Major lawmakers prepare to step down, elections draw close and House passed budget

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Welcome back!

I don't know about you but I am still struggling with the time switch and the news of the U.S. Senate quietly passing a bill to make permanent the Daylight Saving Time.

I don't really have much of an opinion, except that I am snoozing more than I'd like to and drinking at least three cups of coffee a day to cope.

Anyway, lots of big news to get through last week. Let's dive into what happened:

The Statehouse may look and feel very different next session

A big announcement came from House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, last week when he announced that he will not be running for re-election. Lucas is by far the most influential lawmaker in the Statehouse and he isn't the only one leaving.

State Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.
State Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The State's Maayan Schechter broke the news that House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, would be stepping down after three decades in the Statehouse. Together, their departure means several things.

Lucas and Simrill, despite the GOP supermajority, had a knack for reaching across the aisle and investing tons of committee time in bipartisan lawmaking. In politics, that's an art developed through years of experience and practice. Not everyone has it and for regular policy hawks, a lawmaker's efficacy is best is reflected in the committee they're assigned or oversee. Simrill and Lucas were agenda movers in the House Ways and Means Committee that oversees how the state intends to spend its money. In other words, incredibly important.

A few moons ago, I had mentioned that the Greenville delegation too was at the cusp of major change. Experienced lawmakers Garry Smith and Leola Robinson-Simpson will not be running for re-election. Tommy Stringer decided to step down from his seat. The special election for Stringer's seat is slated for March 22.

Now here's the other thing to consider: who's next and who's replacing these lawmakers?

Already, Stringer's seat, who tended to lean towards the more moderate side, is up for grabs among a crowded field of GOP candidates, who are pretty far-right in their approach.

Meanwhile, I know of one candidate who has filed to run for Smith's seat, which is considered to be a safe Republican seat.

House budget passed

To pretty much everyone's surprise, the House passed the $14 billion budget and sent it over to the Senate in one day. This is the third time this session (by my count) where they have passed major legislation without huge opposition and debate.

Here are a few things mentioned in budget briefings or others that stuck out to me during a cursory skim:

1) A $4,000 raise for teachers, which means that's the state's minimum wage for teachers is now $40,000. School districts that already have their wages set above the minimum wage are not required to raise pay and can use the money as they see fit.

Previous reporting: McMaster proposes education funding overhaul, increased staff pay, improve transparency

But there might be trouble in paradise. Based on a recent Greenville County School District meeting, the largest school district in the state may not be happy. The district, which already pays over the minimum wage, is not required to hike salaries but the school district is aware that that's what beleaguered teachers are hoping to get.

A few trustees of the school district had argued earlier that they weren't given enough funding to increase every teacher's pay and so found themselves in a position where they said they would oppose the proposed budget.

2) All state employees are receiving a lump-sum $1,500 one-time bonus and 3% increase.

3) Downtown Spartanburg will receive $10.5 million for developing infrastructure.

4) Lawmakers allocated $176.5 million for rural interstate funding and $250 million to accelerate road projects that the state is doing in partnership with counties. As per the Department of Transportation, you will still continue to see the miserable I-85 construction between Spartanburg and Gaffney.

Spartanburg County 2022 road projects: 2 long-awaited upgrades among many slated to start

5) This year's state budget also includes the first phase of tax cuts that would be aimed at lowering taxes from 7% to 6% in the next few years. For this, the state allocated around $600 million.

Perception and optics: SC will cut income taxes while an unceasing pension debt persists

6) $20 million for a youth facility overseen by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

7) The Department of Health and Environment Control will get $61.5 million to build capacity for Behavioral Health services and over $100 million for a lab.

8) DHEC will also get $25 million for PFAS remediation. PFAS are commonly used chemicals used in everyday things, like Teflon and nonstick pans and is so common that most (probably all) of us have varying levels of PFAS in our systems. Environmental advocates have been ringing the alarm and have said that continual and increased exposure will have an adverse impact on our lives.

The anti-LGBTQ fervor continues

A Senate Education subcommittee advanced the "saving women's sports" bill, which would ban transgender athletes from competing in women's sports and end a waiver process for schools in the SC High School League that allowed transgender sportspersons to compete for athletic teams, regardless of the assigned gender or sex on their birth certificates.

Supporters of the bill argue that transgender athletes have an unfair advantage over cisgender women. Meanwhile, opponents of the bill, including the SC High School League, said that this bill was looking for a solution to address cases that were few and rare in the state.

Director of the SC High School League Ronnie Matthews said that only two waivers had been granted over the past six years to allow transgender women to compete in women's sports. None had been issued for transgender men.

So here's what you need to know for the upcoming week:

On Wednesday, March 22, 10 a.m.: The full Senate Education Committee will meet to discuss and vote on the "Save women's act sports" bill.

On the same day, a special election for Tommy Stringer's seat will take place.

That's all from me this week!

I'll be back next week with more updates on how everything goes. In the meantime:

If there’s something I’m missing, don’t hesitate to reach out. I welcome any feedback, news tips and ideas you have. Contact me at via email, @ChhetriDevyani on Twitter or call me at 864-549-8465.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Major lawmakers prepare to step down, elections draw close and House passed budget