South Carolina is in a much stronger position than it was just a few months ago, thanks to key policy victories supported by SCPC’s research. With the regular legislative session now finished, it’s a great time to look back on some of these achievements. Each are part of the reforms laid out in our 2023-24 Legislative Agenda.
The governor recently signed historic legislation (S.39) to provide thousands of South Carolina students with meaningful school choice options and improve learning outcomes across the state. The program, often called an Education Scholarship Account or “ESA”, will offer state-funded scholarships worth $6,000 that can be used by parents to pay for private school tuition and fees, or other education expenses, including textbooks, computers, approved tests, tutoring, and transportation.
Starting in school year 2024-25, K-12 students will be eligible if they have a family household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines ($60,000 for a family of four). The income threshold will increase to 300% and 400% of the federal poverty level in the program’s second and third year, respectively. It will cover the following number of students: 5,000 in the 2024-24 school year; 10,000 in the 2025-26 school year; and 15,000 students in the 2026-27 school year and beyond.
SCPC has been a strong advocate for the scholarship program, particularly during the 2023 legislative session. Our January poll, which found broad and bi-partisan voter support for the program, was cited in multiple news stories, while our February bill analysis was an important resource for lawmakers during debate.
A similar, though privately funded scholarship bill (S.285) also passed the Senate following our analysis. The proposal, called the Academic Choice in Education or “ACE” plan, has broader eligibility than its counterpart, and would provide education scholarships for special-needs and homeschool students, in addition to middle- and low-income students. We will continue to advocate for its passage next year, so that even more SC students and families have school choice options.
Deregulation and occupational licensing
Legislation to streamline roadwork and reduce red tape for construction is now in effect, following a deregulation initiative by Gov. Henry McMaster and state lawmakers. The change enacted by S.361 means the SCDOT commission no longer has to give preapproval before more work can be added to construction contracts.
It also deleted a rule which limited how much work could be added to a contract when extended. Removing the cap will let more work be added to existing contracts and should reduce the need to write up multiple contracts for single projects. SCDOT indicates these common-sense changes will save time on projects by allowing the agency to respond more quickly and efficiently.
Another recently passed law (H.3605) will remove barriers to obtaining a work license. The measure clarifies that a person cannot be denied a work license based on a prior conviction unless it relates directly to the job in question. It also prevents a licensing board from using vague and subjective terminology like “moral turpitude” for assessment purposes, among other positive changes.
A measure to improve healthcare access and remove barriers to service was recently signed into law, following SCPC’s research and advocacy during the session. The bill (S.164) largely repeals South Carolina’s Certificate of Need (CON) program, which requires healthcare providers to go through a lengthy approval process before constructing or expanding their facilities or making certain purchases.
Repealing CON will make it easier to build hospitals and other healthcare facilities in the state, filling a need in rural areas where options are currently limited. It will also help to drive down medical costs and improve service quality by increasing competition.
SCPC monitored and advocated for the proposal throughout the session, providing key updates on its progress via our weekly Statehouse Update. Last year, our polling revealed that significantly more voters support CON repeal than oppose it. The same poll found that voters strongly support expanding healthcare options in general.
SCPC is leading the fight for judicial reform as new and alarming stories about our courts continue to make headlines. Our team was invited to speak at a first-ever state judicial reform summit in the spring alongside Gov. Henry McMaster, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, and a coalition of state legislators, where we laid out practical steps that can be taken to fix our system. We also attended a bi-partisan press conference to support several key legislative reforms, which have a growing list of House and Senate co-sponsors.
We will continue to provide critical research on this issue heading into next year. While there’s plenty of work ahead, these steps demonstrate a real interest in judicial reform among state public officials unlike we’ve seen before.