The Buzz on SC Politics

Emily Bohatch
·10 min read

Welcome to your weekly South Carolina politics briefing, a newsletter curated by The State’s politics and government team.

With session winding down, lawmakers made sure to keep us nice and busy this week as they pushed to get a few more crucial bills done by the end of this year’s session. So, without further ado, let’s hop into it.

What to do with Santee Cooper?

The Senate doesn’t want to even consider a sale, even after NextEra said it’s willing to come back to the negotiating table. So the Senate approved a reform plan which includes oversight on Santee Cooper ratemaking, energy generation plans, and how much debt it takes on. It also allows for the governor to get rid of at least 11 of the 12 Santee Cooper board members.

The key provision the Senate kept out is a committee to consider offers for all or parts of the state-owned electric utility, something the House wants.

Senators rejected that idea in a 36-8 vote.

“I was surprised by that number,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “I think it sent a pretty strong message to me. ... That 36-8 vote though seemed to show that there wasn’t a whole lot of interest in continuing negotiations.”

Finally, finally Joe Cunningham can stop dropping hints

After months of teasing, former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham filed preliminary paperwork showing that he’s raising money for a possible gubernatorial campaign.

Though Cunningham’s camp didn’t comment for our story, the Charleston Democrat sure sounded like he was running for governor at an event in York County Wednesday night.

Cunningham took shots at S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, telling the crowd South Carolina “deserves a lot better” than the current governor.

“He’s a career politician — a very bad career politician,” Cunningham told nearly 50 attendees. “He’s been a politician longer than I’ve been alive. He’s wanted his entire life just to have the title of governor but not to do the work.”

Gallo well on its way to plant site in Chester County

A battle over where South Carolinians can sample and buy wine became the focus of a debate this week over a proposed major economic development project in the state.

But it was not enough to derail legislation that was written to entice Gallo Winery to plant its East Coast hub in Chester County.

At issue with critics is the Legislature’s willingness to let Gallo open up three standalone tasting rooms.

Opponents say that that is unfair and gives the California wine giant a leg up in the marketplace.

The legislation is extremely likely to get signed by the governor — who supports it — this year. Lawmakers told us a full House Judiciary Committee is already in the works to take up the bill this week, giving the bill an opportunity to pass before they leave town next month.

Ready yourself for election law changes

A South Carolina House panel weighing changes to the state’s election laws could soon decide between two dueling pieces of legislation — one bill that would vastly expand access to the ballot and another that would curb absentee voting while expanding the days voters can cast ballots in person.

The latter is the likeliest to pass the House, since it is filed by Lancaster Republican Rep. Brandon Newton.

Here’s what it does:

Keeps the state’s 30-day deadline to register to vote

Gets rid of any unmanned absentee ballot drop boxes

Allows county election offices more time to open absentee ballot envelopes, as they were allowed to do last year.

Allows for two weeks of early, in-person voting BUT gets rid of several excuses a voter can use to vote absentee by mail

A vastly expansive measure filed by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter has so far not been scheduled for another hearing.

Hate crimes takes first, labored steps in the Senate

A Senate subcommittee advanced the House’s hate crimes bill this week, but it didn’t happen without some challenges.

Some members of the religious community are taking a stand against parts of the bill, specifically sections that would grant protections to members of the LGBTQ community.

Some religious leaders asked lawmakers to remove references to “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” from the bill, saying it would create new protected classes within South Carolina law. They worried that those changes could be used later to persecute Christians for talking about their beliefs on sexuality.

Lawmakers pushed back Wednesday, but the religious community has been largely successful when it comes to getting changes in the hate crimes bill.

How do you spend $10.6 billion?

The Senate next week is expected to begin discussions on their version of a 2021-22 spending plan, which includes more money to allocate after the Board of Economic Advisors projected more revenue to the state.

In the $10.6 billion spending plan, teachers are in line to receive a $1,000 raise, on top of their annual step increases for experience and education level. State employees would get an across the board 2% raise as well. And there’s money in the budget to help keep tuition at state universities frozen.

DJJ’s scathing audit puts director in hot seat

A South Carolina Senate panel looking into an audit of the state agency that houses and educates juvenile offenders — damning, they say, in its detail of failures of the agency to protect youth — has now asked Attorney General Alan Wilson to probe the same report to decide whether anyone may have acted “improperly or criminally.”

The request comes one day after senators blasted the agency, whose director, Freddie Pough, has acknowledged the yearslong problems at the state Department of Juvenile Justice and told reporters he is trying to fix them.

McMaster has stood by Pough, expressing confidence he can turn the agency back around.

But there’s absolutely no way that senators are going to let the audit slide.

