SC law­mak­ers plan May 12 re­turn

The State - - Local - BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER mschechter@thes­tate.com

South Carolina law­mak­ers are com­ing back to Columbia soon to take ac­tion on mil­lions of dol­lars for the state’s COVID-19 re­sponse and other crit­i­cal mat­ters, mark­ing what could be a break­through in leg­isla­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions that went sour in April.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Har­vey Peeler, R-chero­kee, and House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-dar­ling­ton, in­formed mem­bers on Thurs­day the House and Se­nate will gavel back into ses­sion at noon, May 12 — two days be­fore what is typ­i­cally the last of­fi­cial day of leg­isla­tive work.

How­ever, in memos ob­tained by The State sent to law­mak­ers, the Gen­eral Assem­bly has the op­tion to ex­tend the leg­isla­tive ses­sion to May 28 in the event that the state’s econ­o­mists pre­dict a drop in state rev­enues be­low what pre­vi­ously was ex­pected, a change that could be re­ported at their next meet­ing on May 14.

In a let­ter sent to sen­a­tors and staff, Peeler said the past seven weeks have been an “un­prece­dented chal­lenge” for the state.

“Each of you worked ev­ery day to as­sist your com­mu­ni­ties with COVID-19,” Peeler wrote. “We are anx­ious to get South Carolina back to work as safely as pos­si­ble. The Gen­eral Assem­bly is no ex­cep­tion.”

And in a sep­a­rate memo sent to House mem­bers, clerk Charles Reid said the House will re­strict work to cham­ber de­bate and votes only, mean­ing mem­bers will not hold com­mit­tee or sub­com­mit­tee meet­ings out­side of ses­sion.

Peeler and Reid said the House and Se­nate work is ex­pected to stretch through May 12-14.

Law­mak­ers have not been back to the State House since early April af­ter an at­tempt to pass two emer­gency mea­sures to keep state govern­ment op­er­at­ing past June 30 and to out­line when the Gen­eral Assem­bly would re­turn to the Capi­tol went south over how the Leg­is­la­ture should han­dle the fu­ture of San­tee Cooper, the state’s debt-sad­dled pub­lic util­ity.

Tied up in the pro­pos­als is $180 mil­lion to com­bat the coro­n­avirus, in­clud­ing up to $15 mil­lion to help pro­tect the health of South Carolina vot­ers, poll work­ers and lo­cal elec­tion em­ploy­ees dur­ing the June and Novem­ber elec­tions.

That leg­is­la­tion also in­cludes a pro­vi­sion to al­low state agen­cies and, more specif­i­cally, uni­ver­si­ties to fur­lough em­ploy­ees as col­lege of­fi­cials at­tempt to off­set mil­lions of dol­lars in fi­nan­cial losses as they re­turn money to stu­dents and move classes to on­line.

“The Gen­eral Assem

bly’s got work to do, and we need to come back in or­der to ad­dress some very im­por­tant is­sues for the state,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Shane Massey, R-edge­field.

The plan to re­turn May 12 means law­mak­ers won’t need an as­sist from the gov­er­nor to get back to work.

With un­cer­tainty over when the Leg­is­la­ture would re­turn, Gov. Henry Mc­mas­ter in April had of­fered to call law­mak­ers back to Columbia at an agreed time and day so that leg­is­la­tors — many of whom fit into what the state’s pub­lic health agency de­scribes as vul­ner­a­ble to the novel virus — would not put their health and oth­ers at risk.

In pre­vi­ous re­turns to the Capi­tol, law­mak­ers were seen wear­ing face masks and gloves. Some voted from the bal­cony, avoid­ing sit­ting too close to their col­leagues and staff. Other law­mak­ers avoided the State House al­to­gether.

Out­side of the cham­ber, law­mak­ers have sched­uled com­mit­tee meet­ings over tele­con­fer­enc­ing net­works, in­clud­ing Zoom.

For law­mak­ers’ re­turn, both cham­bers will be cleaned and so­cial dis­tanc­ing pro­to­cols will be fol­lowed, Peeler and Reid said.

Send­ing a sig­nal to their mem­bers, Lucas and Peeler in a joint let­ter Thurs­day said it’s “im­per­a­tive we work to­gether.”

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