SC lawmakers plan May 12 return
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.”