The 124th session of the South Carolina General Assembly will convene on January 12, 2021, marking the first year of a two-year legislative session. Legislators in both the House and Senate began pre-filing legislation on December 9 and 16, introducing over 800 bills to date.
Republicans in the Senate now hold a supermajority with a 30-16 margin. Republicans in the House maintained control of the chamber as well, picking up two seats in the 2020 election, taking the House makeup to 81 Republicans and 43 Democrats.
Issues likely to be at the forefront of the 2021 legislative session include:
As a result of the shortened 2020 legislation and concern over the economic fallout from COVID-19, legislators passed a continuing resolution (CR) to fund state government past July 1 of this year and will revisit whether to leave the CR in place for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, or to pass a new budget to take the state through June 30, 2021. Legislators must also craft a 2021-22 budget when they return, with the Board of Economic Advisors currently forecasting lower than normal projections for recurring revenue of less than $50M for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021.
Another budget-related item that could dominate time when members return is prioritizing another allocation of CARES Act funding should Congress send additional COVID-19 relief funding to the states in 2021.
Upon completion of the 2020 census, the South Carolina legislature must begin redrawing the state’s district maps that will determine the districts of all 170 legislators and the seven members of the state’s Congressional delegation. While the redistricting process does not need to be completed until 2022, legislators, specifically the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, will begin this process early in 2021 so that they have enough time for committee and floor debate, as well as required Department of Justice approval and any legal challenges that may arise before the maps are finalized.
An issue that has dominated the General Assembly for the past four sessions is likely to remain at the forefront in 2021 as well, as legislators continue to debate whether to sell, manage or reform the state-owned utility Santee Cooper. The leadership of Santee Cooper has been rebuked numerous times by House and Senate leadership in recent months, as legislators believe that Santee Cooper is violating provisions of Act 135 which does not allow them to enter into new contracts while the legislature debates the utility’s fate. The House Ways and Means Santee Cooper Ad Hoc Committee is scheduled to meet in December to begin these discussions.
A bill to ban abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy could become law in South Carolina early in 2021 with Republicans increasing their majorities in both the House and Senate. Similar legislation passed the House last year and made it through the Senate committee process, but stalled on the Senate floor before the legislative session abruptly ended due to COVID-19. A number of newly elected members campaigned on the promise to end abortions in the state, and legislation to do just that has already been introduced in both chambers. Although likely to face a number of legal challenges if passed, Gov. McMaster has promised to sign the legislation should it reach his desk.
Hate Crimes Legislation
South Carolina is one of three states that currently does not have hate crimes legislation, an issue that a number of legislators and advocacy groups have promised to make a top issue in 2021.
After the death of George Floyd in May, House Speaker Jay Lucas appointed a special committee to begin looking at needed criminal justice reforms in the state, with one subcommittee tasked at looking at hate crimes legislation specifically. After several years of failed attempts to get something moving, momentum seems to be building for passage of hate crimes legislation in 2021.