I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July weekend and that you were able to celebrate in some way the 244th birthday of the greatest country in history. I pray we never take our freedom for granted.

At the end of June, the legislature went back into session to approve the CARES Act money. Most of the recommendations were the same as what came out of accelerateSC. As with any money from Washington, there are a lot of strings.

The main thing to know is that this $1.9 billion can’t be spent on any lost revenue. It is only to be used on directly related COVID-19 expenses. A third party auditor was hired to make sure all of the expenses “reimbursed” are qualified. The largest payout was $500 million, which is going to the Unemployment Insurance Trust fund. This was a huge win for South Carolina businesses, who would otherwise have been asked to fund this trust while they are trying to recover.

Also, several of us in the Senate Republican Caucus rolled out the #scLEADSAct (Law Enforcement Accountability, Duty and Standards). It’s similar to the bill Senator Scott presented in Washington, and came after several meetings with Chief Mark Keel of SLED and representatives from both the SC Sheriffs Association and SC Police Chiefs Association. We will have committee hearings in the off-session and have legislation ready for the floor in January. We need to restore the confidence and respect in law enforcement that they deserve.

I was back in Columbia yesterday for a sub-committee meeting regarding the students that have not been seen or heard from since we went to virtual schooling in March. We heard from Superintendent Molly Spearman that the original number is down to a little over 10,000 children out of almost 780,000 students in the state. There is a coordinated effort between the schools, the Department of Social Services, and law enforcement to find and check on the well-being of these students.

We also heard from a pediatrician regarding the opening of schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published a “game plan” for reopening schools with “face to face” learning. She reiterated that they believe the risk of not being in school is greater than the risk of students being in school. She talked about teenage suicide increasing, and said it’s not just teenagers who are struggling. She has talked with 8 and 9 year old who are also struggling. We have to get these children back in school.

We are scheduled to go back into session in September to complete the budget process for the fiscal year, which is July 1, 2020 – 2021. All I know is that the budget will look a whole lot different than it was going to look before COVID-19. I will give you updates the closer we get to it.

Here are a couple of notes of interest:

• If you are driving to or through Columbia, you will notice several bridges down between Newberry and Ballentine. This is the beginning of the widening of I-26 to six lanes from Newberry to Columbia.
• The Woodruff Road By-Pass project in Greenville received final approval on funding this week at an estimated cost of $121 million. The road will be extended from the new by-pass off of Verdae, cross I-85 and I-385, and end up at Smith Hines Road. If you would like to see the projected route, click here. There will be public hearings over the next 30 days.

It is an honor to represent the citizens of District 8 in Columbia. If you need help navigating state government or have issues or concerns, please get in touch with me or my assistant, Ja’vell Bynoe, at (803)212-6148.