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SC Lawmakers kick off new state legislative session

During the next five months, lawmakers will debate issues and bills in areas ranging from public safety and workforce development to fentanyl, and education.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina lawmakers returned to the State House Tuesday with a large budget surplus and a long list of proposed legislation to get through. 

The legislature has begun its two-year schedule with a new House Speaker and a far more conservative republican set of representatives after last year's election.

"Our priority over this next session is going to be South Carolina," said New House Speaker Murrell Smith. "We can only do this together. South Carolina and Columbia is not Washington D.C."

During the course of the next five months, lawmakers will debate issues and bills in areas ranging from public safety and workforce development to fentanyl, education savings accounts and more.

"South Carolina has done well during the pandemic and after the pandemic, and we gotta keep that going," said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland). 

Smith pointed to the state's lower than normal labor participation rate, which sits at 56 percent compared to the national average of 62%. 

"You're gonna see us try to move that labor participation rate up some over the next few years," said Smith.

He said Lawmakers plan to do that by addressing child care deserts and childcare costs, and expanding job training programs. 

Senator Thomas Alexander plans to introduce legislation that criminalizes the distribution and trafficking of fentanyl. It would create a new crime called fentanyl-induced homicide with a punishment of up to 30 years in prison and stiff sentences for illegally having the drug. 

"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 on Monday.

In the wake of the state supreme court's decision to throw out the fetal heartbeat law, abortion restrictions could also dominate discussions in both chambers. 

Leaders in both parties emphasized they don’t want abortion to dominate the session.

"It is unfortunate that we’re going to see a flurry of action to take away what has already been deemed a constitutional right for a woman with her own body," said Rutherford. 

"Protecting life is going to be important to us in this state and the house of representatives, but also that doesn’t mean we’re going to be bound by one issue," said Smith. 

With a $3.5 billion dollar surplus, the state budget is also an annual priority, bringing with it conversations about teacher pay, roads tax cuts, and state employee raises.  

"We need to fund public education. Our children are vastly underrepresented up here, we gotta make sure they’re not going to be underfunded up here," said Rutherford.

The federal courts Friday, ruled that the coastal 1st Congressional District was illegally drawn to benefit Republicans by sending Black voters in Charleston County into a district that extends to Columbia. But Republican leaders don’t expect to start drawing a new map yet.

“We don’t need to draw anything until five members of the (U.S.) Supreme Court say we have to,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said.

Proposals to legalize sports betting and medical marijuana, which failed to cross the finish line last year, are expected to come up again this year.  

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