Back in 2006 (long before running for the Senate had ever entered my mind), I was nominated and appointed as the business representative to the Upstate Judicial Merit Selection Citizens Committee by then Speaker of the House David Wilkins.

These regional committees were formed in 1997 as a way of having more transparency and public input into the judicial selection process. I had no clue of what the judicial process entailed and did not understand the gauntlet that judicial candidates went through after they were screened by our committee in Columbia.

The committee is far from a rubber stamp committee, as I can remember having to go into Executive Sessions on several occasions over information that was uncovered on judicial candidates. Mike Couick came up from Columbia, as the attorney for the Judicial Merit Screening Committee (JMSC), then under then Senate Judiciary Chairman Glen McConnell, to help us sort through the matters.

We would then find a candidate “Well Qualified,” “Qualified,” or “Not Qualified.” Most candidates were found “Well Qualified,” because they were, but I remember wishing we had an even higher rating to give several candidates.

One of those was John Kittredge, whom I had the honor of voting for last week to become Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. I am happy to say the vote was 166 – 0 for him.

South Carolina Chief Justice John Kittredge

I would place the integrity of our Supreme Court against any other state in the country. The process is already under way for his replacement on the Supreme Court, and that vote is scheduled to take place on June 5th.

I mention this because we are in the middle of the debate on Judicial Reform. I believe Senator Dick Harpootlian from Richland County said it best last week. He said, “This isn’t really judicial reform, this is legislator reform.”

The problem isn’t really the judges. It is the appearance (and sometimes the reality) of influence by legislators that also practice before these judges. The main concern is the makeup of the JMSC, which is made up of an equal number of Senate and House members – all who are attorneys.

A working group of Senators has been tasked with coming back this week with an amendment to combine the best of the options out there. It will likely include a rotation of the legislators that sit on JMSC and new appointments by the Governor to the committee. The main goal is to give confidence to the public that our courts are fair.

Last week, the conference committee that worked on the final Constitutional Carry bill presented the report, which passed both the House and Senate, and was signed into law on Thursday. It was a win for law abiding citizens and win for law enforcement as well, giving them more tools to get career criminals off the street. Click here for a summary of the bill and some FAQs.

Another bill that received a lot of attention was S915, which is a bill to consolidate existing state health agencies into the new, cabinet-level Executive Office of Health and Policy. You may remember last year we voted to break up DHEC into two different categories – Public Health and Environmental.

A 2023 study of the South Carolina state health services found that the State ranks poorly in health outcomes compared to neighboring states, and that the State’s health agency structure is the most fractured in the Nation. The bill prioritizes accountability by placing the Secretary of Health and Policy under the authority of the Governor, instead of elected board members.

Bringing our agencies under accountable leadership will improve the efficiency of state services offered and reduce overlapping, inflated, health bureaucracies.

Some constituents have expressed concerns that S915 creates a “Public Health Czar.” I am concerned about government overreach too, which is why I am in favor of making the Secretary of Health accountable to the Governor, instead of elected board members. Under current practice, the Director of DHEC is appointed by the Board. Thanks to this legislation, the secretary will be appointed by and answerable to the Governor.

For a list of other bills the Senate passed since my last newsletter, click here.

As always, thank you for the opportunity to represent District 8 in the SC Senate. It is an honor and privilege that I do not take lightly.

If there is anything I can do to help you navigate state government or if you just want to share your thoughts and concerns, please call my Columbia office at (803) 212-6148 and my assistant, Ja’vell Bynoe, will be happy to help you.