As legislature returns, lawmakers set to tackle education, budget 

click to enlarge statehouse.jpg

Sean Rayford file

When the second year of session convenes this week, the S.C. House of Representatives will have a few Senate-passed bills awaiting third reading, while the S.C. Senate could head straight into debate on the House-passed large education package.

In the House

On the House's calendar, up for third reading this week, is Senate-passed bill 11 that expresses the General Assembly's desire to make Daylight Saving Time be the year-round standard should Congress amend a federal law to allow states to make that change.

Here are some items up for second reading in the House:

Bans: House Bill 3087 seeks to prohibit approval of an action supporting seismic testing for oil or natural gas on land or in water of the state of South Carolina; and its rival bill 3471: A ban on state agencies or local governments from impeding plans to deter or prohibit seismic testing infrastructure.

Servers: The House will take up Senate Bill 342, the proposed Responsible Alcohol Server Training Act that requires training for those serving alcoholic beverages.

In the Senate

Senate Education Chair Greg Hembree of Horry County on Thurs. Jan. 9 said the large bill that does everything from teacher pay raises to allowing the state to remove chronically failing school boards will be "the first major debate" of the session.

Meanwhile, the Senate could get a different bill to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk before that debate results in final votes. It looks at third reading of a House-passed Bill 3576 that would establish the South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarship, which would offer scholarships for students attending technical college in certain industry-focused programs.

Other items up for consideration as the Senate returns:

Higher education: Hembree told reporters on Thursday that the House-passed education package will hit the Senate floor in the first few days of session. Last Friday, teacher group SCforEd — which has opposed the measure, along with S.C. Education Association — tweeted a statement opposing the bill coming to the floor, saying that state schools "didn't need reform in name only." Also during last week's meeting with journalists, S.C. House Education and Public Works Chair Rita Allison (R-Spartanburg) said she was unaware of SCforEd's March 17 deadline for lawmakers to comply with their agenda, which includes a teacher bill of rights.

Guns: Senate Bill 640 would mandate every clerk of court to report to the state Law Enforcement Division within 10 days of issuance of a restraining order, order of protection or another order that would prevent the possession of a firearm.

Big budget surplus: During last week's meeting, state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office staff offered data showing the current fiscal year is on track to have a $507 million surplus from lowball revenue projections. Add to that another $350 million in surplus funds from the 2018-19 budget. That leaves state legislators with a pot of more than $850 million in surplus funds to be used for non-recurring expenses. Executive Director Frank Rainwater told Charleston City Paper said the agency missed the revenue forecast largely due to "volatile" revenue sources difficult to predict, such as corporate income tax, and due to the state's new revenue source from online sales. This is in addition to the projected $1 billion in extra revenues predicted for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Other notes from Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, via Rainwater:

• FY 2019 revenue growth more than doubled estimates (projected: $288.7 million, actual: $696.1 million), and is expected to grow further to make up the $863 million 2020-21 general fund surplus.

• The 20-21 general fund surplus will be about 9 percent higher than expected due to strong economic factors and increased collections, including corporate income tax growth of about $100 million.

Asked how lawmakers could effectively utilize the surplus, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) said as much as $240 million could be devoted to teacher pay raises, with $50 million more going to state colleges and universities. The state Bureau of Economic Advisers meets on Feb. 15 to formally consider the newest fiscal estimates.

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