves medical marijuana. The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act passed in the Senate last February but was killed in the house in May.
Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope tells us he’ll be looking for a bigger distinction between medical purposes and what he calls "recreational described as medical."
"The substance in the bill seemed to set up a tremendous infrastructure of distribution points, shipping points," Pope said. "It just seemed to go much further, in my estimation, it seemed that it was setting up a statewide business rather than addressing the medical issue. And I think as you heard from some of the other members, that may be the break point of whether something could pass or not."
During the Senate agenda portion of the workshop, all panelists agreed medical marijuana legislation would be discussed.
Also at the workshop, state leaders discussed the possibility of minors being able to press charges in dating violence. Senator Katrina Shealy from District 23 in Lexington is looking to represent a bill that will allow that as well as for minors to file restraining orders against their partners.
"We believe these teenagers get serious a lot quicker than we did before so we want those teenagers to have those protections against domestic violence," Shealy said.
House Speaker Pro Tempore, Tommy Pope, said he's looking to revisit the Governor's message to bail bondsmen. Over the summer, Governor McMaster wrote a letter demanding more harsh sentences for violent crimes and repeat offenders.
Pope said the discussion is expected to focus on holding more people accountable. He said he's looking to hold judges, prosecutors, and bail bondsmen as a group accountable for repeat offenses and more harsh sentences.
"We want to have non-violent offenders out when we can but then again at some point as a citizen if the non-violent offender keeps coming back to shoplift at my store the fourth the fifth the sixth time at some point you want law enforcement to do something," Representative Pope said.
These issues among others will be presented starting Tuesday, January 9th at noon at the State House for the first day of the 2023 Legislative Session.