Buzz Bites

Gov. Henry McMaster and First Lady Peggy McMaster finally got their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine shot. The shots came months after the two had tested positive for the virus. McMaster told reporters after getting his Pfizer shot at CVS he wasn’t feeling any symptoms.

The House passed the Senate’s COVID-19 liability bill in a 89-19 vote, moving it to the governor’s desk.

Hundreds of South Carolinians who live with intellectual and physical disabilities are earning well below South Carolina’s minimum wage, which critics say does nothing but violate their civil rights for sometimes hours worth of work performed each week. Known as the subminimum wage,” a Senate proposal filed by Sen. Katrina Shealy is now in the House to do away with the measure.

US Sen. Lindsey Graham says he “could not disagree more” after former President Donald Trump expressed support for President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that he would be ordering the withdrawal of all forces in Afghanistan.

“With all due respect to former President Trump, there is nothing ‘wonderful’ or ‘positive’ about allowing safe havens and sanctuary for terrorists to reemerge in Afghanistan or see Afghanistan be drawn back into another civil war,” Graham said.

Politico reported that former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley was spotted meeting with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Haley was reportedly gauging Suarez’s viability as a running mate in 2024. Haley is slated to headline the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner in Des on June 24.

Gov. McMaster and his floodwater commission are touting an effort to plant more than 3 million pine trees they hope will soak up stormwater as more intense rainfall drenches South Carolina and increases flooding.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace inadvertently went viral Tuesday after Twitter users pointed out that, in a clip where Mace says Washington D.C. doesn’t have a large enough population to make up a congressional district, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, was standing behind her. Wyoming has a smaller population than Washington D.C.

South Carolina is poised to make significant changes this year to the way it executes death row inmates, giving the state an avenue to use electrocution and adding firing squads as an option. A House panel opted to keep death by firing squad as an option for executions.

The Legislature passed a bill that would change the requirements for college history, including a course on Reconstruction.

As The State first reported, McMaster nominated Peter McCoy to be the next chairman of the Santee Cooper board. McCoy will have to be confirmed by the Senate first, a process he told reporters he’s looking forward to.

More new school buses are coming to South Carolina as the Department of Education plans to use $480,00 from the EPA to help buy 24 new buses for 10 school districts.

South Carolina school districts must now give students the option to get instruction in person, five days a week after Gov. McMaster signed a bill into law that also includes an incentive to bring back retired teachers to the classroom.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill on Thursday, April 22, 2021, that requires every school district to give students the option to return to school in person, five days a week. Also pictured from left is S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, and schools Superintendent Molly Spearman.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill on Thursday, April 22, 2021, that requires every school district to give students the option to return to school in person, five days a week. Also pictured from left is S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, and schools Superintendent Molly Spearman.

Mark your calendar

April 27-29

Budget week in the Senate

April 29

Former Vice President Mike Pence will address South Carolina conservatives in Columbia

May 5

Joint House and Senate session at noon to elect board members for Legislative Audit Council, universities

May 13

Legislature’s work calendar ends

May 17

New deadline for individual state income tax returns for the 2020 year

Before we adjourn

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is taken into custody as his attorney Eric Nelson, left, watches, after his bail was revoked after he was found guilty on all three counts in his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. (Court TV via AP, Pool)
In this image from video, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is taken into custody as his attorney Eric Nelson, left, watches, after his bail was revoked after he was found guilty on all three counts in his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

One of the biggest headlines this week came from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd.

South Carolina leaders responded with immediate relief after the conviction.

”These things stay with you,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said.

Clyburn called for more policing within the law enforcement profession. He has pushed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a policing reform bill put forward by House Democrats. Clyburn added that he shouldn’t have to be concerned every time his 26-year-old grandson, who lives across the street from him, leaves his home or comes home late.

“If you have a bad police officer, he will bring down the entire profession, and that’s what this is all about,” Clyburn said. ”This has to come to a stop. That’s all people are saying.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican, said there was “no question in my mind that the jury reached the right verdict.”

“While this outcome should give us renewed confidence in the integrity of our justice system, we know there is more work to be done to ensure the bad apples do not define all officers — the vast majority of whom put on the uniform to serve each day with integrity and servant hearts,” Scott said.

You can read more reactions here.

Who put together this week’s newsletter?

This week it was reporter Emily Bohatch, who is part of The State’s State House team. Keep up with her on Twitter @emilybohatch or send her story tips at ebohatch@thestate.com.

Make sure to sign up for our weekly politics newsletter that will come straight to your inbox each week. Tell your friends to do the same. For even more South Carolina-focused political news, you can chat with us on Facebook at the Buzz on South Carolina Politics, email us tips at thebuzz [at] thestate [dot] com and follow our stories at scpolitics.com.