Legislative Update: Week Four

This week, we wrapped up the fourth week of the 2021 session. I am happy to report progress was made – from appointing new judges, to improving how we vaccinate our citizens, to advancing other legislation many of you have contacted me about in the past.

With the state budget debate ahead in the next few weeks, most of our focus will continue to be on investing your tax dollars as we navigate the uncertainties and financial hits caused by Covid-19. Last year (before the pandemic hit) there was wide support from throughout the state on the budget the House passed. As you can imagine, that rarely happens as someone or some groups in our state can find fault with how billions of dollars are spent. This year? It seems most people understand less money is available for agencies and we again have to prioritize how best to move our state forward.

COVID-19 Updates
As of February 2nd, South Carolina ranked 5th in the nation in getting vaccinations in arms.These results are attributed to the hard work and collaboration of our frontline workers, healthcare professionals, SC DHEC, the Governor, and all of my colleagues in Columbia. Despite the hard work we have seen, we still have room to improve and we will continue to improve.

  • Governor McMaster announced that people aged 65+ will be allowed to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in South Carolina starting Monday, February 8th.
  • It was announced this week that 17 South Carolina CVS Pharmacies are now offering over 15,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible individuals beginning February 11th. Appointments will be available as early as Feb. 9th.
  • As of Thursday, February 4th, 777,250 vaccinations have been received for distribution from the federal government; 439,888 vaccinations have been put in arms.
  • Right now, we are in Phase 1A. If you meet any of the following criteria you can make an appointment to get your COVID-19 vaccine:
    – Frontline healthcare workers
    – Anyone 70+ years
    – Anyone 65+ years (beginning Feb 8th)
    – State/local government employees who perform COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in SC
    – A full list of those eligible to receive the vaccine can be found on the DHEC website

Judicial Hearings
On Wednesday, members of the Senate joined my colleagues and me in the House chamber to vote on 22 positions in our state judicial system. South Carolina and Virginia are the only two states that have the state legislature elect judges. I have shared before how this system is not perfect; but we’ve only seen small changes made to help improve the process through the years. The South Carolina Constitution requires judges to be elected by members of the General Assembly in a Joint Assembly (House and Senate) where the Senators cast their voice vote by roll-call while the House (usually) records our votes on the electronic board in the chamber. Prior to being judicial candidates, individuals seeking judicial office are screened by a committee to ensure they are upstanding citizens and possess the competency and qualifications necessary to serve on the bench. It is that committee (the Judicial Merit Selection Committee) that ultimately presents 1-3 candidates for the General Assembly to consider for each position.

Heartbeat Bill
Last week, the Senate passed the Heartbeat Bill that had previously passed the House but ultimately would die in the upper chamber. The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee and soon to be on the House floor. This bill has sparked much debate through the years and, as always, I appreciate hearing different sides of the arguments before ultimately casting my vote.

Education
Last year, we began an overhaul of education legislation with a few large bills that ultimately never passed the Senate. This year, we are breaking down the bills in hopes the Senate can pass most, if not all. This week the House passed legislation that would:

  • Reduce the amount of literacy screening and testing for Kindergarten-3rd grade
  • Provide screening tools and services to help identify dyslexia and other reading disorders in students
  • Revise the criteria for retention ensuring students are reading on grade level before promotion
  • Provide reading and literacy coaches to schools who have below average achievement in English/Language arts
  • Establish “Schools of Innovation” in multiple South Carolina school districts. to allow for more flexible models

It is always an honor and a privilege to serve you in Columbia. If you need help navigating state government or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me at www.nathansnews.com or you can email me at NathanBallentine@schouse.gov or call my home number 803-834-4613