If you read my newsletter at the end of April, you may remember that I said, “we were passing Columbia and getting on the backroads to the beach.” Well, this has been the longest backroad ride to the beach I have ever been on! I feel like we got lost and we are somewhere in Eastern North Carolina looking for the Outer Banks! It’s been a long ride, but I am confident we are going to come out better for it.

In the South Carolina Senate, we were finally able to finish up our two-year session in Columbia a couple of weeks ago. When we left Columbia in the middle of March (after the House passed their budget), we were looking at an $800 million dollar surplus or more. In June, we passed a continuing resolution to just continue the current budget (now last year’s budget as our state is on a 7/1 fiscal year) since we were unsure of the total economic impact of the pandemic to the state. When we returned two weeks ago, we were looking at only an $80 million surplus in recurring funds.

In September, the Senate passed a budget which was basically last year’s budget plus the step pay increase to teachers, which took up $62 of the $80 million. The House did not pass our budget and decided to just continue on with last year’s budget.

We also passed and the Governor signed H5305, the Absentee Vote bill, which allows people to vote absentee with no excuse during this State of Emergency.  There was some question as to whether mail-in absentee votes would require witness signatures. A lower court said no, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling this week and witness signatures are required.  Absentee voting started this week. For information on absentee voting in Greenville County, see the links at the bottom of the page.

A few other big items we were able to address include:

Broadband – One of the biggest issues we have as a state became clear when schools and employees were sent home for school and work. Internet access is a challenge for many, and not just in rural areas as you would suspect. We passed H3780 that will allow electric co-ops to get in the business of broadband. We also passed H4262 that will help expand 5G throughout the state.

Business License Tax Reform – We passed H4431 that brings much needed reform to the business license tax system by requiring a standard application form, renewal date, appeals procedure and class schedules, along with creating a central online payment portal. This is huge – especially for our businesses and contractors that work in multiple municipalities.

Tax Relief for Business – We added $420 million of CARES Act money to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund to the $500 Phase 1 allocation. If you remember coming out of the recession, our UI Fund was depleted and had been poorly managed. Through Gov. Haley’s hiring of Director Cheryl Stanton, the UI fund made a remarkable turnaround and was on solid ground before COVID hit. You will also remember, at least business owners do, that during the economic recovery, businesses also had the burden through their UI tax of rebuilding the trust fund. That’s like throwing an anchor around someone and telling them to swim.  We also passed a conformity amendment that clarifies that PPP loans are excluded from gross income for state tax purposes just like the federal returns.

In addition, I want to address what I think is going to be our biggest casualty of this pandemic, and that is our children’s education and the long-term costs it will create to our state.  Teachers, parents, and employers are doing all they can to adapt to whatever schedule the school districts are offering.  

We know what most school districts are doing in the upstate, but there are plenty of school districts in this state that are 100% virtual and a lot of those are in areas without any internet.  On top of that, many of the parents in these school districts know less about operating a computer and the internet than their children.  

This is a local school district and school board decision now.  The Governor has asked for every school district to have a five day in-person option available, but he does not have the authority to mandate it. He most likely would have had the authority if we made the Secretary of Education a cabinet position instead of a stand-alone role. (Molly Spearman was the biggest proponent for this.) The big question, “Does someone at the state level have the authority to mandate school schedules?” will be debated when we address future “State of Emergency” legislation next session.

As we see signs that society is opening back up, we know that it’s not going to happen just because States of Emergency are lifted. It will happen when the vast majority of people have the confidence to return to normal. Plenty have that confidence now. 

I saw a great article this week that said, “As we open back up, remember to support your local businesses.”  Please heed this and don’t just have everything delivered to your door. A strong community is made up of many thriving small businesses where the profits stay in your community and aren’t shipped off to an investment firm.  Let’s all do our part to support local businesses. 

It is a privilege and honor to represent District 8 in the SC Senate.  I will be on the ballot in November, though I am unopposed. I would appreciate your vote and more than that, your prayers. 

We live in the greatest state and have more opportunity in front of us to make it even better. I look forward to being a part of it. If I can ever do anything to help you navigate state government, please contact me or my assistant, Javell Bynoe at (803) 212-6148.

Voting In the 2020 General Election
For a list of the General Election polling places, click here.
For a list of candidates in the General Election, click here.
For General Information on how to vote absentee in the 2020 general election, click here.
To request an absentee ballot in Greenville County, click here.
For more on how to vote absentee in-person, click here.