Elevating South Carolina: SCPC celebrates major achievements in 2023

Elevating South Carolina: SCPC celebrates major achievements in 2023

South Carolina witnessed historic progress in 2023, advancing policies backed by SCPC to expand educational freedom, improve access to healthcare, cut costs and bureaucratic red tape, and shed light on the actions of government. As the year comes to an end, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on some of these achievements – and, above all, express our gratitude to the dedicated citizens of our state for making them possible.

By and large, these victories and ongoing reforms are guided by our 2023-24 Legislative Agenda – a two-year policy roadmap to unlock South Carolina’s full potential. We had great success in this first year and are thrilled to continue our efforts in 2024.

Here is how our work is elevating South Carolina.


Judicial integrity

Our research and advocacy helped inspire a powerful movement this year to reform how South Carolina’s judges are selected. In addition to showing how lawyer-legislators primarily control judicial selections, leading to potential or actual conflicts of interest in the courtroom, we have revealed a lack of transparency during the screening and nominations stage that is harming public trust.  

We shed light on these issues at the inaugural S.C. Judicial Reform Summit, where SCPC spoke alongside Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, and about a dozen state legislators about practical solutions to improve our courts. We later showed support at a bipartisan Statehouse press conference attended by prominent law enforcement officials and community members demanding change.

Following our research and stories by The Nerve – SCPC’s investigative news site – Gov. McMaster announced that local magistrates will be required to provide more information when applying for the job, including details about possible conflicts of interest they could face in court. Our coverage also led to the S.C. House creating an ad hoc committee to examine reform, which we have tracked closely.

After a relentless effort in 2023, judicial reform is poised to be a top legislative priority for next year.


Enhancing education

Parents in search of new learning opportunities for their children are excited for South Carolina’s Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program, which passed this spring with SCPC’s support and is slated to begin next school year. ESA scholarships will help thousands of eligible families pay for K-12 expenses of their choice, including:

  • Private school tuition and fees;
  • Textbooks and other learning materials;
  • Tutoring services;
  • Computers and other learning devices;
  • Transportation costs of reaching a new school (including public schools);
  • Fees for college admissions tests and other exams;
  • Extracurricular activities; and
  • Other expenses approved by the S.C. Department of Education

In January, our statewide poll of voters found broad and bi-partisan for the program, which was cited in multiple news articles – generating huge interest in the bill-turned-law. Meanwhile, our February in-depth analysis was a crucial resource for lawmakers as the measure gained steam.

To expand school choice, we are working with legislators to pass a privately funded, tax-credit scholarship program known as the Academic Choice in Education (ACE) bill, which cleared the Senate this year. While it shares differences with the ESA, it ultimately pursues the same goal: providing more educational opportunities for students.

And with the help of our partners in North and South Carolina, SCPC this year launched an ambitious and transformative project – the Carolinas Academic Leadership Network (CALN) – as a new professional development option for school board members. It aims to support our dedicated education leaders who put student needs first.

CALN serves both new and veteran board members across the Carolinas who promote academic achievement, helping them navigate the many challenges public schools are seeing in the aftermath of COVID-19. It offers training, networking opportunities, legal support and resources to elevate their service.


Reduced taxes and spending

We kicked off the year with the second installment of our South Carolina Sustainable Budget – a project to limit state spending based on S.C. population growth and inflation. In addition to reshaping budget discussions at the Statehouse with compelling data, the project inspired Oconee County to pass a reduced budget based on our model. It stands as the first in South Carolina to do so, setting a historic example for other counties to follow.

We also shed light on a crucial budget law that, if followed, would help identify redundant or wasteful government programs; and reduce spending. The law is based on zero-based budgeting, where expenses should be justified annually based on need and performance, without regard to previous budgets.

Meanwhile, our personal income tax was slashed in 2022 for the first time in state history, thanks to a tax relief package supported by SCPC. To accelerate the additional tax cuts prescribed by the law, we explained how surplus revenue could be used to immediately bring the top tax rate to 6%, rather than staggering small tax cuts over several years. 


Shedding light on government

Our research inspired a sweeping proposal to improve government transparency and keep citizens informed about state and local events. The bill, which has 14 House sponsors, would require all school board and legislative committee meetings, including hearings to screen judicial candidates, to be livestreamed and archived for subsequent viewing. It would also require state budget earmark requests to be submitted in writing and include the sponsoring legislator’s name, and the amount, purpose and recipient of the money. Those requests would need to be posted online within 24 hours.

Over the summer, we revealed the legislative committees with the best and worst livestreaming records. We started the project in 2022 to encourage more meetings to be streamed voluntarily until legislation is passed.

A separate bill requiring school board meetings to be livestreamed passed the Senate in February, which we featured in our Legislative Scorecard. Livestreaming is a great tool for maintaining public engagement, which is particularly needed in local government.


Healthcare freedom

In May, South Carolina repealed much of its Certificate of Need (CON) regime – a move strongly supported by SCPC and a huge win for medical freedom. CON laws limit access to services by forcing healthcare providers to undergo a strict approval process before constructing or expanding their facilities or buying certain equipment. Worse, the requests can be challenged by competing providers, which could delay or shutter projects entirely.  

The Policy Council tracked and supported the repeal effort throughout the session, providing key progress updates 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.  

The law eliminates CON requirements for most healthcare providers, with a few exceptions. Building a new hospital or adding more hospital beds will require CON approval through 2026. However, a hospital can bypass this rule if it is constructed in one of the eight S.C. counties that don’t currently have one. Additionally, nursing homes and the acquisition of hospitals by the Medical University of South Carolina will still be subject to CON.

This historic change will improve healthcare access, particularly in underserved areas, while fostering competition in medicine, reducing costs, and increasing quality of services.


Reducing regulation

SCPC supported a bipartisan measure to speed up road and bridge projects and cut government red tape. The law ends the requirement for pre-approval by the SCDOT commission before additional work can be added to construction contracts. It also removed the statutory cap on how much new work can be added. By streamlining this process, anticipate faster roadwork completion and more cost savings.

We also supported a law that removes barriers to obtaining a work license. Specifically, it prevents state occupational boards from using vague or generic terms for evaluation purposes, and from considering charges against an applicant that have been dismissed. It also lets workers obtain an initial work license by completing an apprenticeship in a related profession.

However, we believe that ending licensure requirements for certain professions where they are not needed will have a stronger impact, which should be a target for the Legislature going forward.


Legislative Scorecard

Over the summer, we launched one of our biggest projects ever: the 2023 Legislative Scorecard. This report tracks votes on 12 major bills that passed at least one chamber during the session. Many of these bills, in fact, are tied to our policy victories listed above! Lawmakers earned one of four possible ratings based on their votes and commitment to advancing freedom: Excellent, Favorable, Unfavorable, and Poor.

We created the scorecard for two urgent reasons: 1) to give citizens the tools and information to hold their representatives accountable on major issues, and 2) to recognize the Legislature’s most committed free-market champions. We are thrilled that so many of our readers have found it useful!

The scorecard is the first release of a two-part series covering the 2023-24 legislative session. We hope you look forward to next year’s scorecard.