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SC Legislature feels and looks different with same issues

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina’s 2021 Legislative session opens with the COVID-19 pandemic nonetheless raging and loads of issues nonetheless looming that acquired put aside when the pandemic began final spring and introduced a lot of the General Assembly’s work to a halt.

Lawmakers plan to fulfill in individual and promise protocols to maintain individuals protected, even with file variety of COVID-19 circumstances being reported within the state previously few weeks. Lawmakers are scheduled to fulfill for 18 weeks beginning Tuesday.

It would be the 124th time the General Assembly has met for a two-year session. This 12 months is the primary 12 months of the session, so all payments should begin from the start.

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LOOKS DIFFERENT

The session will appear to be no different due to the pandemic.

Senate President Harvey Peeler stated all 46 senators have agreed to put on masks whereas on the Senate ground and in assembly rooms or frequent areas of their workplace constructing. The Senate Sergeant-At-Arms has the authority to ensure everybody else wears a masks. The pandemic is a particular concern in a chamber the place 22 members are 60 or older.

House Speaker Jay Lucas is strongly encouraging members to put on masks, however a number of of the 124 members didn’t have face coverings contained in the cramped chamber throughout the December organizational session, resulting in COVID-19 circumstances amongst new and veteran lawmakers.

Employees have been particularly pissed off with maskless House members, Minority Leader Todd Rutherford stated.

“If anybody wants to sit in a crowded room and be stupid and not wear a mask, that’s on them. But they shouldn’t spread it to a staff member,” the Columbia Democrat stated.

COVID-19 means no massive teams like highschool championship groups visiting the Statehouse for at the least a number of months.

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FEELS DIFFERENT

The South Carolina Senate took a determined lurch to the precise after the November elections. Republicans flipped three seats and now make up 30 of the 46 senators, probably the most they’ve ever had in fashionable occasions.

The Democratic senators who misplaced have been extra average too.

Senate guidelines permit one senator loads of energy to stop a invoice from passing and the chamber has lengthy been respectful of different members, however an excessive amount of obstruction might imply rule modifications or extra frequent use of votes to restrict debate.

The Democratic senators even have a brand new chief as Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg takes over as Minority Leader after Sen. Nikki Setzler stepped apart from the management function. Hutto promised to hunt consensus like Setzler, however in his 25-year legislative profession, Hutto has additionally proven talent in backing down Republicans by filibusters or different maneuvers.

There are fewer modifications within the House. Republicans did achieve two seats. But the management stays the same exterior of Republican Rep. Chris Murphy of North Charleston, who grew to become House Judiciary Chairman after Pete McCoy left the Legislature to change into South Carolina’s U.S. lawyer.

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FAMILIAR ISSUES

There are loads of acquainted issues prone to pop up in 2021 – training, Santee Cooper,the price range, abor-tion. All of these acquired kicked down the highway after the pandemic in 2020.

The House and Senate every handed their very own large training overhaul payments, however COVID-19 arrived earlier than leaders within the two chambers might hash out their variations.

Possible pay raises for lecturers – if the price range permits – can be low-hanging fruit. Bigger reforms may have extra time and maybe the enjoyable of pandemic social distancing necessities so lawmakers can extra simply maintain hearings and negotiate.

Both House and Senate subcommittees have already held hearings on state-owned utility Santee Cooper earlier than the session started. House members maintain out hope they’ll promote the utility to a personal firm, whereas senators have stated that choice is probably going off the desk.

House and Senate leaders agree Santee Cooper wants a heavy-handed overhaul that begins with seeping out the board and executives. House Majority Leader Shane Massey stated there are good, sensible workers at Santee Cooper, however manner too many entrenched workers resistant to vary.

“I’m convinced it needs to be a total housecleaning. I think a culture has been created at Santee Cooper where they hide stuff,” the Edgefield Republican stated.

Almost yearly lately, South Carolina lawmakers debated abor-tion. More restrictions move the House, however fail within the Senate.

This 12 months may be different with extra conservatives within the Senate and with two new, conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court bettering the possibilities a regulation with stricter limits on abor-tion might stand a courtroom problem.

House Democrats have vowed to battle more durable this 12 months for the reason that Senate Democrats misplaced key seats.

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SOME NEW THINGS

Look for lawmakers to take up COVID-19 issues early, together with getting in-person courses 5 days every week for any kids whose mother and father need them and a dialogue a few ban on individuals suing companies claiming they acquired sick both as a employee or a buyer, though that invoice’s likelihood is dicey.

In the House, there will likely be loads of dialogue about legal justice reform after Lucas made it a precedence following protests within the wake of the dea-th of George Floyd, kil-led when a police officer in Minnesota pressed down on his neck throughout an arrest final summer season.

The payments would change regulation enforcement coaching, sentencing tips and put stricter guidelines on how police businesses can take property utilized in unlawful acts.

But the centerpiece is a state hate crimes regulation including penalties to anybody who kills, assaults or damages the property of somebody based mostly on race, faith, sexual orientation or different components. Only South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas don’t have the legal guidelines.

There has been plenty of help from a broad vary of House members throughout the fall. But extra conservative Republicans have instructed they need the improved penalties to be prolonged to individuals who at-tack law enforcement officials due to their jobs.

And lawmakers pays cautious consideration to the once-a-decade strategy of drawing new district strains for state House and Senate and U.S. House seats when the U.S. Census information is launched later this 12 months. South Carolina’s inhabitants is anticipated to be effectively over 5 million – including some 500,000 individuals previously 10 years. The state did add a U.S. House seat in 2010.

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Jeffrey Collins has coated South Carolina for the AP for greater than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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