SC lawmakers are back and without masks for 2022 session
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina lawmakers are opening their 2022 session with the familiar problem of the COVID-19 pandemic and a more unfamiliar problem of bank accounts bursting with money.
Both the House and Senate are expected to gavel in at noon Tuesday.
They are to meet for 18 weeks through mid-May in the second year of their two-year session Even with the omicron variant spreading, the House and Senate are meeting in person with no mask requirements.
They will tackle a number of issues, including several COVID-19-related bills and new Congressional maps for the state.
Some of the COVID-19 bills relate to vaccine mandates and mask mandates, while others would affect schools, both K-12 and higher education. One would give people infected with COVID-19 the ability to undergo experimental treatments or drugs.
New Congressional maps are headed to the state’s House of Representatives after several Democrats voted against them Monday. The Associated Press reported the plan, passed by the Judiciary Committee as a whole on Monday, continues to put much of Charleston and North Charleston in different Congressional districts. The first plan proposed by the House kept more of the Charleston area intact. Candidate-filing for the new districts is set to start in mid-March, with primaries scheduled for June, which puts pressure on the General Assembly to finalize redistricting soon.
Another order of business will be how to spend more than $5 billion of extra tax money, surpluses from previous years and COVID-19 federal relief money.
Gov. Henry McMaster presented his executive budget and recommendations for spending nearly $2.5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds during a news conference Monday afternoon.
McMaster wants the state legislature to cut the state’s income tax rate from 7% to 6% over five years, which is expected to cost about $177 million per year.
He also wants $500 million set aside in the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund, which would double the fund’s size.
“With the additional $500 million added to South Carolina’s rainy-day reserve fund, the state will now have 10% of the state’s general fund budget put away in reserves,” McMaster spokesman Brandon Charochak said.
The two largest single expenditures of ARPA funds would send $500 million for rural water and sewer infrastructure and an additional $400 million for broadband access and expansion. He also wants to set aside $360 million to complete the widening of I-26 between Columbia and Charleston.
The governor also recommended $100 million to be set aside for a new laboratory for the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. McMaster said the current lab “exceeded the expected useful life and is one of the oldest in the country.”
“Based on the increase in testing demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency is concerned that State’s core health and environmental laboratory building is no longer able to meet the technological advances of modern-day laboratory practices and high-tech testing systems,” he said.
The General Assembly controls what gets spent, but lawmakers have had a good relationship with the governor.
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